To all those Ed.D school leaders who demand to be called ‘doctor,’ please get over yourself

This is going to piss off my educator friends, but I have a little advice for all those Ed.Ds who insist on being called “Doctor.” Stop. Just Stop.

I get it. You worked hard for that Doctor of Education degree and you’re proud of it. Learning is a good thing. But when you use that honorific as a bludgeon with teachers and parents to convey authority and compel respect, you do little more than convey insecurity and compel an eye roll.

I once was on a call between a school administrator and a mom whose son was having behavior issues. When the call opened, the administrator introduced herself by her first and last name. When the mom started getting defensive and pushing back, the administrator interrupted with an “Excuse me, this is Doctor (So and So)…” I suppose she figured that reminding the mom of her advanced degree would convince the mom that she, as “the doctor,” was the real expert. The mom wasn’t convinced. The call went south from there.

And let’s be real about this. The quality of Ed.D programs vary wildly. I have yet to see the research that shows the degree is correlated with stronger leadership or academic results in a school district. It’s a practical degree designed for educational management positions, and doesn’t require the same rigorous research of a PhD dissertation. And I’m sorry, it’s not really in the same ballpark as a medical degree.

Even the worst school leaders love to call themselves doctor

When I was an education reporter, I spent months investigating a terrible principal whose school was in a freefall of chaos. I found evidence that he was misspending money from the school and hiring relatives. His employment record included two school board sanctions for misconduct and physically abusing a student. He bullied teachers and shamed students by calling them stupid. He also threw himself a party at his elementary school after he purportedly  earned an Ed.D and demanded that everyone in the school start calling him “doctor.”

My routine inquiry to his graduate school revealed that he lied about finishing his Ed.D. He couldn’t call himself doctor. That revelation angered him more than any other detail in a shocking account of misdeeds and mayhem. The parents and teachers who suffered under his principalship took the greatest satisfaction in seeing “Dr.” M. stripped of his honorific–even greater satisfaction than him getting fired.

I’ve called plenty of superintendents and principals “doctor” over the years. Some because they are amazing leaders and I want to recognize that. Others because they expect it and repeatedly introduce themselves that way, and it almost always rankles.

So getting called doctor is about respect, right? And we all know educators need more respect.

But you don’t earn respect by slapping a Dr. in front of your last name. You earn it by doing your job well–by having high expectations for teachers and students, for spending money wisely and on the right priorities, for engaging parents in a respectful and responsive way, and for nimbly balancing the political pressures of a very high-pressure job. Sometimes an Ed.D program helps you develop into that kind of leader. And sometimes it doesn’t make a dang difference.

If you’re an Ed.D running a school or school system, go right ahead and ask students to call you “doctor.” They need to use a title, so why not doctor instead of mister? And by all means, put it in your email signature and your online bio. You earned it.

But don’t demand it of the adults in your building–the teachers who work for you or the parents who entrust you with their children. It builds barriers, not trust. A doctor of education degree now may be expected to secure top jobs at school districts, but teachers and parents don’t really care that you spent 65 credit hours studying educational leadership concepts online.

So just stop.

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Tracy Dell'Angela

Tracy Dell'Angela

Tracy loves to ask questions and write stories. She roots for the underdog, wants our nation to reimagine schools and the teaching profession, and seethes about how much school inequity she sees. She spent most of her career as a journalist covering schools and crime. She and her husband raised two daughters in a diverse suburb of Chicago. She currently runs an education foundation in her community and formerly served as managing editor of Education Post. After leaving journalism she explored her wonkier side communicating school research at the University of Chicago and the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education. She is Californian by birth and a Chicagoan in spirit. She loves the outdoors and all animals, especially her spoiled "dingo" dog.

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