From AC 2nd to… A Master’s Degree in Teaching

Not everyone who loves history comes to college looking to teach it. And while many of our students do double-major in Social Studies Education 5-12, that program requires a significant commitment: at least half a dozen content area classes besides those in History, 37 credits of Education coursework — including a full semester of student teaching — and a minimum GPA of 3.0 throughout. (Here’s a recent interview with a student who combined those two majors and teaches social studies in a local public high school.) Unless you know you want to teach and are prepared to make that commitment by the end of your second year in college, it’s hard to do.

But what if you graduate with a History degree, work for a few years, and then decide that you really are called to teach? Is it too late?

Not at all — you could go back to school and earn a Master of Arts in Teaching degree. To give you a sense of how a Bethel History major might take that path to a social studies classroom, we talked to Heidi (Pound) Louwsma (’05, GS ’12), who finished her master’s last year and teaches at New Life Academy in Woodbury, MN.

Why did you decide to major in History? Did you consider adding a Social Studies Education major, or were you not interested in teaching at that point?

I was originally a Biblical and Theological Studies major and music minor, but somehow I didn’t feel like music was what I really wanted to do. I finally realized that I loved history, so I changed my minor from music to history, not really sure what I was going to do with that. And by the end of my sophomore year, after the encouragement of one of my professors, I decided to double major.

I never considered a Social Studies Education major because I absolutely had no interest then in teaching.

What was it like to double-major in History and Biblical and Theological Studies? (Practically speaking: was it easy or hard to make all the pieces fit and still graduate on time? And as an experience: did you perceive similarities or overlap between the two fields? Differences or tensions?)

When I first decided to double major, I thought I was going to need to take an extra semester to finish. I still didn’t know what I was going to do when I graduated, but because I was very passionate about my majors, I knew it was the right thing to do. It was actually a great experience to put both history and theology together. I am a firm believer that context makes anything truly come alive. There was definitely overlap in content, but from different perspectives. Putting the two together helped re-enforce what I was learning in both disciplines. And the more I understood about the history and culture of the Bible, the more real it became. I didn’t have any classes for which I received both BTS and history credits, but many of the general courses coincided with my majors. It wasn’t until the middle of my junior year that I realized I would have enough credits to graduate on time. My situation was more unique because I transferred in from Covenant Bible College after my freshman year. Only 12 credits transferred to Bethel, so I began my sophomore year at Bethel a semester behind in terms of credits. In addition, I had a music scholarship, so taking voice lessons and participating in Bethel choir accrued enough credits for me to make it, graduating just two credits over the minimum. I actually did also take an online history course through the University of Minnesota my last semester in order to get everything done on time, but I was determined to not have to go another semester.

Tell us a bit about your journey from graduating from Bethel to deciding to go back to school… Did you graduate with an idea of what career you wanted to pursue? (Did you want to take some time doing other things before moving onto a career path?) How did you come to realize that you wanted to go back to school? And why teaching?

After I graduated from Bethel in 2005, I worked for a non-profit ministry for about a year.  I loved the ministry and the people I worked with, but I had to raise all my own support. That aspect of it was very difficult for me. In fact, I hated it. And wasn’t very good at it. Even though I enjoyed my work there, I knew it wasn’t going to be sustainable – both in terms of money and in terms of my own interests. I didn’t feel like it was where I belonged, and soon realizing that I was interested in pursuing graduate school, I knew I needed to make a change.  Still not knowing exactly what I wanted to study, I took another job in an office downtown.

It wasn’t until the summer of 2006, at the Covenant Church’s youth conference (CHIC), where I was sitting in a seminar led by a professor from North Park University, that it struck me: I wanted to do that. I wanted to teach. After the seminar I actually went up and talked to him about it. After he encouraged me to move forward with it, I couldn’t get teaching out of my head, and knew that was the direction I needed to make it happen. I initially had thought maybe teaching at a college would be the right fit, but eventually felt led to pursue a secondary social studies teaching license.

Take us through the M.A. in Teaching program: how long does it take? How is it similar to or different from your undergraduate education? What advice would you give to others who might be thinking about seeking this degree?

The Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program was nothing like my undergraduate education. There are no content area (i.e. social studies) classes; they are all education classes. It is focused on working adults who do not yet have a teaching license. I began in September 2009. That first year was all education courses. I had the summer off from classes and then did my student teaching in the fall of 2010. I completed student teaching in January 2011, finished my portfolio in February, and received my license in March. At that point, if I wanted to be done, I could stop the program, and just be a teacher. But I wanted to get my Master’s, so I started working on my thesis. My initial due date was the end of January 2012, but since I started teaching, I put it off and finally finished in September 2012 (I basically worked on in during the summer).

Here’s my advice for others seeking this degree: I was told that I would have a hard time finding a job because social studies is the most popular subject. In addition, since I only had a history degree, I needed to take six extra classes to be licensed in social studies. Despite these things, I went ahead anyway because this was what I really wanted and it was worth it for me. Therefore, you should be prepared to possibly have to take a few extra courses. I don’t think most people have to take that many classes, but if you are interested in social studies, you will need to have had classes in United States History, World History, Psychology, Anthropology/Sociology, Micro- and Macroeconomics, Political Science, and Physical Geography. It’s also important to understand that you may not get to teach your “preferred” subject area (at least not right away). For instance, obviously history is my favorite, but a job could open up where I might be expected to teach Economics or Psychology. And finally, because I was working a “regular” full-time job at the time, I had to quit once student teaching began.

How is teaching going so far? What’s especially rewarding or challenging? Anything about it that surprises you?

I absolutely love teaching. I am so glad I made the decision to go back to school. It was a lot of work, but definitely worth it. I think what I found to be the most surprising is how much I love and care for my students. There are many things that are challenging about being a teacher, including how much work you put in to your classes (especially your first year). I really do work a lot and am very busy, but knowing that I am putting my time into my classes now will pay off the next time I have to teach them. Despite the busyness and hard work, it is the most rewarding work I’ve ever done because of the students. I love being able to impact them and really pour into them. When you take an interest in your students, they notice and appreciate that. I think teachers don’t always see the way they influence their students. But the relationships you build with them are, to me, the best part about teaching.

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?

My advice is if you really want to teach, do it. I went into it knowing that it might be hard to find a job, but don’t not pursue it if it’s what you feel called to do. You just need to be sure it’s the right fit for you. Also, whenever you are in a situation where you are in front of a class (whether you are student teaching or substitute teaching), always do the best you possibly can, because that will always increase your chances of getting hired when a job opens up. One of the best encouragements I’ve ever received about feeling a call to teaching was this: “If you really want to do it, but don’t think you can, you are probably in the right place.”

If you’re interested in going back to school to get a master’s in teaching social studies or another field, here’s a link to the program Heidi did at Bethel.

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