For Cherokee High School teacher Susan Buice, education is a value that is held in the highest regard.
“I have always loved to learn,” Buice said. “When I was in college, I joked that I would be a permanent student if I could get paid to go to school.”
But it wasn’t until May 3, 2012, that Buice received her most prestigious degree yet — her doctoral degree in Teaching and Learning/Curriculum and Instruction. This weekend marks the first anniversary of the achievement.
Buice’s road to striving for her doctorate degree began after some encouragement from her first education professor at Reinhardt University.
“My professor wrote a note on my final paper for her class,” Buice said. “She said that this was the best paper she had read, and she told me that I needed to get my doctoral degree. She asked me to promise her that I would get my doctoral degree one day. It only took me 36 years to keep that promise, but I was able to tell her in person and give her a copy of my dissertation. I think that she was more excited than I was.”
Buice felt that the courses she took for her doctoral degree were invaluable and allowed her to find out what aspects of her teaching style she needed to tweak.
“The doctoral degree focused on philosophy,” Buice said. “I had to really look inside myself to find my beliefs and to see how those beliefs carry over to my classroom. It was very introspective, and I realized a great deal about myself and my teaching style.”
The topic of Buice’s dissertation was “Why Students Are Choosing Not to Participate in Honors and Advanced Placement Classes: The Phenomenon in One Georgia High School.”
“It took me three years to complete the classes and the final paper,” Buice said.
In order to complete the paper, Buice completed a qualitative phenomenological research project, a project which involves “see(ing) the topic from the viewpoint of those who are experiencing the phenomenon,” according to Buice.
“I interviewed several students here at Cherokee who had potential to be in AP and Honors classes but who had chosen not to take any advanced classes,” she said. “I was trying to find patterns and reasons for this phenomenon, so the only way to do this was to interview the students.”
While Buice noted that she thoroughly enjoyed the interviewing process, she said she went through some technical difficulties along the way.
“I could not find any software that would transcribe all of the conversations, especially when we had group meetings, so I had to tape record everything and then type it all word for word — including giggles and sneezes,” she said. “The transcribing was tough, but it was definitely worth it in the end. Those interviews were the key to my research, and they gave me the information I needed.”
Still, Buice promised herself that she would not let her doctoral studies interfere with her teaching. So Buice opted to complete her doctoral work at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., which offered a blended doctoral curriculum that would allow her to have flexibility in her studies.
“I would grade papers until 10, and then work on my dissertation classes until midnight,” Buice said. “Every week we had off for a break at school, I was writing papers. I really struggled those three years, but I was determined that my work at Liberty would never interfere with my teaching at Cherokee.”
This curriculum, however, still required Buice to drive eight hours to the Virginia campus to complete some of her classes.
“I spent most of two summers in Virginia taking classes, and I had one class that required me to be there four weekends,” she said. “My sister and I would drive up on Fridays. I would go to school Friday night and all day Saturday. Then we would drive home on Sunday so that we could be back at school on Monday.”
Buice received a bachelor’s degree in Middle Grades Education and a Master’s of Education in Middle Grades Education from Brenau University, her Gifted Endorsement from North Georgia College, and her Ed. S. in Curriculum and Instruction prior to her doctoral studies.
Buice has been a teacher for 33 years, with the last 13 of those years being at Cherokee High School, where she teaches AP English Literature and Composition, Honors Advanced Composition, and Honors Ninth Grade Literature. Her other 20 years were spent teaching at Canton Elementary, where she taught English and Social Studies, as well as gifted classes.
Last year, Buice’s AP Literature students earned an average score of 4.5 on the AP exam in May, which is far above the national average of 2.8.
“The students and I just clicked that year,” Buice said. “They loved lit and loved to discuss it. I could ask one question, and the room would be filled with answers. They had such diverse styles, and they bounced ideas off one another constantly.”