I was the last of our triumvirate to get to the end of the EdD. Jill Berry and Tim Jefferies were my support, my challenge, my competition, my trailblazers and my ultimate heroes. There was lengthy, heady discussion about the day when we could call ourselves Doctor.
I have Dr Kell on my office door and my email signature. I haven’t yet gone through the hassle of changing the bank card. I am extremely proud of what I’ve achieved.
Around 18 times a week, I explain to young people that, no, I don’t know the cure for acne or athletes’ foot, but I DID work really hard on a very big essay all about teachers for five years and it was tough, and when my teachers marked my work, there was often lots of upsetting red all over it, and I regularly nearly gave in. I tell them how I revised – using coloured cards and treasury tags, and how I got my family to test me on key concepts. I tell them how I struggled to find quiet places to work and how my computer crashed and I lost several thousand words. I tell them about the days when I sat down with the best intentions and achieved nothing and about the days when I had to stop the car on to way to see a friend to write down all the ideas that had come in a rush. I tell them about my scary two hour speaking exam.
I like these conversations. Teenagers don’t do awe or pretension – it is what it is, just like their own studies – and they’re quite proud of my for getting it handed in on time, but, all in all, it doesn’t much change their views of me.
I gave my Year 10s the choice as to whether to call me ‘Dr’ or ‘Ms’ on their English books – they went about 50:50 with no discernible pattern.
I’ve been Doctor Pepper, Doctor Know and simply The Doctor.
Now, I know impostor syndrome and holding back on celebrating achievements are all terribly common and, dare I say it, something women tend towards, but I must admit that I’ve had a few moments recently when it’s grated a little.
When a colleague refers to me as Dr Kell in front of another colleague I don’t yet know. When someone shouts ‘Dr Kell!’ along the corridor when I’m on duty. Or at parents’ evening – an intimidating enough event for so many parents, when I wasn’t sure the great big DR added anything to what I knew of their children or how much I invest in their progress. If anything, I feared it might make me less approachable. My Doctorate has been regarded with wariness and suspicion. Does it suggest my priorities are a bit wrong? Does it suggest I think I’m better than others?
And yes, when a Twitter contact refers to me as Dr Emma or a close friend boasts to another of my achievement, I glow a little inside.
I suppose it’s a little like the effort to wear make-up. I bother around twice a week – if I’m feeling a bit too tired and need to cover it up, if I’m in the mood for colour, or if I want to make an impression. I’d quite like to use my new title selectively and assert my right to use the title selectively – because it’s a huge achievement, but it’s not remotely all of who I am.
Does that sound like self-indulgent false-modesty? I don’t know. Maybe I’m just being my slightly restless self and the novelty’s worn off a bit. But when I consciously made the decision to stay in the classroom rather than pursue an academic route, when I made the decision to find a job which allows me to be a decent mother and a good friend too, I asserted my right to be Miss and my right to be Mum and my right to be Emma too.