Alumni Law Roundtable: From Law School to a Legal Career

Today we conclude our roundtable discussion with History alumni-turned-attorneys Wade Adamson ’09, Gina Schulz ’07, and Aaron Thom ’08. In part one they recalled how they decided to study law. Today: applying to law school, and how Aaron, Gina, and Wade got where they are in their careers.

What advice would you give students who are considering applying to law school? What should they be considering as they discern if that’s the right path for them?

Wade Adamson (J.D., William Mitchell, 2013): First of all, you should know that it is a huge financial decision to make. Not only do you have any student debt from undergrad that you might be carrying, but you will likely also incur more (sometimes significantly more) debt to finance your time in law school. That, coupled with the fact that you are foregoing three years of income during your time in law school, means that you will likely graduate from law school in a significantly worse financial position than you otherwise would be if you did not go to law school, and significantly behind your peers in that regard.

Gina Schulz (J.D., University of Michigan, 2014): I had plenty of classmates who went straight from undergrad to law school, but personally I don’t think that’s a good idea. Even with scholarships, law school is a huge investment and most students take on a lot of debt. I think it’s worth spending some time figuring out whether it’s something you actually want to do before you have $200k in loans to pay back.

University of Michigan Law School
University of Michigan Law School – Creative Commons (Andrew Horne)

WA: Understand that a law degree is no guarantee of a job, nor is it a guarantee of a financially lucrative job, as many people assume. You might find yourself called to a career path in public service or simply unable to compete for the more highly-compensated legal jobs based on your resume and/or work experience. In that case, the repayment of large amounts of student loan debt can significantly impact your life in the years to come.

GS: Take some time off and try some things and grow up a little bit. (I certainly needed to). If you know what kind of law you want to practice, find something to do in a related field. I wanted to do public-interest law, and it helped my application that I served for a year with AmeriCorps. But I also spent two years waiting tables full time, and I don’t regret that at all. (As it turns out, the skills required in some areas of legal practice are surprisingly similar to those you develop in a busy restaurant.)

Aaron Thom (J.D., University of Minnesota, 2011): Decide whether you like dealing with conflict and competition. Particularly in litigation, conflict is constant and inevitable—on all fronts. There’s conflict between lawyers vying for the same client, conflict between associates competing for a partner’s approval, attorney-client conflict regarding strategy and resolution of difficult issues, conflict between attorneys on opposing sides of a dispute. The stress of an attorney’s job is well recognized. What isn’t so clear—at least it wasn’t to me—was how much, and how many different manifestations of, tension exists.

WA: You should make sure you know what being a lawyer actually means. Find attorneys to connect with and talk to them about their jobs to get a better sense of what the day-to-day life of an attorney is like. Given the huge investment in time and money necessary to complete law school, you should be as certain as you can be that it is the right career path for you. If your idea of the life of an attorney is based on TV and movies, that is a sign that you have not done much research or investigation into what your future will be.

GS: To the extent that you can, talk to lawyers in different fields to figure out what their lives look like. Lawyers get requests to have coffee and talk about their careers all the time, and most of them are happy to do it. I didn’t have any connections to lawyers when I was applying, so I had no idea what I was getting myself into. If that’s your situation, feel free to reach out to me and I can find you some people to talk to.

If they do decide to go to law school, what can they do to strengthen their application?

WA: Law school applications are similar to undergrad applications in that the schools say there is a “full-picture” approach to admissions and that every application is evaluated in its entirety, including work experience, personal essays, etc. However, you should know that absent some sort of extraordinary feature to your application, it will likely come down to two numbers: undergraduate GPA and LSAT score.

GS: Law school admissions are more straightforward than other graduate programs. You can generally predict where you will get in by looking at the median GPA and LSAT of the schools you’re applying to (although I think this is starting to change). It’s not fun advice, but one of the best things you can do is keep up your GPA and study hard for the LSAT. (Hope is certainly not lost if your numbers aren’t strong, but it’s worth working hard to do the best you can.)

