Meet Our Majors: Emma Beecken ’16

Throughout the semester, I will be interviewing a variety of history students, alumni, and professors, with the goal of answering the question: what can be done with a history major? To begin, we will be looking into some insights provided by Emma Beecken ’16, who has majors in both the History and Education departments. This post will mostly benefit current History/Education double majors, but is definitely worth a read for anyone in the department considering a future in education.

Emma Beecken is currently a senior here at Bethel, with majors in History, K-6 Elementary Education, Social Studies Education 5-12, and a minor in Communication Arts and Literature 5-8. She spends her very limited free time nannying, preparing copious amounts of baked goods, and participating on Bethel University’s forensics team, where she has experienced success at both the state and national level. She is a great lover of Disney films and The Chronicles of Narnia, and will eagerly explain that she resonates strongly with Belle from Beauty and the Beast and Lucy Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia. Below is a photograph of Emma, followed by her fascinating responses to my interview questions.

An image of Disney's Belle next to her biggest fan, Emma Beecken
From left to right: Disney’s Belle and Bethel University’s own Emma Beecken. The similarities are stunning, aren’t they?

You have a triple major in K-6 Elementary Education, Social Studies Education 5-12, and History, with a minor in Communication Arts and Literature Education for grades 5-8. That is quite a few things. How did you decide on this combination of majors and minor? 

When I was little, it was a constant trade-off between playing school, pioneers, and pioneer school, so I guess this combination didn’t really come as a surprise to anyone. I’ve always been passionate about children and education, and I can’t remember a time that I didn’t want to be a teacher. Throughout high school, opportunities to plan and teach lessons with students of a variety of ages reaffirmed my passion for teaching younger kids. At the same time, I couldn’t help loving history. I figured I could get my history fix by adding a Social Studies Ed major, which would also increase my marketability as an educator. That turned into adding a History major when I realized that the only other classes I would need in order complete the major were courses I would be disappointed not to take. That seemed like a sign I was heading the right direction, so I went for it, summer classes notwithstanding. It was definitely the right decision.

How do you feel the Education and History majors complement each other?

Personally, I couldn’t be happier with this combination. They are very different, and yet they complement each other beautifully.  The study of history teaches you to analyze, synthesize, and critically evaluate a body of information, and then make and communicate informed decisions. That is exactly what a good teacher needs to be doing. A truly loving teacher is analyzing a student, using all of the quantitative and qualitative data that’s available, and then acting on that information to do everything possible to help that child. It’s critical thinking, problem solving, the study of people, cultures, and different perspectives—basically, it’s being part of a giant history case study all the time. And yet it’s so much more, because it is helping a child who was created in the image of God, using every tool I can and every strategy I’ve learned to love that child as tangibly and as fiercely as possible. History has refined those tools, making me that much better of an educator.

There’s also an inherent benefit in teachers who love to learn about one subject in particular. I love teaching Social Studies because I love Social Studies. That in itself is going to make a world of difference to the students. This summer, for example, I was nannying, and we spent part of our days studying history. Because that’s what I love, I planned the most for it, had better ideas, and got the most excited about it, compared to other subjects. Grown-ups’ attitudes are contagious, so the kids got excited too. By the end of the summer, they were begging for more history. That provided a perfect and totally natural platform for teaching reading, writing, critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving— all of those skills critical for success, but which are much less engaging when taught in isolation. The same would be true for any other interest. If someone truly loved science or physical education, their excitement and eagerness to create the best lesson possible would result in kids who picked up those passions and all the skills snuck in with them. Adding a history major enhanced my understanding of and love for history, which will only serve to benefit my kids. At the end of the day, majoring in history was an amazing decision for more than just my desire for a “history fix,” but also for the success of my future students.

Conversely, what is the most difficult about your combination of majors and minor?

