Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Doctorate--part one

Of course it did not strike, like lightning. The boat had a leak, and had had one for a long, long time, and the water was rising, and we were all going to drown if I did nothing. It was a long slow process and the conclusion, the doctorate, was the only logical conclusion. Here is how it began (while the bailing went on ceaselessly, year after year, as it had at that point for almost ten years).

I was in high gear from the minute Margaret was born--and had been for the nine months prior. I knew this would be my last time getting pregnant (a necessity beyond explanation, but a necessity nevertheless); and I knew nothing would change unless I got a job and somehow got more income in-coming. As much as Margaret was a necessity to me, the next order of business--income generation--was foremost on my mind. But I knew from having tried over and over to get a job in the local schools that chances of that happening were slim (Fryeburg would not have me because, they told me, I was home-educating, in short too busy to hire--even for a substitute! They made that decision for me). My references from the last time I worked were nine years old--too old to get a job in my profession, despite my Master's degree. The only solution to this, short of getting a job as a chambermaid or selling my novel (finshed in 1983), was going back to school and getting another degree--not because I needed more education, but because I needed current references and current skills--and educational loans to live on! School I could do.

So even while newly pregnant with Margaret, I enrolled in the Spring of 1987 in "Developmental Education: birth to five," a course in Special Education in the School of Lifetime Learning in Conway, an extension of the University of New Hampshire. I wrote a paper on Andrea's speech development--great course. That Spring of course I was also very actively involved in getting Donna and Erika into the colleges of their choice--Colby and Dartmouth. My plan was to get a second master's in Special Education, because all the schools had ads in the paper for Special Ed teachers--it was a very practical plan. I could have taught Special Ed of course without a degree beautifully, but state laws required certification--I had no courses in Special Ed, just English Literature, with a specialization in Elizabethan drama. I was in a pragmatic mode and my degrees didn't help me solve my problems.

That summer, after I had Margaret, and after Donna and Erika were happily looking forward to the fall term in the colleges of their choice, I took two more courses at the University of Maine in Gorham (USM), and enrolled in a degree program leading to a master's in Special Ed. Plan A was this: I would apply to teaching jobs while starting a new Master's degree. If I did not get a teaching job I would (Plan B) take a job as a Chambermaid and write The Great American Novel (and work on the second master's and take care of Margaret, Andrea, Johnny, Joey, and Stevie. Because Donna and Erika were going off to college! This last part made me very, very happy, because Donna was going to Colby! And Erika was going to Dartmouth! They were neatly stepping off the sinking boat into a brand new life!)

But surprise, surprise!! I got a teaching job!! I couldn't believe it! On the way to the interview, with Donna and Erika to take care of Margaret while I had the interview (on Islesboro), Donna read me Catcher in the Rye! I was to be an English, reading, and geography teacher for all the high school students grades 7 through 12 on Islesboro. I was hired! The house had to be sold, and we had to move to Islesboro, because teachers had to live on the island. I was saved! For the time being. Let me review: I had a baby, sold the house in Fryeburg, bought the house in Monroe, took two courses in Special Ed at USM, found a house to rent in Islesboro, filed FAFSAs, drove Donna and Erika off to the colleges of their choice, argued with Financial Aid Officers, and started a job teaching in Islesboro. That was just that summer.

To make a long story short and sweet, I had one very successful year on Islesboro. I wrote and got a State of Maine Innovative Classroom Grant ("Operation Microcosm") which brought the school $5000's worth of video editing equipment for the children to do all kinds of research with a video camera. The principal liked me and rehired me. The kids liked me and I was happy. It mattered not the boat was still leaking. Best of all I met Andii Pendleton--it was also the year I met Michiko, and began writing Frederick Turner. Donna and Erika survived their Freshman year and all looked well--it was 1988.

The next year everything changed. The New Principal Mr. D-- (as the Victorians would say) did NOT like me, he did NOT let the kids use the equipment the grant had bought us, and by school's end three teachers did NOT have their contracts renewed, including myself and a science teacher who had been teaching there at least twenty years (he had the kids build a cidar press themselves--I thought he was great.) Mr. D--did not have to say why he was not renewing my contract, because no reason had to be given for not renewing the contract of a teacher who had taught in the system less than two years--you could just let them go. Andii Pendleton was peeved (at Mr. D--) but I was beyond peevement. I was in a state of shock. I had two children in college and five children at home, a newly acquired house in Monroe which had to be fixed up (water, electricity, everything) before it could be lived in, and no job and no income. By FALL I had to have something in place! And there was no way I could get another job teaching when my contract had not been renewed--I just knew it, despite my successful first year. What was I to do???

I had an idea! I would at least continue with my master's in Special Ed and we would live on educational loans! (I had just realized that these were available--more income than I'd had in years!) But there was just one problem: there was no Master's Degree in Special Ed offered in Orono at the University of Maine, and I wanted a degree which would deliver a teaching job when I got through with it. I already had a master's in English--and there was no doctorate in English offered! I looked at the catalogue. There was a degree offered in Orono which I did not have yet and which would lead to references and to work--a doctorate in Literacy Education. And meanwhile, I'd start my poetry-writing business "The Muse"--which is how I got into Glamour Magazine (but that's another blog).

And that's how it "suddenly" struck me to get a doctorate. I applied, got accepted, and began my five year program. Which did, in the end, lead to jobs and yes, even a pension. The boat still had a leak, but I at least had a plan on how to keep on bailing for a few more years yet and keep all of us from drowning.

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