WA: The best thing you can do right now for your law school application is perform well in undergrad and earn the highest GPA you can. Bethel is a great school, but you are not attending Harvard or Stanford or some other Ivy League school where a less-than-stellar GPA may be overlooked. You should be ensuring your GPA is an accurate reflection of your intelligence and ability as a student. Once you are ready to start thinking about applying for law school, you should obtain LSAT prep books to prepare for the LSAT and attempt to earn the highest score possible. This will likely involve many, many hours of preparation to familiarize yourself with the LSAT and perform practice exams.

AT: I think if a student wants to set him/herself apart from the pack, he/she’ll choose an area in which to specialize (like science, to use the example I mentioned yesterday) during college rather than waiting until law school to start shaping his/her future career. Law is such a diverse field. The study and practice of law itself does not determine a lawyer’s focus or direction. The lawyer needs to choose what she or he wants to do — and it’s best to start making these decisions as early as possible to avoid merely drifting into a legal field that is not of interest to the student. Lawyers who lack passion are soon to be not lawyers anymore.

Tell us a bit about your path from law school to your current job.

Aaron Thom
Aaron today – Thom Ellingson

AT: I went from law school to the firm Robins Kaplan. It was exhausting and trying, but I loved it. I received amazing experience from day 1 — literally. I then did a short stint at Madel before starting my own firm with my colleague, and favorite lawyer in the world, Sam Ellingson.

WA: My decision to go to law school was impacted by the economic situation in the United States at the time. I graduated in December 2008, which was in the heart of the Great Recession. Jobs were hard to come by at a time when the country was losing hundreds of thousands of jobs per month. My plan was to attend law school with the idea that by the time I graduated three years later the economy would have rebounded. Unfortunately, I was not the only person with that plan in mind. The year I entered law school, 2010, was the highest year of enrollment in the history of the United States. That meant a lot of competition amongst students, as law school courses are graded on a curve and there were more students to compete against.

GS: It took me awhile to figure out where I belonged in the legal profession, in part because I went to law school without any idea of what that meant.

WA: During law school I thought I wanted to be a litigator and pursued opportunities to be in the courthouse as much as possible. I was a judicial intern for a federal district judge in Minneapolis the summer after my 1L year, an intern at a county attorney’s office the summer after my 2L year, and an intern for a federal magistrate judge while also studying for the bar exam the summer after I graduated. Once I passed the bar exam I took a job as a judicial law clerk for a judge in Anoka County. I felt incredibly fortunate to have that job given the huge numbers of law students entering the job market at that time coupled with the fact that legal hiring was still far below the pre-recession levels. At the same time, I knew I did not want to be a litigator. After a few months of work, I began to think about what my next job would be. I had given the judge I worked for a commitment that I would stay for at least one year, so I still had about 8 months to go on that commitment, but I knew I had to start working hard to set myself up for a good opportunity come that time.

GS: Soon after graduating, though, I clerked for a judge on the Minnesota Court of Appeals, where I saw the appellate public defenders practice. Even though I had no background in criminal law, I finally saw a job that looked right for me: representing indigent clients in criminal appeals. After a couple of years in other (great but not quite perfect) positions, I got the job.

Wade Adamson
Wade today – Saul Lehrer

WA: I spent nearly a year networking and meeting as many transactional attorneys as I could before and after work for breakfasts, coffees, and/or happy hours. Through those efforts I met two attorneys at Gray Plant Mooty, and eventually they had an opening for an associate attorney that I interviewed for and was hired. I worked there from August 2015 through this past February, when I started a new position as an associate attorney for the new Minneapolis office of a large, national firm called Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr.

What’s most enjoyable and most challenging about your work?

WA: My practice has been focused on transactional commercial real estate work since I began in private practice in 2015. I really enjoy helping my clients accomplish their business goals and playing a key role in the success of their companies. I enjoy being a transactional attorney because my role is to help make deals happen, which are beneficial to my clients. The completion of any project is usually a time of celebration for the client, which I also enjoy being a part of.

Gina Schulz
Gina today – photo courtesy Gina Schulz

GS: It’s truly my dream job, and I feel lucky every day that I get paid for doing what I love. The caseload can be stressful, the stakes are generally pretty high, and I make way less money than I would at a firm. But, in the end, I read and write and think for a living, and I get to do that on behalf of clients I like and a cause that I believe in. It’s pretty great.