The most difficult thing about being an Elementary Education/History major is, perhaps, also one of the most beneficial: they are very different majors. Consequently, they draw very different types of people. By the time I got to upper level courses that were filled primarily with students in the major, it was almost like culture shock going from a history course to an Elementary Education class. Speaking in generals, there’s a big difference in the way the people in these majors think, organize themselves, engage in group projects, as well as a difference in personalities. This goes for professors too—even the syllabi feel a little different between the two departments. I have to recalibrate when I switch from course to course, while still trying to find my niche in both. While this can be a tad sticky, it’s also pretty wonderful. I get to see an amazing spectrum of people from all walks of life, hearing a range of ideas and perspectives, and then have to opportunity to bring all of those ideas together.  

Tell me about your student teaching experience. What is the most exciting or enjoyable about it? What has been challenging for you?

Right now, I’m spending half days in a third grade classroom, which will become a full-time student teaching placement in a few weeks. My classroom is 100% English Learners and very high poverty, so it’s been a very different experience than my many practicums in suburbia. To be honest, this isn’t easy. Every single one of my twenty seven, eight, and nine-year-olds is testing low, and, as a whole, they are really struggling. And yet, every time I think about them, it’s like Mama Duck instincts kick in. I love these kids so much. I would give my right arm if that would help them. And then, at the end of the day, you leave after teaching your lesson and realize that, for a few of those kids, it wasn’t enough. They are going to need not just your right arm, but your left arm and maybe even more because they are so far behind. That can be discouraging. Yet, at the same time, it’s also extremely exciting. By God’s grace, I can do something! Seeing them understand and improve is my constant aim. The kids are amazing. I love them to pieces. Challenging or not, they are still the most enjoyable and most exciting part of each day.

You recently completed your Senior Seminar for the History Department over the summer as an independent stuy. As the only current Bethel History student who is done with Senior Seminar, what would you like to share about your senior research? 

A portrait of Hannah More, the subject of Emma Beecken's senior research project
A portrait of the great Hannah More, described by Miss Beecken as a great “lynch pin of history.”
Brownies from the aforementioned Hannah More-themed party, each accompanied by the title of one of Hannah More's books
Brownies from the first-ever Hannah More party. You may notice that each brownie comes with a Hannah More book recommendation.

My senior research project was one of the highlights of my time so far at Bethel. I studied Hannah More, the late eighteenth century best-selling British author, who worked closely with William Wilberforce to evangelize Great Britain. Being able to immerse myself in her life through an extended period of time and extensive research was not only a great opportunity to refine my skills as a historian, but also to dive into something I adored. In this case, it was a brilliant woman of God who did amazing work for the Kingdom, serving as both a fascinating woman to research and a great role model. Dr. Gehrz expertly guided me through the process of making sense of history and faith, and I have come out of that project a stronger historian and a stronger Christian. Plus, Hannah More was just kind of awesome. My friends may have thrown me a Hannah More-themed party when I finished, but that’s another story.

Tell me about your educational and/or vocational plans post-Bethel. Has your student teaching experience influenced these plans?

My goal is to go wherever God can best use the passions He gave me to bring Himself the most glory. So, with that in mind, I’m pretty open at this point. International missions work is not out of the question, and I won’t be surprised if I end up pursuing a master’s degree in either Gifted and Talented Education, Special Education, or maybe something else completely- who knows? I’d also be extremely happy to adopt a bajillion-and-twelve children and be a homeschooling mom though, so I’m flexible. In the short term? I’d be pretty pleased to be teaching in an upper elementary classroom next year.

What advice would you have for other students who are considering pursuing degrees in both History and Education?

Go for it. Seriously. You won’t regret it, and neither will your future students. More practically, be sure to get involved. I made the mistake of feeling like I wasn’t a “real” History major because I was also an Education major, yet at the same time feeling like I wasn’t a “real” Education major. That was kind of silly. I wish I had more fully embraced the department events, people, and connections that were available for both majors, rather than discounting myself from either. In other words, double-dip on Christmas parties, because really, it’s all for the love of the students anyway.

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