Part two of our roundtable conversation on teaching with five recent Bethel Social Studies Ed/History grads. Thanks again to our panelists: Joe Held ’13 (Centennial High School in Lino Lakes); Zach Haskins ’14 (Shakopee High School); Kelly Van Wyk ’15 (MOC-Floyd Valley Schools in Alton, IA); Daniel Rimmereid ’15 (Franklin Middle School in North Minneapolis); and Micayla Moore ’16 (Minnetonka Middle School West in Excelsior).
What’s the most important thing about teaching that you learned at Bethel (whether from an Ed class or in the History department)? What have you had to learn on the job?
MM: First, from Amy Poppinga’s course History and the Human Environment I learned how to engage learners using a variety of instructional strategies. I always say I learned as much (or more) about how to teach just from being Poppinga’s student than I did in most of my education classes. Second, from AnneMarie Kooistra I learned how to support and challenge students. As her TA, I had the privilege of watching her build meaningful relationships with a wide open door policy. She has an amazing ability to make you feel valued and heard, no matter if you’re a business major just trying to pass American Civ. or a history nerd who wants to be her someday. She is so good at caring for her students and giving them what they need, whether that’s a challenge or accommodation.
DR: I have left deeply valuing my history professors’ and classes’ impact on my view of the world and, specific to my job, how I view and think about race. I work in a predominantly black school and the other portions are also students of color. History opened up my eyes to the history of race in America and how that impacts so much of life today. I cannot begin to teach if I first do not learn from my students and I think studying history has really helped me start there.
JH: The most important thing that I learned about teaching was to view students holistically. Many teachers take students’ actions (or even a poorly written assignment) as a personal attack. This type of understanding will burn you out quickly as an educator. Remember that in a class of 35+, you will have some students with no home, some who have been abused, some who are incredibly smart, and some who have special needs. Bethel taught me that I need to keep my students’ mental, physical, and emotional health in mind just as much as I do academic achievements.
ZH: The most important thing I learned was to be prepared to be a diverse educator. I mean this in the sense that you will never know what type of school you will work in and you need to make sure that you are effectively teaching students from all backgrounds and walks of life. I have worked in three districts that are very different from each other. The diversity of those schools can make a difference in how you teach. An educator must be prepared in how to effectively work with students from various backgrounds.
DR: Education classes did not prepare me for teaching in such a diverse setting. I did not have the classroom management tools; I was in culture shock and had to fight really hard in college to get diverse placements. Once I got here I asked lots of questions, especially to my colleagues of color. I asked many people to observe me, and I really did observe others. This helped to raise me expectations for my students. I think the most helpful thing I have learned after three years is that you cannot have high academic expectations without high behavior expectations for your students.
KVW: The thing I have had to learn on the job is that you will be bad when you start teaching. You will be an objectively terrible teacher. So collaborate with the pros: experience teachers who have been through the same things you are experiencing now. Listen before jumping in to speak. And take each day at a time with this goal in mind: what am I going to improve for tomorrow?
ZH: One thing that I have had to learn on the job is that, as a new teacher, you will always feel like you have more to do to be prepared. Being a new teacher is difficult and there never seems to be enough time. As long as you have the students interest at heart, you will be effective. Know that the profession will get easier in time!
How (and how quickly) did you get your current position? Was it difficult finding a full-time teaching job? (If you’re not teaching social studies, how/why did you switch?)
ZH: The job market is difficult for social studies. I applied to countless jobs the first three summers out of college. My first year out I got a long-term sub job, my second year out I was a part time teacher. Finally, by the third year I was able to get hired full-time at Shakopee High School. There are so many people that apply to every social studies teaching position listed that it gets very difficult to even get an interview.
JH: I student taught at Centennial High School during my senior year at Bethel. I treated this experience as 4-month “interview/audition.” Even though it didn’t appear that there would be any openings at CHS, I wanted to put in 110%. Following graduation, I taught for one year at Minnesota Virtual High School as an online teacher. Fortunately, I got a call from the SS Department Chair at Centennial saying that they would like me to apply for a job. I’ve never looked back.