WA: The most challenging part of my job is how stressful and demanding it is. There can be tight deadlines, long days/nights at the office, working on the weekends, etc. The job of an associate attorney at a large law firm is certainly not a 9-5 job, and in an era of constant connectivity, I can’t really ever “disconnect” from the office, which can be taxing.

AT: I enjoy the work I’m currently doing more than anything I’ve ever done before. We choose what cases to take, and how we litigate them. Our practice is what we make it. Of course, that can be stressful. But it’s more exhilarating than anything.

<<Read the previous post in the series

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Alumni Law Roundtable: From Bethel to Law School

In addition to spotlighting individual alumni who have taken various career paths, occasionally we like to host a kind of roundtable discussion with alumni from a single field. In the past we’ve talked to former students who have gone into graduate school in history and into middle/high school teaching. This week we’re excited to hear from three alumni who practice law: Gina Schulz ’07, a Minnesota public defender in the Appellate Office; Aaron Thom ’08, partner with Thom & Ellingson; and Wade Adamson ’09, associate with Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr. Tomorrow we’ll learn how they found their way to their current positions, but we’ll start with their time at Bethel.

What’s your favorite memory as a History major at Bethel?

Wade Adamson: Probably my Senior Seminar course. While it was a huge time commitment and stressful, it was also very enjoyable to be able to complete such a large project and came with a sense of accomplishment when I had completed it.

Wade Adamson in Ecuador in 2009
Wade just before his graduation from Bethel, on a 2009 trip to Ecuador – Photo courtesy of Wade Adamson

Aaron Thom: I have a lot of great memories as a History major: writing a Senior Seminar paper with guidance and inspiration from Dr. Gehrz, whose passion for history is second to none… presenting my Senior Sem project for the class—I hadn’t realized until I started talking out loud about it how genuinely excited I was about the subject matter… Dr. Kooistra’s method of teaching history by exposing students to literature/art/film reflective of the time period in question… Ruben Rivera’s contagious love for the cultures and countries and history of Latin America… History department pizza parties…

Gina Schulz: I spent a semester at Oxford and — as corny as this sounds — it was really life-changing. The classes were one-on-one, and I had to write a research paper every week and read it out loud to the professor who challenged every claim. It was terrifying but/and made me into a much better thinker and writer.

AT: …G.W. Carlson’s spontaneous stories in lieu of discussions about the textbook readings he’d assigned…

WA: I also really enjoyed working as a TA for the late G.W. Carlson for most of time at Bethel.

GS: I generally have very pleasant memories of my time in the history department! I loved the classes and the professors, and I feel really grateful for the small class sizes and individual attention, especially toward the end when I needed a lot of guidance in preparing for life after graduation.

At what point did you decide to go to law school? Did you think of yourself as a pre-law student while you were at Bethel?

AT: I decided to go to law school before I started college — when I was a high-school mock-trialer. I didn’t consider myself a pre-law student while at Bethel. I just took each class for what it was. But some of my classes—such as American Constitutional History—were law-focused.

Aaron Thom rehearsing for a play in 2007
Aaron (center) rehearsing for a Bethel play in February 2007 – Bethel Clarion/Bethel Digital Library

WA: I never considered myself “pre-law” at Bethel. All throughout undergrad, I had assumed I would end up in education, either as a K-12 teacher, like both my parents, or, once I realized that was not for me, as a history professor at a college or university somewhere. It wasn’t until I had decided against those options, and was working a job I did not particularly like, that I decided to go to law school.

GS: Did I think of myself as pre-law at Bethel? Not at all! I didn’t even consider law school until I was three years out and had no idea what to do with my life. I registered for the LSAT on a whim, and the rest just kind of happened. I do not recommend this approach.

WA: I decided to go to law school after I had graduated from Bethel and was working for a company down in Eagan, where I worked for a year and a half after graduating a semester early from Bethel. I had always kept the idea of law school in the back of my mind, but it was not my first choice of career when I entered undergrad at Bethel.

AT: Because law has such a rich history, I think it would make sense for Bethel to offer something like a “pre-law” package—even if this is just a recommended group of classes as opposed to something formal that results in a degree or title. [At Bethel Pre-Law isn’t a major, but faculty advising plus recommended courses.] This package could also include philosophy classes because philosophy and law also have an interesting relationship — scholars like William Blackstone, Carl Llewellyn, H.L.A. Hart, Ronald Dworkin, and others could be studied. It could also include an economics class emphasizing law and economics (e.g., Friedman, Coase, and Richard Posner) and anti-trust theories.

