Name: Ana Armbrister Bland
Hometown: West Palm Beach, Florida
Profession: Elementary School Teacher
Degree Earned from Capella University: PhD in Curriculum and Instruction
Ana Armbrister Bland, PhD, is a Capella graduate, teacher, and the 2015 Hispanic Teacher of the Year in her school district. In this interview, she reflects on her PhD journey, her career, and what winning the award has meant to her professionally and personally.
Q. What led you to seek a PhD?
A. You know, it was never on my radar. I originally enrolled at the University of Florida’s five-year program for education—that’s four years for the bachelor’s, then a fifth year to get the master’s. I completed both degrees within four years, graduating with my Master’s of Education in 2004. I started teaching fourth grade at Williston Elementary in Florida, which was close to the University. There were always lots of workshops and classes being offered by the principal, and I was always saying, “Sign me up!” One day the principal asked me if I’d ever thought of getting a PhD. I hadn’t, but it appealed to me right away. I’m passionate about education, something I got from my parents. They always said education is the number one priority.
Q. Why Capella?
A. I researched a bunch of schools including UF and online. But I knew I had to think in terms of practicality. I was in my third year of teaching. How could I pay for grad school? Doing some kind of independent study or online program was the best option. Capella’s Curriculum and Instruction program interested me, and when I called for more information, I was very impressed with the excellent help I got. I called in August with the thought of starting in the following January, but the enrollment counselor said, “You could start this October.” And I thought, “What am I waiting for?”
Q. What was the PhD process like?
A. To be honest, it was nerve-wracking in the beginning. It was so intense and rigorous. I realized early on I needed to be diligent about time management. I spent my school day teaching, then stayed at school until 5 or 5:30, finishing everything I needed to do for my students. Then I went home, ate, showered, walked the dog, and worked strictly on Capella studies until midnight. It kept me on track. I didn’t bring my teaching work home, and I didn’t bring my PhD work to my job.
Q. What was the best part of getting a PhD? The worst?
A. The best was the networking—building relationships with other learners who were fulfilling the same dreams I was. It was a much wider network than I’d ever have gotten at a traditional school. And the professors were wonderful. They were generous, very rigorous, but fair.
There really wasn’t a “worst”—there was a most difficult, though. The rigor was the most difficult. It’s not a bad thing, just hard. I’d work so hard on a paper, think I’d done a great job, turn it in, and the professors would take it apart. I’d have to do so much more research and writing, but I learned so much in the process.
Q. How has the PhD affected your career and your life?
A. Right now, I’m still teaching fourth and fifth grades. I adore this age. I’m also an adjunct professor at Palm Beach State College, where my PhD allows me to bring my love and passion of teaching to prospective teachers. Eventually, I’ll move to the post-secondary level of teaching.
But what’s really wonderful, both in my career and personally, is having students see me as a young Hispanic woman with a PhD. Parents tell me all the time that their children talk about that at home and are very impressed with it. Education is so important to me, and if I can be a role model, that’s the best possible scenario.
Q. What advice would you offer current or future PhD prospects?
A. Time management is really key. And you have to want it. Ask yourself, “Is this truly something I want?” The answer will help you know if you’re ready for the extremely rigorous dissertation process. The topic better be something you’re passionate about, because it will be your life. My topic was Reciprocal Reading for ESL Students, and I was tremendously passionate and fascinated with it.
Q. Tell us about the award.
A. I applied for the Hispanic Teacher of the Year award through my school administration last spring. I didn’t hear anything and thought, “Oh, well.” But the day before school was out in June, there was a fifth-grade award ceremony, and they announced I’d won this award! I was so surprised. The other teachers contacted my parents and husband, and they kept it secret, and they were there to see me receive it. It means so much to me to have been selected and have my passion acknowledged.
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