Stellenbosch University
Welcome to Stellenbosch University
Dr Shannon Bishop-Swart shares about experiences during her PhD studies
Author: Faculty of Education
Published: 06/05/2024

​​​​Dr Shannon Bishop-Swart obtained her PhD in Education in March 2024. She shared about her experiences and journey.​

Dr Bishop-Swart holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education from the University of Pretoria, an Associate Diploma in Drama from Trinity College in London, a Masters in TESOL from Teachers College, Columbia University, through a Fulbright scholarship, and a PhD in Education Policy from Stellenbosch University. She has 22 years local and international English Language and Literature teaching experience, and has taught across four continents, holding the positions of Head of English, Deputy Head of Academics and Lead Teacher Trainer. Her research interests include teacher education with a focus on teacher well-being, online learning environments (OLEs), reflective practice in education, and English as a Second/Additional language (ESL/EAL). Prior to her current role, she was the Intensive English Programme coordinator and lecturer at Stellenbosch University's Language Centre, working predominantly with international students intent on improving their English Language skills, managing six English Second Language (ESL) teachers across four English programmes (IEP, EAP, TESOL, IELTS). 


​Left: Bishop-Swart with her family at her PhD graduation.

Right: Bishop-Swart with Faculty of Education colleagues.

How did your PhD journey begin?

I have been an English language and literature teacher for most of my adult life, teaching predominantly senior primary and high school learners, as well as English to adult speakers of other languages. I was fortunate to teach and travel extensively early on in my teaching career, which gave me an interest in people and cultures, and subsequently a desire to keep learning. From my late twenties I developed an interest in studying further and have completed numerous courses that interested me, from public speaking, to leadership, to creative writing and the dramatic arts. This interest in knowledge seemed a natural progression to continue to study further and so my dream to be a Doctor of Education was realised.

On 17th July 2017, I attended Professor Jonathan Jansen's book launch of “As By Fire" and at the end of the session, I went up to him to get my book signed. I mentioned to him that I had been reading his work for years and that I was delighted to finally meet him. I decided that there is no time like the present and added that I was interested in pursuing a PhD in Education and would be honoured if he would be my supervisor. He smiled encouragingly, gave me a high five and said “e-mail me!". And then life happened! It took another two years in which I got engaged and married, experienced a breast cancer scare and surgery, moved from Gauteng to the Western Cape, and subsequently changed jobs, before I was finally able to register for my PhD in Education Policy at Stellenbosch University's Education Faculty.

What is your research about?

My research addresses how teaching practice and teacher well-being were affected in the unique online learning environments teachers found themselves in during the COVID-19 pandemic. My dissertation is a mixed methods study of two different sets of teacher participants in similar education environments in South Africa. The digital diaries of three English Second Language (ESL) instructors and a digital questionnaire including quantitative and qualitative questions answered by a different set of twenty-five higher education educators informed the findings of my research.  

What motivated you to do this piece of research and why do think it is important?

As an experienced educator, but novice academic, I was interested to see how my practice suited the theories that I came across in my research which linked with what I personally experienced in my various educator roles. I have generally experienced that teachers have high expectations placed on them, which often extend beyond their job description. I felt personally that I had been affected by these expectations and wanted to look at what emotions were affected when these expectations are placed on teachers, in what context these emotions occur, and how they affect teacher well-being and teacher relationships (professionally and personally) within the added layer of a global education disruption. I was particularly interested in the global disruptive aspect of the study, as a teacher's day is never the same and there is a plethora of incidents that can occur at any minute of the day, that are out of a teacher's control, and every teacher will deal with that differently. However, I wanted to know if all teachers were placed in an environment that was unique to them in a variety of ways, how would they react and be affected?

Were there any challenges along the way during your studies?

As a more mature student starting my PhD journey in my early 40s, I had many concerns. On a professional level, I was a full-time lecturer in the Curriculum Studies Department and was aware of the amount of time needed to be dedicated to pursuing a postgraduate degree. On an academic level, the COVID-19 pandemic affected the schedule and pace at which I could collect and analyse data. While on a personal level, I lost two colleagues and several friends' parents to the pandemic. In May, 2022 my mother passed away after a lengthy chronic respiratory illness and this was both devastating and motivating to me as my mother was my most ardent education supporter.

What avenues are there for future research in this area?

Firstly, the practical application of my work is to further develop the emotions questionnaire I created into a tool that can be an immediately implementable, practical inclusion in teacher training and development. Secondly, I have an interest in policy reform around teacher well-being especially in preparation for future education disruptions, and would like to follow what theoretical changes made to well-being policy globally have been practically implemented and sustained since the pandemic. Lastly, my research interests and publications focus on teacher emotions in multilingual environments, specifically with a focus on educators in the South Africa context.

What advice would you give to others?

By far the biggest lesson I learned from pursuing a PhD is that in life you cannot do anything entirely on your own. As John Donne said, “No man is an island, entire of itself; Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main". Without the support of a loving husband, a patient family, several supportive writing buddies and colleagues, and a group of motivational and inspiring friends, this dream could never have become a reality. There is never a good time to start anything and if we use that as an excuse, we will never get anything done. My advice: just take the plunge and go for it!

Photos: Supplied by Bishop-Swart