Mondale Hall, University of Minnesota
Aaron attended the University of Minnesota Law School – Creative Commons (Bobak Ha’Eri)

AT: I also think it’s important, however, for law students to have an area of focus beyond just “pre-law.” This will help shape the lawyer’s future. For example, if a student has a good mind for science and wants to be a lawyer, she or he should study chemistry, biology, etc., and potentially be a patent attorney.

Traditionally, History has been a popular college major for future law students. Did you feel like your History major at Bethel prepared you well for law school?

Gina Schulz ca. 2007
Gina during her days at Bethel – photo courtesy Gina Schulz

GS: I do think my History major prepared me well for law school. Law isn’t static and it doesn’t develop in a vacuum, so understanding historical context is extremely valuable. The practical research and analytical tools you gain studying history are also very transferable.

WA: I was a History major with minors in Political Science and Spanish. I think in many ways my undergraduate education did prepare me well for law school. A History major develops, or at least should develop, an ability to read and synthesize large amounts of information from reading long and occasionally dense material, which is what you will be doing a lot of in law school. It is also a major that involves discussion and consideration of political ideologies and debates throughout history, which informs a person’s understanding of the role of government and the law in the daily lives of a nation’s citizens. These concepts are foundational to the study of the law.

AT: The critical thinking skills, ability to think logically and linearly, and practice in advancing arguments have all been helpful to me. But I have difficulty disaggregating my history, English lit, and philosophy combined educational experience, so I can’t say much more about how history helped me in particular.

Is there anything you wish you would have done differently to prepare for law school?

GS: In hindsight, I wish I would have taken at least one class on American constitutional history and at least one Political Science course. I went to law school with only the foggiest idea of what the Constitution was and how the government works (sad, but true), and those are pretty foundational concepts. Also, I wish I would have taken Spanish!

WA: Law school is also a unique educational environment that involves studying, reading, and writing in an entirely novel way. In that respect, there is no real preparation for law school. No other field of study or undergraduate major will teach someone legal writing, or how to brief a case, or how to perform issue-spotting for law school exams. In that respect, I do not think I would have done anything differently in my undergraduate studies to prepare myself for law school.

Tomorrow: applying to law school and finding a job.

Click here to read the conclusion of the series>>

Welcome Back to Bethel, Prof. Annie Berglund!

When HIS205U History of China, Korea, and Japan meets for the first time tonight, its professor will be making a return to our department: Annie Berglund graduated summa cum laude from Bethel in 2013 with a double-major in History and Social Studies Education. After teaching middle school for two years, Annie moved to Seoul in 2016 to earn a master’s degree in international studies at Korea University. This fall she came back to Bethel as an adjunct instructor in GES130 Christianity and Western Culture, and is eager to teach her first History course this spring. Thanks to Annie for taking the time to answer some questions about her journey away from and back to Bethel!


Do you have a favorite memory from your time in the History Department as a student?

Let me set the scene. It’s the last history presentation of my entire undergraduate career. I labored for months making my PowerPoint slides and adding in many hours of research so that I could be prepared for the audience of my peers, my professors, and my family members. My boyfriend at the time, Mike, had one task: feed me this easy question at the end of my presentation to help me look better. Being one of the quietest students in class, he very slowly and mechanically raised his hand the second I ended the presentation.

“Yes, Mike?”

In a painfully monotonous, rehearsed voice, he responded: “What was one interesting news article you read for your paper?”

The front row full of history professors couldn’t hide their laughter as they clearly saw through Mike’s poor acting and my pathetic scheming. Don’t worry, it does end well. We both managed to graduate and even married each other.

Annie Berglund and Mike Vangstad in Japan
Annie Berglund ’13 and Mike Vangstad ’13 in Japan’s Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden – photos courtesy Annie Berglund

How did you decide to go to graduate school in Korea?

