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Salome128

History Teacher Applying for Ph.D.

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Hi all,

My apologies if a similar topic has been posted already (I didn't see anything like it, but I'm new to GradCafe so I may have missed it) but I'm here with a question...

I'm in a little bit of a unique situation -- next year I will complete a Master of Arts in Teaching in social studies. As an undergrad, I double-majored in history with a Middle East concentration and an Arabic minor. I really want to pursue a Ph.D. in history (still concentrating in the Middle East) in order to become a stronger and better-informed teacher. I think that I would enjoy teaching at the college-level as well, but my ultimate goal would not be to secure a college/university TT position (I thought about going that route and then decided that secondary teaching was just a better fit for me personally).

I'm thinking about applying for Fall of 2014 (although it may be smarter for me to wait to apply until after I have been teaching full-time for a couple of years -- I'm not entirely sure yet) and so my question is this: do you think that openly announcing, in my personal statement, that I don't want to pursue a career in higher education and want to stay in secondary teaching would be a death knell to my application? Do you think that a faculty committee reading my application would think to themselves, "This person obviously doesn't take the Ph.D. seriously" and reject me? I really want to obtain the Ph.D. to provide the highest-quality education I can to my students and to become a strong teacher-scholar, and because I am sincerely enthusiastic about my subject area and want to expand my knowledge about it as much as possible, but I can also understand how an admissions committee might just find my whole application "silly." :(

Any thoughts?

Thanks for reading and good luck to all of you applying this year! :)

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If you want to provide the highest-quality education you can to your students, I'm not sure a Ph.D. is necessarily the way to do it. I'm not being flippant. Earning a Ph.D. will improve your research and writing. How often do secondary school teachers use those skills? Can you justify spending several years on a dissertation in a fairly specialized topic when, as a teacher, you have to by necessity teach more broadly? While I won't deny that you learn a great deal of content as a Ph.D. student, I would also claim that you could do much the same at a local library.

I would be curious to know what others say, but I would suggest you think of what you're really looking to get out of this versus what's actually expected of a Ph.D. student. It's a big commitment to apply to and attend a Ph.D. program. Unless you're really committed to research, I simply don't think it makes sense for you to pursue that.

As for your chances of admission - yeah, I think that would damage them. Partly for the reasons I've pointed out (they may see your needs as opposing what they're offering). But also, many scholars covet grad students as their intellectual legacies. If you're not committed to continuing research, then your potential advisor might want to look at someone who is so committed. None of this is meant to denigrate teachers, by the way. It's great that you want to serve your future students by developing as an historian. Unfortunately, I just think that the system as it is now is stacked against you.

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I agree with Twist. PhD work is generally not about training to be a teacher. Yes, most PhD students get lots of teaching experience along the way, and end up better at it than they first entered; however, the main focus is always about the personal research. I think most of us getting our PhD's are doing so for a personal fulfillment; we want to make advanced contributions to our respective fields. That doesn't mean you shouldn't go for it, but I do honestly feel that If your main passion is teaching secondary education, doing a PhD is not the most ideal career route, since it is unlikely that your research and your teaching will cross paths complementarily. Practically speaking, a PhD typically is a full-time committal, and your research, seminars, and TA duties will be unlikely to leave you any time to still continue teaching HS without having to put that on hold. You will likely be required to downgrade your secondary teaching hours to very minimal part-time status, if not place it on hold completely, for anywhere between 5-8 years to complete the doctoral requirements. As for your applications, departments are generally interested in seeing your potential to make original contributions to the field. They want to see how your research interests fit in with the faculty at the department. While I don't think focusing in the SOP on secondary-teaching will necessarily hurt your application, it's probably not too relevant to the committee.

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1. Admitting you want to teach high school will hurt you at nearly every history PhD program. If you can find one with a strong public history track, you might be okay. But I would be very, VERY wary about mentioning it, especially without basically getting back-channel word that it *won't* hurt you in the eyes of a specific department, admissions committee, and prospective advisor.

