As many of us already know, quite a few history majors end up working in education (about 25% in elementary or secondary education and 13% in higher education.) However, that doesn’t just mean teaching: several of our history alumni are currently serving as school administrators. Today, Dave Lutz ’07 and Bart Becker ’01 tell us about their work as the principals of Mankato West High School and Maple Grove Senior High, respectively.
What interested you in majoring in history at Bethel? Were you planning on working in education at that point? If not, what got you interested in that field?
BB: I had always loved history as a student. I was moved by the human stories, the heroes and villains, the triumphs and tragedies, transformational events and their causes, along with the effects and how lessons from the past can be applied to today. My interest in Bethel’s history program was via my desire to play football there. As a Montana native, I had never heard of Bethel or its strong academic programs. Upon visiting with Coach [Steve] Johnson and researching about the immense educational opportunity that would be offered, I was all in.
DL: My initial interest in Bethel was connected to my faith and my family. Both of my siblings and much of my extended family attended Bethel. Initially, I was interested in a medical path, but changed directions at the end of my freshman year to earn a double-major in History and Social Studies Secondary Education. My older brother is a social studies teacher in Hastings, and history has always been an area of interest for me.
BB: I was interested in working in education from the start. I knew I wanted to teach and work with high school students, so I pursued a double-major in Social Studies Secondary Education, and History. And I was very fortunate to have G.W. Carlson as my advisor, along with the experience of taking several of his courses. He is among the most influential mentors in my life.
How did you end up with your current position?
DL: After finishing my undergrad at Bethel, I landed a teaching job in Wayzata. I taught social studies for 5 years, primarily at the middle level, then shifted roles to become a gifted and talented program coordinator for 2 more. In that time I also coached football. While teaching, I completed my master’s degree in education through St. Mary’s University. As a gifted and talented coordinator, I got my first close look at educational leadership and quickly realized that my gifts and interests were leading me towards administration. I completed my principal licensure program through St. Mary’s and shortly after accepted a job as assistant principal at Mankato East High School. After one year at East, I accepted the position of principal at Mankato West High School, where I am currently.
BB: In my final semester at Bethel (the fall of 2000), I student-taught at Fridley High School. I was then hired to teach social studies full-time for the third and fourth quarters of the 2000-01 school year at Fridley, which was a wonderful experience. In August of 2001, I accepted a teaching and coaching position at Maple Grove Senior High, where I taught primarily U.S. and World History. I earned my Master’s degree in 2004 from St. Mary’s University; they had a cohort program within our district which was very convenient. In the summer of 2008, I chose to pursue my administrative licensure through Bethel’s Ed.D. program. I moved into an administrative role as a Behavior Intervention Teacher after spring break of 2009, a position in which I remained until the end of the 2010-11 school year. I completed my K-12 Principal’s Licensure and was offered the position of Assistant Principal at Park Center Senior High. While in the same school district (Osseo Area Schools – ISD 279), it offered a completely different experience, which was highly challenging and rewarding. I earned my Educational Doctorate in April 2014, and in March of 2015 I was offered the position of Principal of Maple Grove Senior High, which I officially began on July 1. It has been quite a ride!
What about studying history at Bethel prepared you for your career?
BB: Bethel’s history program, and its professors, inspired in me a lifelong desire to learn and pursue knowledge. It greatly helped me approach a situation or an event with an open mind and a commitment to take the necessary steps to learn the context and gather differing perspectives. On a technical level, I learned how to research and formulate a thesis with a strong basis of evidence. While I may not physically type up papers in my current role, the practice of approaching a problem, pursuing knowledge about the various elements, gathering multiple perspectives and data to support, and then leading a collaborative effort to problem-solve is without question rooted in my experience at Bethel.
DL: There are several skills/takeaways from my experience as a history major that I still draw upon in my current role:
- A love for reading: While some put the books down after finishing college, my experience at Bethel helped foster a love for academic reading. As a leader, I take pride in the ability to offer alternative perspectives and draw upon the work of others as I look to support staff and provide organizational direction.
