One of the historic strengths of our department has been preparing middle and high school social studies teachers — both through the multidisciplinary Social Studies Ed 5-12 major that we coordinate with the Education department and through our own History programs. (Here’s a current map of teaching placements.) To get an inside view of that kind of career, we asked five recent grads teaching in middle and high schools (urban, rural, and suburban) to reflect on their time at Bethel and their path to the classroom. This is the first in a three-part series.
Why did you major in Social Studies Education 5-12? Is that what you planned to do when you came to Bethel?
Micayla Moore ’16 (Minnetonka Middle School West – Excelsior, MN): I came into Bethel planning on the Social Studies Ed major, but I always say I finished my teaching degree for different reasons than I started it. My mom was a social studies teacher and I had always loved the subject and teaching others. (They had me pegged when my classmates voted me most likely to return to Hutchinson High School as a teacher.) But I really decided to stick with social studies ed when I realized, around my sophomore year, the impact of education as a vehicle for social change. I saw the power that solid education and good teachers can have in improving individual lives, families, and communities.
Kelly Van Wyk ’15 (MOC-Floyd Valley Community Schools – Alton, IA): When I first came to Bethel, I definitely had not planned on majoring in education, but the Lord has a sense of humor. When psychology and sociology proved to be ill-fitting, I switched to history simply because I had always loved the material and figured that it would be at least an interesting use of my time. Eventually, I picked up a few education courses to try out the major and after my first few field experiences with middle schoolers, my course was set.
Daniel Rimmereid ’15 (Franklin Middle School – Minneapolis, MN): Halfway through my college experience I realized that I cared deeply about education and believed in its power to impact and effect change. I also loved the humanities and wanted to continue talking about them with students and passing that love onto them.
For those of you who have worked in middle schools… what drew you to that age?
KVW: The students were what hooked me. One of my passions is mentoring youth and the fact that middle level education is all about developing the whole person showed me that I absolutely love working with middle-schoolers. Many of my field experiences were with middle schoolers and I always enjoyed their enthusiasm and genuineness. Most high schoolers develop an edge and guardedness which makes them really skeptical of anything “over the top” in their book. My sixth-graders look at something that is “over the top” (e.g. dunking their social studies teacher in a dunk tank) and still think it’s socially acceptable to enjoy it. Emphatically.
MM: I always saw myself in a high school setting. I remember distinctly praying in my Intro to Education course, “Lord, please don’t send me to a middle school” for my placement, and I of course went to middle schools for every placement until student teaching. So I didn’t see myself in middle school, but I slowly warmed up to the idea. Now, I enjoy it and see it as a great fit for my personality and life stage.
Zach Haskins ’14 (Shakopee High School – Shakopee, MN): I taught middle school the first two years out of college. The funny part is that while at Bethel I told myself I would never teach at a middle school. However, I really enjoyed teaching middle school students. You should think about teaching middle school if you are quirky and like to nerd out about history stuff in class. Middle school students have an appreciation for quirkiness and they can be more enthusiastic than high schoolers about things they learn. Yes, they do have more energy, but when it is channeled the right way it can make for an awesome job.
MM: You should think about teaching middle school if you’re energetic, creative, and like a challenge.
DR: You should think about teaching middle school if you want to laugh everyday, have a thick skin, and are really sarcastic. They are funny and you will be very entertained. I am also frequently blown away by how they think about the world and how smart they are. I did not expect it, but enjoy parts of it.
All of you added a second major in History. What’s proven to be the most important benefit of double-majoring? Why should Social Studies Ed students do the extra work to complete the History major?
Joe Held ’13 (Centennial High School – Lino Lakes, MN): I have had colleagues who teach history and only had one or two intro-level courses in college. By majoring in history you are building your content repertoire. This will be beneficial to your students and you will need to spend less time relearning things when you get hired.
ZH: A major in history sets a social studies teacher up well to be knowledgeable in their content areas. In my first year at Shakopee High School I was assigned to teach AP US History, which is a tough course to teach. I felt much more comfortable because I had taken 21 credits worth of US History courses during my time at Bethel. If you are just a Social Studies Education major you get introduced to the various topics in social studies, but you will not dive in to the topics as much as you will when you have that second major. It also was a big help when I took the MTLE tests that allow graduates to get their teaching licenses. The MTLE tests that focus on content are difficult to pass, but the History major definitely made it more manageable. I would definitely encourage anyone to double major because it is not take that many more credits and it will help you to stand out when applying to jobs.
MM: The reading, writing, and research skills I learned in my history major, as well as the added content knowledge of U.S. history, have proven to be invaluable in my work as a teacher. I am a better investigator of sources and quality curriculum to use in my class. I am a better reading and writing coach. I am better at facilitating critical conversation around history and students’ perceptions.
KVW: My history major was invaluable. I honestly believe I would not be able to do my job without the critical thinking skills I fostered through studying history. Abilities such as recognizing various historical perspectives, wrestling with complexity on issues you wish were black and white, close-reading strategies of various sources, and taking informed action based on textual evidence (just to name a few) are all skills that serve me as an educator; especially now that Iowa has just recently re-written our social studies standards at all levels with an emphasis on these very skills.
JH: More importantly, majoring in History makes you more marketable. If you are applying for a Global Politics or World History position, schools are far more excited about an applicant who can say they took numerous courses on Middle East/Islamic history. It sets you apart from other candidates.
ZH: Definitely get a second major (like History) to make yourself more marketable in the job search.
JH: But for my part, the most beneficial aspect of majoring in History was in shaping my perception of the importance of history. Teaching is so much more than conveying information. It is about igniting an interest in learning itself. My History major, more than anything else, taught me that history gives you power to understand how world events were, are, and will be connected.
MM: Most importantly, my history degree informed my worldview and helped me realize the importance of considering historical narratives and using a variety of sources and perspectives when studying history. These two concepts are fundamental in each course that I teach.
KVW: Not only does this education benefit me professionally, but also on a more personal level. I feel like studying history has equipped me to be a better American citizen, a better informed contributor to the community in which I live, and a more studious Christian. Yes, I would definitely major in both history and social studies education again in a heartbeat.