2. The reason I do history is because of a PhD-holding high school teacher. His knowledge base and academic creativity made history--made school--come alive for me in a way no other teacher could. He went for a PhD knowing full well he wanted to come out a teacher, not a researcher, whether that ultimately meant at a high school, community college, or liberal arts school.

3. All the more power to you. Just be prepared not to admit your actual career goals at the *majority* of programs. (This is because of PhD program funding structure. Depts justify their existence based on the number of tenure track position-obtaining PhDs they produce. Ergo, despite all the talk about how PhD programs need to restructure and shift focus given the utter lack of academic jobs, it remains only talk. You can't shift culture if the economics make it impossible.)

Edited by Sparky

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I totally agree with Sparky. You'll basically have to either lie or lie by omission about your plans, but I do think high school teachers with PhDs are AWESOME. I personally look forward to teaching first and foremost, be it at University, a liberal arts school, and yeah, even a high school. So more power to you.

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I'll say that unless you go to a program with a strong public history track, you'll have a very difficult time fitting in. The academic culture is so strong and pervasive that you can either A) immerse yourself in it or B) be isolated. My adviser has two students ahead of me. One is in the A category. And the other is in the B category (knew she didn't want to go into academia) and she is completely out of everything. Unless she's TA-ing and has to show her face, people forget about her. (Fortunately, she doesn't really care and has a life outside of the university so she's okay being the B category.) I'm not kidding, unless you're willing to present in conferences, participate in workshops, discuss archival visits, writing grants, and such, you aren't going to enjoy your PhD as much as if you would be interested in those things.

Also, without serious passion for research, you will take much longer to finish that dissertation than you think.

I'm sorry to sound negative but it's the truth. I do have some potential ideas for careers outside of academia should the academic job market not work out for me so I can see how it would be quite difficult to fit in if you're not going to be an academic.

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Not sure if hejduk is still active in these fora, but I remember him/her starting a few topics in this vein a little over a year ago. I got the impression this person ultimately wanted to seek college-level teaching position, however. You might find some good advice here:

There's a fair number of fled-to-academia former HS teachers kicking around here Grad Cafe, myself included...total opposite trajectory to what you are seeking. Historically the tenor of our conversations is more like this and I think you're likely to find a lot of disillusionment here from members who've had HS teaching experience.

What sort of school do you want to teach in? That will have a lot to do with how appreciative teens are of the teacher-scholar model you envision. I.e., if you're aiming a position at a private academy, school with repute for academic rigor, and/or AP curriculum, you're more likely to be a good fit.

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I just recently met with a professor who told me that unless I wanted to teach at a college level, there is not point in pursuing a PhD in history. I found it interesting that some of you mentioned that it builds research and writing ability, which is what I wanted. This same professor warned me of how horrible the academic job market was and that I should consider another reason for pursuing a PhD. When I told this person of my plans to conduct research and write, they shot it down because I wasn't serious about an academic teaching career. I'm confused by this prof's response and in a way took it personally. But, I digress. I must agree that there is a snobbish attitude by most academics in relation to secondary school teachers earning PhD's. However, I have known a few teachers who taught at prestigiuos private schools that were in the PhD program at my MA institution. Hopefully, you won't end up dealing with the same idiocy I did.

Edited by Shep

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Shep, that's because a lot of the positions are really teaching-focused. You just have to get through the dissertation, which takes up a chunk of the PhD and you have to at least like it enough so you can finish. Research/teaching positions at major research universities are far and few. So many end up having to do more teaching for a career.

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I just recently met with a professor who told me that unless I wanted to teach at a college level, there is not point in pursuing a PhD in history.

False. Hopefully you will get alternate, more positive, perspectives from other profs. However, keep in mind that professors who have been life-long academics really only can advise you on how to become like them, and may fall short on a myriad of other careers one can go with a History PhD. A good college friend went to a top tier History PhD program, and now has a very successful translating business.