People ask me this question a lot: Why Korea? Every time I give an answer, it’s a little different, as there were so many factors that drew me to Seoul. Chief among them was my plan to study South Korea’s asylum-seeking policies. They are the first country in Asia to establish their own stand-alone refugee act outside of simply following UNHCR mandates. I hoped to study their recent act to see what loopholes remain and how those inconsistencies affected the acceptance of particular subgroups of asylum seekers, from those suffering from religious persecution to those fleeing state-backed gender- and sexuality-based violence.

A less academic answer, though? I wanted a little adventure.

What was your favorite part of living in Seoul?

Annie Berglund in SeoulA unique part about living abroad is that, whether you’re currently in your home country or currently abroad, you tend to see the other location through rose-tinted glasses. My gut answer is: “Everything! Everything about Seoul is my favorite!” In reality, adjusting to life in a country where I had few contacts, where the dominant language is one of the hardest for native English speakers to learn, and where everything from transportation to housing has different, unspoken rules is no easy task. But I also like a good challenge! I miss the feeling of anonymity when walking through downtown streets of a city of 10 million people. I miss jumping into taxis and making small talk in Korean with the ajeossis as they take me from cat cafes to outdoor shopping districts to mountain hiking trails. Mostly, I miss my Korean friends who – for two years! – constantly bent over backwards to help their American friend with the smallest and largest of tasks. True heroes in my book.

What’s it been like coming back to Bethel as a professor?

Amazing and terrifying. I will never get over calling my professors by their first names. Ever.

What are you most looking forward to teaching in HIS205U this spring?

First, I’m excited to discuss the role that women played throughout East Asian history. From the Roman patrician women who ushered in the Silk Road trade routes by driving the demand for silk made by seamstresses in far-off Xi’an, to the impassioned speech by Madame Chiang Kai-shek to the U.S. Congress seeking aid during Japanese attacks on China in World War II, we will study many cases of extraordinary women who — some for better and some for worse — influenced the narrative of East Asian civilization.

Second, I have that nervous-excited feeling about showing one of my favorite films to my students. Made in 2017, A Taxi Driver (or Taeksi woonjunsa) is one of the highest grossing films in South Korea to date. It centers on the experience of an average, “Joe Schmo” taxi driver in Seoul who unintentionally smuggles a German reporter into the city of Gwangju in 1980. The city, a stronghold for students protesting martial law, was barred off to the outside world while government troops fired upon the Chonnam University youth. For the world to see the footage of this massacre, the taxi driver and reporter risked their lives to get back to Seoul. The Gwangju Uprising (or the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement) is a jarring, brutal event that illustrates the price many ordinary people paid in East Asia for the sake of democratization.

From AC 2nd to… Insurance and Banking

This week I talked with Travis Hoaglund ’91 about business and history. Mr. Hoaglund is the insurance president for Bremer Bank.

What were things that you enjoyed about your history classes here at Bethel?

I loved learning about more recent history… WWII and present. My most memorable times at Bethel were the friends I made and how the faith based mission of Bethel rounded me out as a person.

How did you get from Bethel to your career in business?

Travis HoaglundAbout my junior year I decided that I had an interest in business and specifically sales. I was a hockey player and played golf at Bethel… I enjoyed competing in athletics and that translates well to a sales career. I thought I would be in sales my whole career, but over time I found myself really enjoying helping other sales people. I have led up to 300 salespeople across the country and now run Bremer Insurance Agency (Bremer Bank). I try to lead with the principles and life experience I learned at Bethel…

In the same way that competition in athletics transitioned well to a sales career, are there ways that you have seen history transition into your career?

It required me to do a great deal of reading and writing… I use those skills daily in my role, and they are very important!

Lastly, what is the favorite part of your career?

I love getting to know people in an organization and figuring out what motivates them… I have learned that what makes me tick is not what makes others tick and as a leader you have to figure out what motivates each person individually. As long as a person’s motivation lines up with what our organization needs from a performance standpoint… we will do everything to help our people reach both professional and personal goals. That is what drives me… to take someone from where they are to where they never dreamed they could go.

<<Read the previous post in the From AC 2nd… series

From AC 2nd to… Historical Interpretive Coordinator

 

This week I talked with Bethel history alum Dana Morrison-Lorenz about combining her love of history and theatre. She graduated in 2012 and now coordinates historical interpreters at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at North Dakota’s Fort Mandan.