- Writing: Whether crafting a bulletin, completing a staff evaluation, or submitting an educational grant, I left Bethel a solid academic writer. Again, I attribute much of this to the ample “practice” I received as a history major.
- Research-based decision making: While my familiarity with action research and literature reviews supported my graduate school pursuits directly, my experiences as a history student gave me an appreciation for research early in my career. In the world of education (and beyond) there are endless initiatives, programs, and models to choose from, and a firm understanding of the importance of data and research in decision-making has served me well.
- Global perspective: Time spent studying Chinese politics and ancient civilizations was definitely not a waste. I gained a global perspective that still serves me today.
BB: In general, one cannot go wrong with a strong background of history. It is so beneficial in countless ways! One example – having any sense of the historical background of my students from Southeast Asia (Hmong, Lao and Vietnamese) or East/West Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, or Sierra Leone) has been of huge significance in building relationships with them and their families. The bond that is formed when a student and/or family realizes you know a part of their cultural story is priceless
Do you find that many of your colleagues majored in history or similar fields? Are there many teachers that majored in a liberal art rather than education for their undergraduate studies?
DL: School administrators come from all walks. While most have a background in teaching, some have backgrounds in counseling or other related fields. I have always encouraged education majors to specialize in an area, pick up a specialist certification, or aim for an additional minor/major. Applicant pools for great jobs are large and I believe my double-major helped set me apart from the crowd.
BB: It is common for social studies teachers to have a History major to accompany their social studies education degree. I am unable to give a specific number, though. I’d say it is less common for educational leaders to have History degrees, only because any licensed teacher can pursue a K-12 Principal’s License. Among principals and assistant principals that I’ve worked with, the following majors were earned in their undergraduate studies: counseling, social studies (four); physical education, Spanish (two); English (two); music, and business.
What is your favorite part of your job? What can be particularly challenging?
BB: There’s so much to enjoy… My favorite part of my job is interacting with our students. Kids are- without question- the largest source of joy in my career. The hour before our commencement ceremony begins is the best hour of the year- everything is done. Students have accomplished their goal, and all we have to do is wait and enjoy the moment with other students and staff members who journeyed together. It’s an amazing moment!
DL: My personal mission as a school leader is to provide an educational environment where each and every student and staff member is challenged, supported and connected. I love working with students, staff members, families, and community members in pursuit of this goal. Education is hard work, but the rewards are incredible. All it takes is one success story of a student overcoming adversity with the support of a staff member to achieve something they didn’t think was possible, and you are hooked. One of my largest challenges is maintaining balance. My job is a big one, but my faith and my family are my first priority. As I gain more experience, I am learning how to work more effectively and set certain limitations to gain a sounder home/work life balance.
BB: I love the collaboration with staff and families, and I love seeing the amazing professional work of our staff- the art of teaching. We have some truly phenomenal teachers. Moreover, I truly enjoy the strategic planning to accomplish our system priorities. This is the hard stuff, but it’s our job. We have to innovate to improve the quality of education and meet the growing needs of our students, particularly our students of color. Our achievement gaps are predictable by race, and we have to own that, acknowledge it, and learn about the role of race and culture in education. Without racial consciousness, any success will be limited and gaps will persist.
What is your favorite memory from your time as a Bethel history student?
DL: I really enjoyed my history professors. Many were brilliant, yet very relatable, and I found their classes interesting. The staff at Bethel (history and beyond) care about their students as individuals and are invested in their future success. This is a theme I have and will continue to carry forward in my own work with students.
BB: Tough question… There are so many great memories. Ultimately, I loved Senior Seminar. It was structured at the time where various professors from other departments would present a one-hour lesson on a topic of their choice, and that was truly remarkable. Seeing masters of their art and craft give you a personalized lesson about something they are most passionate about was incredible. Applying bits of their wisdom to my own research for my thesis was very beneficial, as well.
All in all, I have nothing but positive experiences and memories from my time as a Bethel history student. I loved every minute of it, and only wished that I would have applied myself more (which is always easy to say in hindsight.) Specifically, though I was always broke, I wish I would have found a way to study abroad for a semester. There were so many opportunities, and I would encourage everyone to strongly consider it.