The following is a great resource, started by a woman with her doctorate in History. She wrote a Chronicle article about how she tried, and eventually left, the seemingly-tailored-for-her academic job. It feels a much-needed void for PhD's on the job market, in my opinion.

Beyond Academe

And if interested - The Chronicle Article

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You might also want to check out the #altac hashtag on twitter. It's pretty active, so you might find someone there who's taken a similar career path and who can give you their perspective.

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It is worth really thinking carefully about why you want to do a Ph.D. in history. Given that the process takes somewhere between 5-8 years (or sometimes more), you have to be certain that the gains are worth the opportunity cost. Those are prime earning years that are irretrievable. If your ultimate goal *isn't* to work at the college/university level, then you might want to consider whether you can pursue your goal in another fashion. While a Ph.D. in History *can* be useful for careers other than a job at a university, it remains the case that most Ph.D. programs in History are still oriented specifically toward the goal of preparing one for a tenure-track position. In this sense, the degree is still very much a vocational degree.

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I think the reason for my response was to point out the horrible advice given by some professors. Yes, research and writing is a difficult field to get into, but I have an in-road already, however, does anyone take the "such and such writing of an MA student" seriously? I get so much conflicting information and I've found that as a female, (in some, not all cases) I receive what seems like a pat on the head and told to move on instead of being taken seriously.

It seems like a break in logic when you think about it. Pursue a PhD if you want to teach, but there are very limited teaching positions, etc. Why do they keep admitting students to programs then? Surely, there are uses for a History PhD other than teaching in higher ed.

BTW, I think Mandarin Orange makes a great point and Virmundi as well!

Edited by Shep

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I sent specific feedback to the OP privately. However, as someone who quit teaching to get a Ph.D. (with NO plans to go back), I want to throw in my two cents regarding the broader issues being discussed.

1. It's sadly ironic despite the horrible condition of the job market and the fact that in many states a mid-career high school teacher makes more than some professors, not to mention the abysmal training high school grads/undergrads have in the social sciences, that universities discourage Ph.D. students from going into secondary teaching, or that they would look down upon someone who wants to pursue a Ph.D. even though they want to teach at that level.

In California, a tenured, experienced teacher with a Ph.D. can make upwards of 90K/year in some districts nearing the top of their scale. Starting salaries are in the 40s, sometimes low 50s... comparable to an entry-level tenure-track position.

With so much talk about finding "non-academic" pathways for Ph.D.s, I think it'd be worth it to allow the opportunity to complete teaching credential coursework while pursuing a Ph.D. Let's face it... not everyone is going to end up in a tenure-track job at an R1 school. Some people are going to find academic teaching unfullfilling (my friend did). Some people may find out they like the teaching aspect more than the research aspect.

2. I taught with a history Ph.D. and he's one of the best teachers I've ever met. He teaches advanced classes and uses his training to teach research skills. A lot of high schools today have many AP and IB courses... in IB, students are expected to prepare original research projects and advising them is similar to advising a thesis. Same skill set.

3. This attitude that one "doesn't need a Ph.D. to teach high school" is just part of a larger issue, i.e. that teachers are not considered partners in education. Remember, those undergrads you get who have never had to write a research paper before, or take notes... the ones who can't see past their own noses during discussion section because they have never been expected to think critically... they could have used a well-trained historian for a teacher.

Edited by CageFree

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3. This attitude that one "doesn't need a Ph.D. to teach high school" is just part of a larger issue, i.e. that teachers are not considered partners in education. Remember, those undergrads you get who have never had to write a research paper before, or take notes... the ones who can't see past their own noses during discussion section because they have never been expected to think critically... they could have used a well-trained historian for a teacher.