What led to your interest in history?

My parents (particularly my dad) had a big interest in history and during many family vacations we would stop at historically significant sites. I also have two older sisters that were very interested in history. (In fact, both sisters studied history at Bethel as well.) Being as I looked up to them I wanted to do as they did, and so I began getting into the same things they did and history was a big one. As I got older I always wanted the answers to “why” questions: Why do we do things a certain way? Why are things the way they are? etc. And I found that history was a fascinating way to answer those questions. Sometimes the answers were simple and sometimes they were heartbreaking, but finding out the truth (or at the very least facts presented whether truthful or not) led to a lot of fulfillment for me.

What was one of your favorite courses or memories from Bethel?

I really enjoyed my Cold War class. Although I knew about the Cold War and the basics about what it involved, I learned so much through that course. I was born the year after the Berlin Wall came down and so it felt like a part of history that I had just missed out on, something that was so close to my lifetime but still seemed so foreign. Through the class it was interesting to dive deeper into what led up to the Cold War, what events occurred that aren’t as well known, and what ramifications from the Cold War are still felt today.

Some of the standout things I remember from the class was on the first day Dr. Gehrz asked us what we think of when we hear “Cold War” and he wrote our answers on the board. We had a discussion about how that list has changed over the years that he has been teaching the course and how our perception of an event is shaped by the time we are living in. Dr. Gehrz would also play us songs from the Cold War era and would print out the lyrics so we could follow along. I still have those sheets nearly 10 years later.

What led you to your current career?

It wasn’t until late in my college career that I figured that working in a museum/historic site might be an interesting career. I was more so studying history out of a passion for it and thought that the skills from studying history could work well in any career I chose, not necessarily having anything to do with history. So when I realized that I may want to pursue a career in a museum setting I started looking at my options. I looked into going to grad school (and to be honest it’s still not off the table), but it didn’t seem like the right time to go back to school. Instead I began volunteering through the Minnesota Historical Society so that I could start to gain some experience. I worked with the MHS Press transcribing interviews for upcoming books and with the Event Volunteers, talking with visitors and performing behind-the-scenes tasks. All the while I was applying for jobs around the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Although I got a few interviews, none of these panned out.

Then I heard about an interpreter position at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center/Fort Mandan from my sister’s former high school classmate and decided to apply for the position. I interviewed by phone a few weeks later and then the next week I had found out I got the position. Two weeks later I moved back to my home state of North Dakota and began my career as an historical interpreter.  Three years later I applied for the Interpretive Coordinator position within the same museum and started my new role in July of this year.

Dana on the job

What are some of the duties that come with your position?

Since we are a small staff at our location I have a lot of duties that I take care of. First and foremost, I interact with our visitors, whether that be giving a guided tour of Fort Mandan or answering questions within the museum. As the Coordinator I am also responsible for all of the interpreters. If they have questions or concerns, they can come to me. I will give them tasks and duties and guide them as they develop interpretive programming and tours. Other duties include planning events and temporary exhibits. This is usually done in the winter when visitation is slow. We will usually have 2-4 temporary exhibits throughout the year, with three available galleries for the exhibits.  We also have events going year round that I have to plan and promote.

I am also in charge of our social media presence so I make posts to Facebook and Instagram nearly every day. In recent years there has been a demand for site content to be available on social media, and we are trying to get information out there so even though people may not be able to visit our site we can give them interpretive content. Facebook has also been great to promote events and keep our followers up-to-date on what’s going on.

Beyond these duties I go where I am needed so I will worked the register in the museum stores, help with maintenance, and occasionally even to off site if needed.

How has Historical Interpreting let you combine your interests in History and Theatre?

There are days where we will dress up in historical clothing while working at Fort Mandan. We don’t go so far as to reenact like it’s 1804 at the fort, but having the clothing gives a different feel to the fort that people really enjoy. Combining my passions for history and theatre has also helped in my presentations, whether it be a fort tour, demonstrating how to use a flintlock, or preparing presentations to give to the public. In a sense I play a bit of a role with my job. I wear a park uniform (a costume) and I stand in front of visitors (an audience) to deliver a tour (a performance).

