Devotional – Friday, October 30, 2020

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12

The date was February 21, 2011. I was teaching seven different high school courses in a five-hour teaching schedule. I was serving as head coach of two sports for the same high school. I was also the Mathematics Department head and the liaison for the entire mathematics department for the school’s recovery plan team, since the school’s state-issued, evaluative, performance grade was plummeting to unacceptable levels. My plate was more than full.

I was tired and working Monday through Friday, starting at 6:00 a.m., when I first arrived to school each day (classes started at 7:10 a.m.). Often, I did not get back into my automobile to go home until after 10:30 p.m., spending time until 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. coaching, then catching up on other work until the time I decided to shut down for the night. My mother often would call my cell phone and check on me after 9:30 p.m. to make sure that I was ok, and each time my response was, “…just catching up on work….again….”

Teaching, my true passion, had all but completely waned. Going home each night was nice, but as soon as I got into my car to head home, I knew I would be forced to return the next day and start all over. In the simplest of terms, I was burnt out and hated the direction my life was taking. God realized my struggle despite my denial of Him so many times over the nearly 17 years prior — he was encouraging me to persevere. 

I made the decision in May 2011 to leave the teaching profession with thoughts of using my mathematics degree, skills, experience, and expertise to pursue a career as an actuary and make exorbitant amounts of money, but to do so I would need to go back to school for a few years. In January 2012, at the age of 36, I entered the Actuarial Science program at LSU and completed the program in December 2013, at the cost of nearly $30,000 in student loans.

I passed the first two actuarial exams and had several opportunities to make six figures, but during my educational training, I had been introduced to applied and theoretical statistics. I loved the science of statistics so much that I made the decision to throw away any practical application of my actuarial science training, and instead apply to the Applied Statistics Masters program at LSU, a decision that would serve as the most critical decision of my life since making the decision to leave high school teaching. Basically, I had to persevere yet again.

In January 2014 I entered the Applied Statistics graduate program at LSU and was able to complete the coursework in two and a half years, but I failed the written comprehensive exam twice (I have never been a good test taker). I was graciously allowed one more attempt at the exam, which I passed. After the second failed attempt, I had wondered if applied statistics was even what God intended for me to do. I prayed hard and made the decision to try a third time, so I studied ten hours daily for two straight months and the result was a success. God had encouraged me yet again to persevere. Later that year, in my oral exam defense, I passed on my first try (in 45 minutes, no less).

In fall 2016, though, I was at a crossroads. I was asked by some of the best high school districts in the state to teach at one of their schools, but I turned them all down. Teaching statistics and rewriting statistics curriculum had become my newfound passion — so much so that I decided to pursue a PhD in Educational Research with an emphasis in Statistics Education.

That fall of 2016, the instructor of the primary, introductory statistics course at LSU asked me to rewrite his statistics labs, a request to which I gladly obliged since it was a great opportunity to gain a large publication with my name on it. However, eight months of hard work from August 2016 to April 2017 resulted in this instructor wanting his name only on the publication. My name was removed from the manuscripts. Since I was only a mere graduate student, I had to accept his decision to do so, as I was basically his “teaching assistant.”  Perseverance, have you met Trey Earle? I simply swallowed my pride and asked God for guidance.

At the end of my second year in the PhD program in Educational Research at LSU (spring 2018), at the request of several people, I taught part-time at Zachary High School, the top public/ISD/charter high school in Louisiana. I spent four months developing what would be a vast and extensive dissertation research study with a group of students aimed at taking several statistics courses under my direction.     

At the May 2018 “exit interview,” a practice held at Zachary High School with each teacher, I was told that my services would likely be needed for the 2018-2019 school year — the year I had planned to conduct my dissertation research — but I wouldn’t be given a definitive answer about my services until June 15, 2018. Despite five separate email attempts between June 8 and July 11, 2018, to determine if I could still conduct my research study at the school for the 2018-2019 school year, it was not until July 18, 2018, that I learned I would not be retained due to school-wide financial reasons.

Where would I now perform my research? Senior statistics classes are rare in school these days (thus the foundation of my research in advancing statistics education in high schools). I was at a loss yet again. Should I give up and just be ABD (all but dissertation) like thousands of other doctoral students who never quite finished their doctoral degrees? God came through again and encouraged me to persevere.

On August 1, 2018, I placed a call to a Math Department professor at LSU, a man who I had met in my early days of teaching, 14 years prior, back in 2004, and a member of my doctoral committee. I told him what happened and he was not happy about what the school did to me, knowing full well my dissertation plans and approvals at that school. He placed a phone call to an old teaching friend of mine who was an assistant principal at a local Baton Rouge high school. The assistant principal was in search of an Algebra I and Geometry teacher. I told the assistant principal that I would gladly interview and take the job. Income first, dissertation second, was my initial thought. I interviewed and was hired on the spot.

What about my dissertation idea? Would I have to start over? I picked up the curricular textbooks for each course (Algebra I and Geometry), and what did I find, to my surprise? The last unit of each of those curricular textbooks was a statistics unit, the content of which was directly in line with my initial dissertation proposal plan (filled with projects). I can testify to you today that this was purely because of God. He had my proverbial back. They say things happen for a reason and this is further proof of the power of God; I truly believe this.

I developed the new dissertation research study proposal in the fall of 2018 and successfully defended this proposal in front of my doctoral committee in March 2019. The study was conducted from April through May 2019, during the last six weeks of the school year. Statewide testing, “dead periods,” participating teachers resigning, etc. — it all happened over these six weeks. Much of the time spent conducting the experiments was spent controlling external factors, most beyond my control. I asked God for guidance, patience and wisdom. He granted it. The study portion of my dissertation ended May 29, 2019.

Now that the hardest part was over, I had to analyze and discuss the results. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic happened, seemingly pushing my final defense date to fall 2020. My mother, father, fiancée, and son all wondered if I would ever finish my doctorate (now 4.5 years into my doctoral program) and stayed on me about reaching that “finish line.”

On October 14, 2020, I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation research study. My major professor, after every other professor on my committee left our virtual classroom, told me two things. He said, “I know it was very difficult going back to school at such a late stage in your life and balancing work, school, home, and your personal life, but you did it, Trey.” And then he said, “Let me be the first to call you, Dr. Earle. How does that feel?” I replied, “Righteous,” as tears welled in my eyes. I had persevered.

 The Bible tells us that he who, “…remains steadfast under trial…will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12). My journey has certainly been an exhaustive one, perhaps even to the eyes reading this devotional or the ears who have heard me regale every key point. But I think I have earned the right to be gratified, at least in God’s eyes. I am thankful that God kept me focused, driven, and humble in my journey, through every trial and tribulation, and now, success. My love for Him was never minimized throughout the journey. And now that I can proudly call myself, Dr. Earle, and because of God’s love for me, there is at least one thing that I know that I can always do for the rest of my days on this earth.

Persevere.

I know you can as well.         

Offered by Dr. Trey Earle

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