You make good points, CageFree, but I do think that it is relevant for people who really want to be *high school* teachers to consider whether a 5-7 commitment to the Ph.D. process makes sense versus spending that time teaching instead. In terms of salary, I know that in the school districts in the places I've lived (my spouse is an educator, so I've paid attention to this a bit more), the pay-scale bump for Ph.D.-holding teachers isn't high enough to make up for the lost years of prime earning power. Both the third-tier school where I earned my B.A. and the R1 where I did my M.A. had top-notch M.A. History programs that catered to working teachers. Those teachers were able to engage in rigorous research and explore their passions in history at a pace that was manageable for them as working professionals without lowering the expectations of quality and rigor.

There is no doubt that a teacher holding a Ph.D. in History has the potential to bring a high level of skill and engagement into the high school classroom, but I still would caution those whose calling is teaching in a high school to think carefully as to whether a Ph.D. is the best way for them to acquire the skills needed to teach history at a high level. Of course, to those who answer "yes -- this is absolutely the right choice for me," then I say "bravo/a" -- my intent is not to discourage...!

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Also keep in mind that some districts are reluctant to hire a high school teacher with a Ph.D. in hand. The attitude where I live is "why would we pay more when we can get someone certified and entirely adequate for less?" It's a harmful and disappointing mindset IMO, and probably shouldn't be enough on its own to discourage someone from pursuing a Ph.D., but it is something to think about.

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You make good points, CageFree, but I do think that it is relevant for people who really want to be *high school* teachers to consider whether a 5-7 commitment to the Ph.D. process makes sense versus spending that time teaching instead. In terms of salary, I know that in the school districts in the places I've lived (my spouse is an educator, so I've paid attention to this a bit more), the pay-scale bump for Ph.D.-holding teachers isn't high enough to make up for the lost years of prime earning power.

The thing is, the average teacher starts in their early 20s, and you generally can get a full retirement at 30 years of service. That means that you'd be in your 50s by the time you are able to retire, and many do retire at that age. Taking 5-7 years for a Ph.D. would push that retirement date to your early 60s... I really, really don't think it's a big deal in terms of "earning power." Many become teachers as second or third careers because they project to work into their late 60s/early 70s. Plus, you don't get huge pay bumps for teaching more than 30 years.

I think we can all agree that you can't teach AND get a History Ph.D. simultaneously. And let's be honest, there are VERY FEW people who teach at the high school level who would want to put themselves through a Ph.D. program. I also don't think you NEED a Ph.D. to be a good teacher. But I do have a problem with the institutionalized "looking down upon teachers" attitude in academia, especially considering how bad the academic job market is.

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Also keep in mind that some districts are reluctant to hire a high school teacher with a Ph.D. in hand. The attitude where I live is "why would we pay more when we can get someone certified and entirely adequate for less?" It's a harmful and disappointing mindset IMO, and probably shouldn't be enough on its own to discourage someone from pursuing a Ph.D., but it is something to think about.

This is true. I think taking time off to do a Ph.D. after a few years of being established in a district would make the most sense... assuming you would be able to teach advanced classes upon returning.

The way to do it, perhaps, would be to get the job while ABD, and after being tenured, then present the Ph.D.. At any rate, there are districts (I taught at one) where having advanced degrees is looked at very favorably because it helps the reputation of the school and helps attract higher-achieving students.

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The thing is, the average teacher starts in their early 20s, and you generally can get a full retirement at 30 years of service. That means that you'd be in your 50s by the time you are able to retire, and many do retire at that age. Taking 5-7 years for a Ph.D. would push that retirement date to your early 60s... I really, really don't think it's a big deal in terms of "earning power." Many become teachers as second or third careers because they project to work into their late 60s/early 70s. Plus, you don't get huge pay bumps for teaching more than 30 years.

In an era when teacher tenure is under relentless assault and, unfortunately, all too many Americans are looking resentfully at teacher's retiring in their 50s with pensions instead of pushing to have similar humane treatment, I do not think that it is safe to assume that those years of earning can safely be considered not to be a big deal. Again, there is a lot that needs to be considered carefully here and it is, of course, a highly individual decision -- but it is hard to make good decisions if people are not actually offering up different perspectives and interpretations of data, right?

