Dumas Junior High School (DJHS) teacher and coach Rebecca Bonine recently realized a dream she has nurtured since college: after four and a half years of work, she completed her dissertation and was awarded a PhD. Bonine, who teaches Texas history to seventh graders and is the DJHS coach, said her students are excited to have a doctor as their teacher, though they are a little fuzzy about what that actually means. "They are so funny. I explained to them what a PhD is and told them that I am a doctor now. One wondered if I could take his grandfather's pancreas out. Another said, 'Hey miss, I need my tonsils out, can you do that?' " Bonine, whose doctorate is in education, replied to her curious students, "I am not that kind of a doctor. You don't want me to do that."
Bonine has been working on her PhD off and on for several years, since receiving her masters degree in history from the University of Texas at San Antonio. She began work at Texas Tech with the intention of getting her doctorate in history. She chose the impact of the introduction of horses in the new world as the topic of her dissertation. (It was not a surprising topic. Bonine grew up on ranches in Texas and Montana. Her father, J. C. Bonine, was a world champion bronc rider in 1977, and she had been a rodeo barrel racer, before giving it up for an academic career and tennis.) But, "life happened," she said. And she was not able to finish her degree. "Growing up I always wanted to be a female version of Indiana Jones. I wanted to be an historian, traveling, and working in archives. When I left Tech, that was not my passion anymore. I was a mother. My goals changed. I still loved history. I still wanted to finish my doctorate, but education became my passion."
So, she began work at Northcentral University, a school that offered her enough flexibility that she could juggle a full-time job and parenting with the demanding work of her graduate studies. She took a job teaching and coaching at DJHS. Her dissertation this time was the effect of instructional coaches on teacher retention and student performance. Life kept happening. COVID delayed her research. She became a Channing City Councilor and the Chairman of the Hartley County Historical Commission, where she was instrumental in reviving efforts to preserve and restore the historic XIT Ranch General Office. Her tennis students started winning, and the program doubled in size. A colt she was training kicked her in the leg and broke it. "It was a lot of work managing having to be on crutches and taking care of my tennis team, taking care of my classroom, taking care of my daughter and meeting all of my deadlines for my dissertation."
Bonine said her teaching colleagues and the administrators at DJHS and the Dumas Independent School District (DISD) have been supportive and encouraging through the whole process. Completing her work would not have been possible without their understanding. The research for her dissertation, which she had to defend to a committee from the University, showed that instructional coaches have a positive effect on both teacher retention and student performance. The first person she notified when she found out she had been successful and was being awarded the degree was her friend and mentor Ruth Ann Grice, instructional coach at DJHS, who Bonine says is "a model" for instructional coaches.
Bonine says the work to earn her doctorate has helped her be a better teacher. She still loves history. Her seventh graders at the moment are studying Texas from 1900 to 1929. They recently covered the big ranches of Texas, a topic Bonine has a special affection for. "Our area has so many old, awesome ranches and great history. This is about the time that kids realize, 'Hey, we live in a pretty cool area that a lot of things happened in.' It is always exciting to watch them get excited about history."
Along with everything else, Bonine is still training the colt that broke her leg -- and gave her a concussion and whiplash. She hopes to take up rodeoing again.