Our interview with Emily Osborne (’06), social studies teacher at Mahtomedi High School, continues… Something like a quarter of our graduates go into secondary or elementary education, so we especially appreciate that Emily was willing to reflect on how she prepared for a teaching career and what she finds most challenging and rewarding about her work, and that she offered specific advice for students interested in teaching social studies but worried about finding a job in a tight market.
5. Aside from your education courses, is there anything you did in college to prepare yourself to be a teacher?
Hands down, the best thing I did was working as a TA for the Christianity and Western Culture (CWC) course at Bethel for three years. Understanding (and loving) the content comes easily to some, but learning how to explain how everything fits together to someone who struggles to see the big picture can be a challenge. The hours I spent explaining content and study skills during office hours were invaluable, and leading large group study sessions helped me become much more confident in front of large groups. I was also able to gain practice through my work as a TA for Dr. Gehrz and as an individual tutor in the Academic Enrichment and Support Center (AESC).
I also found it helpful to spend my summers working with students. I spent the first two summers in college working a church camp and the last two summers in college working at Duke University’s Talent Identification Program (TIP). Both were valuable, but my job as a teaching assistant at TIP actually put me in a classroom working with a professor for six weeks at a time, which I think helped to prepare me for the classroom. It also inspired me to work more closely with my own district’s gifted and talented program.
6. What advice would you give to students who are interested in history or other social studies fields and are considering teaching middle school or high school, but are worried about the seeming scarcity of jobs in the field?
Finding a job in today’s social studies education market is not easy, but it is possible. Many of these items apply to other jobs as well, but in my experience these items should definitely be on every future teacher’s to-do list.
1) Get involved. There are many things you can do: volunteer for events, work for History Day at a local school, find a job that involves some form of teaching or working with the age of students you want to eventually work with, and seek out opportunities that will give you a unique resume and set of skills. Every newly licensed social studies teacher will have some field experiences and at least one student teaching placement; make sure that you find other things to add so that you stand out from the pack.
2) Network. Even if you build a stellar resume, having contacts at various schools can help your application receive the consideration it deserves. While some people may see their placements in local schools just as part of an assignment for a class, you need to make the most of these opportunities. Get to know the teacher and the teachers in the department and then keep up with them. Reconnect with your own high school social studies teachers. Let your extended network know when you are starting to look for jobs, and they may be able to provide leads or connections to local districts. This extends beyond just the education field – former employers and professors can provide crucial recommendations for your first teaching job.
3) Diversify. If you are positive that your life won’t be complete unless you are a 6th grade Minnesota history teacher, then pursue that dream with abandon. However, if your interests are a bit broader or you are worried about finding that specific dream job, make sure you have a back-up plan. For me, this was my double major.
7. What’s your favorite thing about teaching social studies in high school? What’s most challenging?
Although it can be extremely challenging, teaching has to be one of the most rewarding careers. I love seeing the expression on students’ faces when they finally understand a concept, master a skill, or figure out a life problem. High school students are trying to figure out both who they are and what they are going to do with their life. I have the opportunity to be an instructor, a guide, and a role model every day. Sometimes they even come back or email and let me know what they’ve been up to, which is always a highlight. If nothing else, you never get bored and students are, as a general rule, hilarious.
The biggest challenge is the responsibility you are given as a teacher. You can impact students in a major way – hopefully in a positive one. However, there is always pressure to make something that is not only workable and timely, but also inspirational. You could always make something a little bit better or give a bit more feedback or spend a bit more time researching a new topic. The difficulty is finding the balance, especially during the first few years. As a teacher you are always learning, but I suppose that part of the beauty of it as well.