Volume 12, Number 9 January 7, 2005

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Education student jumps hurdles to study teacher commitment factors

By David Hutton

David Pinelle

Sabre Cherkowski

Sabre is not your average name but Sabre Cherkowski is not your average person.

An education graduate born in Redwood City, Calif., Cherkowski has spent a night in a pygmy camp in Zaire, helped coached women’s soccer at the U of S, defended her PhD proposal when she was seven months pregnant with her second child, and, finally, finished her U of S PhD dissertation while raising two children in Vernon, B.C.

Her unique first name, according to Cherkowski, also has a unique origin. “My parents heard the name in a movie when they were first dating and decided that if they ever married and had a baby girl they would name her Sabre.”

A committed individual herself, Cherkowski’s focus in her PhD work was to gain a better understanding of the nature of teacher commitment, a concept that has always been of considerable interest to her.

“ I have always been interested in understanding what makes a ‘great’ teacher,” she says. “Teacher commitment was cited in much of the research on school improvement and reform as one of the critical elements. When I was teaching French immersion in a high school in Saskatoon I read a truly inspiring book in 1996 about a teacher in the United States who transformed her inner city classroom through her commitment and passion. Her story stuck with me.”

However, finishing the work was not as easy as Cherkowski anticipated. Having her first child after her comprehensive exams in the first year of the doctoral program, her husband, Kevin, who had finished his law degree at the U of S, decided to move closer to his family in British Columbia. Cherkowski followed, deciding she would be able to finish her study from Kelowna.

“ I didn’t realize what a time commitment a baby was!” she exclaims. “I defended my proposal when I was seven months pregnant with my second child. We then moved to Vernon, for my husband’s work. After a maternity leave, I began working on my study. I juggled the two children and my dissertation for two years before I managed to complete it.”

The end result was worthwhile though, as Cherkowski’s study was able to provide a broader definition of teacher commitment.

“ I believed that teacher commitment had been too narrowly defined in past research,” Cherkowski explains. “I was therefore not surprised to see that the participants revealed a broader description of what teacher commitment meant to them. However, I was surprised to see the degree to which the teachers believed in the importance of having fun and feeling passionate about their work.”

Cherkowski also suggests, “Slowing down the school day would allow educators to find the time to collaborate and engage in meaningful relationships that help to nourish the fun and passion that they feel for their work. Principals must work to create time, space, and the appropriate school culture for this to happen.”

Having completed her PhD work, Cherkowski makes it clear she will adhere to those principles of having fun and feeling passionate about work.

A competitive figure skater growing up, Cherkowski is now “insanely enthusiastic about playing women’s hockey”.

“ I tried hockey the year I was assistant coach of the women’s soccer team at the U of S ... I’ve been a hockey nut ever since. I’m currently juggling two young children and finding as many ways as possible to play hockey two to three times a week!”

Cherkowski hopes to teach at the new UBC-Okanagan campus and hopes further research will continue to explore the connection between empowering teachers to choose the tempo of their workday and their sense of commitment.

David Hutton writes graduate student profiles for the U of S College of Graduate Studies and Research


For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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