Sussex Technical High School teachers Deangello Eley and Diane LeCates recently earned their doctoral degrees – the highest advanced degree possible – and earned the right to put “Dr.” in front of their names. Earning their degrees took several years while they continued to teach full-time, and included a capstone dissertation.

Eley, of Middletown, is a teacher in the criminal justice and legal support services program and earned his Doctor of Education in School Leadership and Innovation from Wilmington University in December 2018. LeCates, of Laurel, is a social studies teacher who earned her Doctor of Education in School Leadership from Widener University this spring. She also won the Center for Education’s Outstanding Dissertation Award and presented at the Widener Graduate Student Research Symposium.

They recently offered their thoughts on the process, their advice for students and fellow teachers, and how returning to the classroom as students taught them valuable lessons.

Q. What spurred you to complete your doctorate?

Eley: I’m a lifelong learner and I like to learn new things. I always strive for excellence.  I like finding ways to improve my craft. I am also interested in working as a school administrator sometime in the future. I believe attaining a doctoral degree will help me secure an educational leadership position.

LeCates: Earning my doctorate has been something I always aspired to do. When Sussex Tech partnered with Widener University and started a cohort here, it seemed like the right time and opportunity.

Q. What lessons did the process teach you?

LeCates: I grew professionally and personally. One of the biggest challenges was balancing my time as a teacher, student and family member, so I had to learn how to be efficient with my time and not take any moment for granted. Throughout my course work and research, I further realized the importance of developing and fostering relationships with others, which ultimately led me to my dissertation topic of emotional intelligence.

Eley: My doctoral journey taught me to enjoy the process, put one foot in front of the other, strengthened my perseverance, and personal courage. I definitely improved my organization and time management skills. I also improved my writing skills. Writing is something that anyone can improve upon, no matter your skill level.

Q. What were the most challenging parts?

Eley: Definitely balancing working full-time as a teacher and the numerous amounts of reading and writing involved. The course work was interesting and very overwhelming at times. The other challenging part was learning and conducting qualitative and quantitative statistical analysis. In order to design my study, I had to learn all about the different statistical tests I needed to perform in order to answer my research questions.

LeCates: Aside from the time management, I found quantitative research and technical writing to be the most challenging aspects of my degree. I have always liked writing and am confident in my writing ability, but the data analysis and reporting the data from my dissertation study required a different skill set. Fortunately, I am surrounded by amazing colleagues with a variety of skill sets, who assisted and supported me throughout the process.

Q. What was it like returning to the classroom as a student?

LeCates: I didn’t feel as if I was returning to the classroom as a student, because I believe I never left. Our world is a classroom with plentiful opportunities to learn something new every day.

Eley: My cohort met every Monday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Spending time in a seat for five hours after working all day gave me a taste of what our students’ days are like. I really got a chance to know what my learning style is. I confirmed that I work well within a team. I also learned that anyone in an organization can be a leader. Every leader can teach and every teacher can lead.  Leaders learn more by listening than by talking. In order to be an effective leader, you have to know what you don’t know and put people with the right skills and the right knowledge in the right place.

Q. Do you have any advice for students drawn from your doctoral degree pursuit?

Eley: “Success does not breed success. It breeds failure. It is failure which breeds success” (Kouzes & Posner, 2012) and “You cannot truly appreciate the sweet taste of success until you have tasted the bitterness of defeat” (Eley, 2018). I truly believe we cannot appreciate “a win” or “a success” if we don’t experience failures along the way. Life is full of failure. Failure is normal. It’s how you respond to failure and adversity which reveals true character.

LeCates: At the core of my philosophy of education is being a life-long learner. If students embrace this philosophy, whether it be on the job training, exploring in their community, or formal study in the classroom, they will find the motivation for continuous growth and improvement throughout their lives.

Q. Why is it important for teachers to pursue advanced degrees?

LeCates: While addressing the faculty in a meeting, Sussex Tech Principal Dr. John Demby emphasized the importance of achieving the highest level of education or training in your field, and that really resonated with me. If you want to be the best at what you do, then you need to seize opportunities to expand your repertoire of skills and knowledge. I feel my degree provides benefits throughout the school community. It affords me the opportunity, as a teacher leader and member of the school community, to provide a different perspective to others. As for my students, I sincerely believe I have been a role model for them and have shown them that you can achieve any goal you set for yourself through hard work and dedication. Within the classroom, my students are benefiting from revisions I have made to our curriculum and instructional units based on what I have learned throughout the program. Beyond our course content, my goal is to assist my students in developing their own emotional competence, so they too can experience personal and academic growth.

Eley: I think it’s important to continuously improve and sharpen your tools.  Increasing your education is like adding more tools to your toolbox. Educators are in the business of providing the product of learning and excellence to students, their families, and the community stakeholders. Teachers that have numerous tools in their toolbox will be able to effectively diagnose, differentiate, and meet the needs of their students to achieve excellence. All of society benefits when our students achieve excellence.

Q. What advice would you give fellow teachers?

Eley: Make sure you have a good support system at home. You definitely need to establish specific days to work on your studies and days to rest and STICK TO YOUR SCHEDULE! Dedicate yourself to your schedule. It’s really another full-time job. Organize your life prior to diving in.

LeCates: Find your passion early about what you would like to research for your dissertation, and as you complete your classes gear your assignments toward topics that could relate to your potential dissertation study. Having done this, when it was time to begin my dissertation, I already compiled a lot of research and had a depth of knowledge about my topic.

 

AT A GLANCE

Dr. Deangello Eley
Legal support services teacher, Sussex Technical High School
B.S., Paralegal Studies, Wesley College
M.S., Administration of Justice, Wilmington University
Ed.D., School Leadership and Innovation, Wilmington University
Dissertation topic: Teacher Perception and Response to Evaluator Feedback in a Comprehensive Technical High School

Dr. Diane LeCates
Social studies teacher, Sussex Technical High School
B.S. Secondary Education/Social Studies, University of Scranton
M.Ed., School Leadership/Administration, University of Delaware
Ed.D., School Leadership, Widener University
Dissertation topic: Emotional Competence and the Effectiveness of New Teachers