In any event, I have encountered far less disdain for teachers among academics than in society more broadly. In the academy, it appears to me more that the Ph.D. in history still is designed to prepare people to work in the research-oriented positions of yesteryear as opposed to the 4/4 positions that are far more common now. My personal experience has been that the programs suffer from inertia more than a prejudice against teaching among faculty. I have heard enough people talk about faculty who look down on teaching to believe that the phenomenon you are speaking of is more than purely anecdotal, but I think that it is relatively minor compared to the broader assault against K-12 public education in this country.

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The decision to go into a Ph.D. should be considered carefully by ANYONE. It's never a practical decision. And what's so wrong with delaying your retirement into your 60s? I probably won't be able to retire until my 70s, given I'm a career changer. Should I have just stuck to a career I wasn't happy in instead of setting foot in academia because I'm in my "prime earning years?"

As for evidence of the negativity, just look at all the replies the OP got. It's one thing to outline, realistically, what graduate school in History entails, but I cannot imagine telling someone that they should not further their education because they are going to be "missing out" on earning money. It's condescending.

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The decision to go into a Ph.D. should be considered carefully by ANYONE. It's never a practical decision. And what's so wrong with delaying your retirement into your 60s? I probably won't be able to retire until my 70s, given I'm a career changer. Should I have just stuck to a career I wasn't happy in instead of setting foot in academia because I'm in my "prime earning years?"

As for evidence of the negativity, just look at all the replies the OP got. It's one thing to outline, realistically, what graduate school in History entails, but I cannot imagine telling someone that they should not further their education because they are going to be "missing out" on earning money. It's condescending.

What's wrong with being able to retire in your 50s if you've put in 30+ solid years on the job? As far as I can tell -- nothing, but there are an awful lot of people out there who think that a pension for a job well done is equal to communism unless you are a corporate CEO. This is a foolish mentality. People should work as long as they want -- but no one should be forced to work until they die (like an increasing plurality of Americans these days) because their ultra-wealthy society cannot be bothered to compensate their labor appropriately. People have been tricked into a race toward the lowest common denominator when it is against their own interests.

In any case, if you've read my posts carefully, you'll note that I haven't suggested that anyone *shouldn't* pursue a Ph.D. if they want to do so. However, the consideration to do so is *particularly relevant* to an individual whose primary goal *is not to be a college professor* -- a goal toward which is what almost all Ph.D. programs in history are oriented.

To be perfectly honest, I think that you are taking my advice to the OP a bit personally, Cage. And yet, my mother was a teacher, my sister was a teacher -- hell, my wife has been in education for almost 25 years -- I have nothing against teachers. I certainly don't have a judgment of you for choosing to pursue a Ph.D. instead of staying in a teaching career -- or for anyone else who chooses to switch tracks halfway through the race (as I did when I decided to leave the corporate world and pursue this path instead). This *does not* negate the soundness of what I said. I actually have taught and advised students at the university level and many of them *have not considered the issue of cost of opportunity in relation to going to graduate school*. There is nothing condescending about bringing it up and advising that someone think carefully about how their mental calculus might change if they consider where they want to be professionally in ten years and where they want to be in terms of earning power, ability to do basic things like own a home, etc.

You've misread what I've posted if you think that I have advised anyone "not [to] further their education because they are going to be 'missing out' on earning money." That simply isn't what I wrote; it isn't what I mean; and I am not being condescending nor deserve to be labelled as such. Advising someone who explicitly posted here seeking advise to think carefully about their goals is not the same thing as suggesting that they not pursue the Ph.D.

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I haven't said anything particularly different. Our only point of disagreement, it seems, is whether putting off retirement to pursue a Ph.D. is a good idea or not.

I was not referring specifically to your post regarding negativity, btw. There were other posters who were very discouraging of the OP.

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