Thursday, December 8, 2011

Challenge: What new to do?

Susan Byrum Rountree, author of Nags Headers and In Mother Words, posted a question to her blog, writemuch, the other day.  She asked, "What new did you do this year to challenge yourself?" and encouraged readers to respond in the comments section or on their own blogs.  Susan's question got me thinking about the choices I have made in the past two years that have brought me to the brink of "The BIG Decision" that will not only affect the tail end of this year but will reverberate for many years to come.

Tonight, I am going to my alma mater, North Carolina State University, where I received a Master's Degree in English in May of 2010, to look at a PhD in Education program.  This is a big deal for me because when I decided I wanted to be a teacher "when I grow up" as a second semester sophomore at Peace College, I constructed a plan to get me there.  It looked like this:

BA in English, MA in English, PhD in English (specialization British Literature), and then professorship at the university of my choice.

Big dreams, big plans - certainly not unattainable, for I had the drive to see this through to the end, but by the end, I would have been an unrecognizable ball of nerves with no friends, and probably no husband, to speak of.  My first semester, nay, my first week as a graduate student at NCSU tore the plan in half.  I loved English, I loved teaching, and I still do, but I quickly discovered that the PhD fast track was not for me.  In fact, I vowed I was not going back to school for my PhD.  Ever.  Therefore, upon graduation, a university professorship, now even more competitive than ever due to the current economy, was out.  Instead I applied to community colleges, and even the occasional high school!, across North Carolina, and I was lucky enough to land a full-time position as an English instructor at Nash Community College in Rocky Mount.  The decision to accept this position afforded me with many opportunities over the last year and a half, namely, the opportunities to  move back home close to my family and marry my high-school sweetheart.  However, most importantly, I was able to further develop my teaching style and discover my professional niche.  The experiences I have had as an instructor in the community college environment, working with mostly developmental students, over the past year and a half have encouraged me to see my future differently.  It is the interactions and discussions I have had with students and faculty members here at Nash that have prompted me to reconsider my emphatic stance against a PhD. 

Over the past few weeks, I have begun to think about and research options for returning to school as a doctoral student but in areas and ways I had not considered as an undergraduate or even a naive graduate student.  I focused my research on PhD's in Education with distance education delivery.  Now settled in our new home, I did not want to uproot my husband, who has been the happiest I have seen him in years now that he can step out the front door and look out over fields and tree lines instead of highways.  Lo and behold, this search turned up a surprising prospect in a PhD in Educational Research and Policy Analysis with a specialization in Adult Education and Community College Teaching and Learning.  Immediately, I wanted to know more, and fortunately, the program is hosting an open house tonight on site.  Although my husband is reluctant to lose time with me to studying and paper writing, he is supportive of my quest and will attend the open house with me tonight.  I have not made a decision yet, and when I do, I may decide to wait another year or two before applying to the program, but the decision to look and consider this option has been a big one and one that, strangely, feels right.  We'll see what the new year brings; Dr. Harkins may be on the horizon.


  1. Kristin: This sounds like a wonderful plan. As an Eastern NC girl myself, I wish I could wake up and look across the fields and tree lines instead of power lines. And what an impact you will have (and likely already have had) on the students you teach in Nash County. East of Raleigh is often the forgotten landscape, but it heartens me to know there are creative folks like you who call it home, and who are trying to make a difference. Thanks for answering the writemuch question!

  2. Thank you for your kind words of encouragement, Susan. After attending the open house, I have decided that pursuing a PhD at this time is not for me, but I have plans for independent professional development - including a conference presentation as part of a panel - for the upcoming year that I hope will encourage me to be a better teacher.