ZH: The key is to make connections to schools and districts and stay in contact with them. Every interview I received was because I had made a connection with another person within the district. It was a challenging process, but you just have to keep with it and keep your head up. Talk to administrators of schools when you do your student teaching or observations, coach at schools, help out, and do anything to get yourself noticed. This can definitely help you in the job search.
KVW: I really had to work hard to find connections with the school districts to which I applied. The teaching market was flooded with applicants when I graduated, so I had to expand my search beyond the Twin Cities to find an opening. I got my job in June after I graduated, and I felt very lucky to have found a full-time position.
MM: Minnetonka recruited me right out of college and offered me a job in spring 2016. Instead, I said yes to a charter school in Minneapolis. That charter school ended up unexpectedly closing a week before school started in 2016-2017, so I was suddenly unemployed. But the Lord is so so faithful and knows exactly what He’s doing even when we are clueless. So I spent last year subbing all over the metro and then working in Costa Rica for three months at an orphanage. I decided to apply with Minnetonka again. I reached out to some people I had met the year before, had my interview, and accepted the job two days after I returned from Costa Rica in June. The second time around, it was the right fit.
KVW: The entire search took a lot more patience and persistence than I anticipated for sure, which was a really valuable lesson for me right out of college.
DR: Cast your nets wide. That may look like another state, abroad, or even a district you didn’t plan on teaching at. I would recommend really thinking about teaching abroad. Some countries have awesome programs that pay more than teaching in the US.
What’s the best part of your current job?
DR: I love seeing students grow and building relationships with them. I would also say I have learned so much about North Minneapolis, poverty, and the challenges that come with being a person of color in America.
KVW: The relationships that I have with my students and athletes are definitely the best part of my job. Research shows that one of the best indicators of student success is the presence of a caring, supportive adult in their lives. I love that I get to do that for my kids, and I wake up every day feeling like my efforts matter and make a difference in the lives of those I teach. I help kids feel heard, develop confidence and grit, and show them opportunities and ways of life that they are experiencing for the very first time. That sort of thing doesn’t get old.
MM: The best part of my job are undoubtedly my students. They are hilarious and teach me so much every single day. They’re patient and kind and I’m so proud of who they’re becoming.
JH: The best part of teaching senior classes (many of them being AP students) is when they stay in touch as they go off to college. I have many students go on to get business/economic degrees and will email/visit me to get help on their college assignments. It is incredibly rewarding when students want to keep you a part of their life as they move on. I take it as an honor to be a part of their learning process and their journey.
ZH: The best and most surprising aspects of my current job has been the ability to design new courses. I was asked to design a Criminal Justice course for Shakopee High School, and then teach that course this year. It has been a really cool process of building a course from the ground up and then watching it get implemented where you work.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your work?
ZH: The most challenging aspect of the job has been the first year at the new building. Whenever you are in your first year at a new building, you feel like you are swamped. Getting adjusted to new curriculum, a new school and new co-workers is difficult. As you get more experience in a building and with the curriculum, it gets easier and manageable. You can switch from survival mode to design and enjoy mode!
JH: A challenging aspect is learning to balance your life and your job. Teaching can be emotionally all-consuming. It took a few years for me to finally be able to not spend hours (unpaid, of course) every night and weekend preparing for the next lesson and unit. Eventually you learn to triage your work life. There is no substitute for experience when it comes to becoming efficient in your teaching career.
DR: I would say the hardest part of teaching where I teach is teaching students in poverty, high concentrations of underperforming students and underfunded districts and schools that service these students.
MM: The most challenging aspect in my job is the immersion context and writing quality curriculum for a developing program. Finding primary sources in Spanish to use for a 7th grade U.S. history course can be challenging!
KVW: On the other side of the coin, there are a lot of challenges in education. Being a social studies teacher, my subject tends to draw out a lot of the controversial issues in current affairs. As both a Christian and a professional educator, I am constantly seeking wisdom in how to broach these hard topics in a balanced manner: one that seeks truth and integrity yet compassionately considers the variety of perspectives involved.
DR: I will also be honest, the behavior will take a while to learn how to manage.
KVW: Not to mention that there are some days when no matter how hard you try, your students are just not that excited to receive an education. That’s why it’s so important to have a co-worker you can share your struggles with from time to time. And I can also attest to the power of having a chocolate stash somewhere in your desk for bad days.