Tammy Burris can't argue with her son, John Austin, when he jokes about how much she loves learning.
"He says, 'Mom, you've been in school my whole life,'" she said. "He is in college now. He says, 'I've never seen anybody who loves to be in the classroom as much as you do.'"
Burris will start her dissertation for the Doctor of Education with an emphasis in Educational Leadership program at Mississippi College in August 2018. She graduated from MC with a Master of Education in Elementary Education in 1996 and an Education Specialist (Ed. S.) degree in Educational Leadership in 2005.
"I love being in school, and I love learning," she said. "I was one of those people who said, 'I'm going to get an educational leadership degree, but I don't want to be out of the classroom yet.' Once I got that Ed. S., things started happening and doors started opening for me. I had no idea."
Burris is in her 12th year as a principal. She's currently at River City Early College High School, with previous stints at Warren Central Junior High and Bowmar Elementary. She taught elementary school in the same district for 14 years until opportunities in administration came along. Burris has worked for Mississippi's Vicksburg Warren School District her entire career.
"I thought, 'Okay, God really wants me to do administration now instead of doing it later,'" Burris said. "I still miss being in the classroom. I try to get into classrooms as much as I can as an administrator and definitely as an instructional leader."
Keeping the Faith
Burris graduated with a bachelor's degree from Mississippi State University in 1992 after starting a bachelor's program at MC. Burris was eager to return for her advanced degrees to take advantage of the smaller class sizes and overall mission of the school.
"I like being at a faith-based college where it's okay to be a Christian," she said. "That was very important to me. The instructors that I had were always so awesome. You hear horror stories of other people going to college, but I always felt like I had the best instructors at Mississippi College."
Burris might have gone for a leadership degree sooner if not for a rule in Mississippi that teachers could only receive a salary bump by earning a degree specific to what they taught.
"I feel like more people are going to educational leadership now because they can put that in their pocket and get paid for that extra degree," she said. "That wasn't the case back then, but I loved getting my master's in elementary education and being around all of those stellar teachers and the cohort of people."
Burris returned to MC for the Ed. S. several years after completing the master's degree to prepare for an administration role she thought would be a possibility down the road.
"It was one of those things you feel like you already know about because you've always been in education, but being in those classes really shows you the things you don't see and all of the knowledge that is required," she said. "A lot of teachers say, 'I'm in schools. I am around principals all of the time.' You just have no idea. It opened my eyes to what leadership is all about."
Burris, an outdoor enthusiast, hopes to advance into a superintendent role once she completes the doctoral program.
"Being an educator was one of those things that I always just knew I was born to do," she said. "I've been an elementary school principal, junior high principal and now I'm at a high school. It's good to have that broad range."
Burris thoroughly enjoys the aspect of working with both teachers and students as an administrator.
"I like working with the teachers and letting them see their potential," she said. "I also like working with all of the kids and seeing them flourish. I like to see them set goals and meet their goals. In elementary you're able to plant those seeds. When they're in high school, I'm able to see them accomplish so much and all of that come to fruition. It's wonderful."
Burris credits her mother, Carline Wallace, for instilling in her a love of learning to the point where teaching was the only career Burris ever considered.
"I did the graduation ceremony for my master's and my specialist degrees," she said. "It's something to be proud of. Of course, my mom's vision for me was to get my doctorate."
Throughout each of Burris' degree programs at MC, her family, friends and coworkers gave her tremendous support. She is the proud single mother of John Austin, who attends Hinds Community College and has been accepted into the nursing program at the University of Memphis, and Lindsey, a registered nurse in Tennessee.
"My principal and superintendent at the time knew I was in the Ed. S. program," Burris said. "They gave me a lot of support. I did the field hours and really used a lot of what I was learning in the classroom, as well."
Burris believes the Ed. S. program is a great option for educators looking to pave the way to a career in administration. She has recommended the program to several teachers she mentors across the state.
"They should definitely do it," she said. "They can narrow it down to what they're interested in. Some people get into the program and say, 'I didn't realize that it's just not for me.' But, all of the ones that I have mentored are always glad that they did it."
Burris looks forward to seeing what the future holds in her career once she's finished earning degrees.
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