Is There a Doctor In The House?

Doctor Joel Ferris is only one of the two doctors in Colonia High School. Through his educational career, he went from being Mr. Ferris to becoming Dr. Ferris and be both a teacher while having his doctorate.


Photo Credit: Stephanie Polonis

Doctor Ferris enjoys his title of being a doctor, wanting his doctorate since his freshman year in college.

Ferris, a teacher at Colonia High, teaches US History 1 and 2, as well as Sociology. He started teaching at Colonia in 1996 and earned his doctorate in August 2013. Since then, Ferris has worked the teachings of History while working in different techniques he learned while getting his doctorate.

It All Starts Here

Ferris started his educational career by attending Kean College. Ferris stated, “I had to learn how to be a better student and use cognitive study skills to balance his obligations.” Ferris was able to use the skills he learned in class and graduated from Kean in 1995. Ferris has wanted to get his doctorate ever since his first year in Kean. “My grandma told me years before college that my goal was to be a doctor, and she wanted me to be a medical doctor.” A short year later, Ferris came to Colonia High School, and started teaching history classes. “I loved history, I always loved it,” he said. His first year teaching wasn’t easy. “I had the fear everybody has; the fear of not doing a good job teaching my students.”

School, Double Time!

Despite having his degree in teaching, and already being a teacher at Colonia, Ferris decided to go for a Doctorate degree in Educational Psychology. He decided to go to Capella University, and do both teaching and learning. “I wanted to further my education,” claimed Ferris. Being able to juggle being a teacher and a student wasn’t easy. “I had to use the same skills from my college days, the cognitive study skills to get through.” He also had to be able to do work for college, while being able to grade work he gave to his students. In 2001, Ferris became the coach of the Colonia Step Team “Da Soul Steppaz.” Ferris is not the only doctor in his family either. One of his cousins has their Medical Doctorate, and his other cousin has their doctorate in Psychology.

Hard Work Pays Off

Before Ferris could get his doctorate, he had to complete a 180 page thesis on the topic “Teaching Yourself Efficacy.” It took 10 years of learning, classes, and work, but after it was all over Mr. Ferris was finally able to call himself “Doctor,” and learned a lot from his experience at Capella. He was able to take these experiences and use them while teaching. But why get your doctorate while being a teacher? “It’s all a part of furthering my education,” stated Ferris. Learning more and taking the experiences from going to Capella helped Ferris be the teacher he is today. With his doctorate, he was able to do consultations and private practice in the Philological field.

I’m Not the Only One

Dr. Ferris isn’t the only doctor around here. Ms. Spiller, the Social Studies and Science Department Head, is also a doctor. Her experience as a teacher got better as well while being a doctor and using the experiences she learned from getting her doctorate into her teachings. “I have several of the books I used in the classroom and I try to rely as much on possible on using primary sources in the classroom. Also, I require my classes to use good research and citation skills. Writing a dissertation is very challenging and requires a lot of both” says Spiller. Getting your doctorate must be easy while being a history teacher, right? “No! I had to do case studies in the school districts I wrote about so I had to visit multiple times places like Montclair, Newark, and the Philadelphia/Camden area. Also I had to do many interviews. Luckily there were great people including authors, lawyers, professors, and parents who helped me with my research. Also, many people in my program took a sabbatical to work on their degree; I had to balance my job and the academic responsibilities of the program,” commented Spiller.

Past to Present

Mr. Ferris is still a teacher here at Colonia High. His current classes are US History 1, US History 2, and Sociology, and on top of teaching all those courses, he coaches the Step Team. This is Ferris’s 18th year teaching History in Colonia, and he has no plan on changing that any time soon. This is also his 13th year coaching Step Team. He also continues to use the skills he got from college and from getting his doctorate. Ferris is continuing his degree in family and marriage therapy and be able to talk to couples having problems with their marriages.

Step  Team Coach

Being a teacher and a student didn’t stop Ferris from being a coach as well. He said “The students here who wanted Step Team asked if I could be the advisor, so I said yes,” and in 2001, Ferris became advisor of the “Step Team,” devoted to all students looking for a team to step for. In college, Ferris joined Kean’s step team, and he brought the skills he learned from there here to Colonia. “We first had to figure out how we wanted to do it; we just needed to setup competitions. Once we did all that we went to competing and some of our team members got to go to different competitions out of state like in Florida and Pennsylvania.” You might think being a teacher, a student, and a coach is hard, but for Ferris, it’s nothing. “I didn’t start coaching until my sixth year teaching, so by the time it wasn’t as difficult as it seems.”