If you go deeper there are a lot of connections between history and theatre that have helped in my position. Both history and theatre rely on storytelling, both incorporate aspects of teamwork and critical thinking, and both allow you to overcome limitations. All of these skills are integral to my role as a historical interpreter.

<<Read the previous entry in the series                            Read the next entry>>

Some Back-to-School Inspiration for Teachers

If you’re one of our many alumni working as a teacher or professor — or you’re teaching in other contexts — and you haven’t yet seen Prof. Mulberry’s Why We Teach documentary… I recommended it this morning in my weekly post at The Anxious Bench blog on Patheos.

Why We Teach titleBethel BTS alum Sara Misgen ’13 (now finishing a PhD in theology at Yale University) told me why she resonated so strongly with Why We Teach. Perhaps some of you would respond similarly:

I rarely find myself nostalgic for Bethel, but this film got at the heart of what I loved about that place, and what I still love about it. I loved that my professors took an interest in me as a person, that they make space in their busy days to listen to the stories of their students, as so many of the teachers of this film point out. I love that my life was changed through their courses, that I’m still in contact with so many of you five years after my graduation.

…Bethel’s distinctiveness isn’t in the campus, in the buildings, or even in some of its more obscure traditions. It’s in the relationships of faculty and students, and I’m so glad to see that was captured here.

If you don’t need convincing, skip my post and just go straight to Sam’s movie. It’ll only take an hour and a half of your time.

Happy preparations for the start of a new school year!

Giving a Cup of Cold Water in Christ’s Name

Join Prof. Magnuson and the other Friends of The History Center for their spring event on Saturday, April 21 at Calvary Church in Roseville. After coffee and refreshments at 9:30am, the program will begin at 10am.

illustrated history of the Klingberg Children's HomeThis year’s featured speaker is Ron Dischinger, retired CEO/president of the Elim Park Baptist Home in Cheshire, Connecticut (and former Bethel History student — find him on our alumni map). In addition to his nearly four decades at Elim Park, Ron served at the Klingberg Children’s Home. Both institutions are rooted in the historic social ministry of the Baptist General Conference (now known as Converge). (Learn more about Klingberg in the May 2008 issue of The Baptist Pietist Clarion.) In his talk, Ron will trace some of that history, plus the program will feature some creative social ministries being carried out by Converge churches in the Twin Cities. And guests are invited to stop by the oral history table to share their own story of social ministry.

The program is free, but attendees are encouraged to register online and bring a food item to donate.

Alumni Teaching Roundtable: Grad School and Final Advice

Today we wrap up our three-part alumni conversation on teaching in middle and high school. Thanks once more to our outstanding panelists: Micayla Moore ’16, Kelly Van Wyk ’15, Daniel Rimmereid ’15, Zach Haskins ’14, and Joe Held ’13.

Have you started work on a master’s degree? How did you pick the school and program? At what point in the career would you recommend that teachers go back to school?

JH: Teaching provides financial compensation with attaining a master’s degree. I chose to begin my M.A. rather quickly after starting teaching so as to move along the “Steps and Lanes” as soon as possible. I got my Master’s in Educational Leadership from Concordia University Saint Paul (CSP). I had considered Bethel for a master’s degree, but there is benefit to getting an education from a different school. Multiple perspectives and schools can enrich personal growth.

MM: I just started my master’s in instructional design from Western Governor’s University (WGU). It’s an all online, flexible way to get your master’s. WGU is known for its progressive model of competency-based instead of credit-based education, which means if you can show you’re competent in a topic within the program, you can essentially demonstrate that and move on in the coursework so you don’t waste time and money on
information/skills that you’ve already mastered.

Middle schoolers in Micayla Moore's cultures elective course
Some of Micayla’s Spanish immersion middle schoolers in action, designing class flags for a cultures elective

ZH: I started my master’s in educational leadership at St. Mary’s University in the Fall of 2017. I picked the program because it was one that many of my co-workers have gone through, and it is available entirely online. This makes it much easier as a teacher and a coach to be able to get that education.

JH: I chose Concordia’s program for a few reasons. The first being cost. CSP was markedly more affordable than some of the neighboring universities with the same program. The second being the CSP has a reputation for offering pretty rigorous master’s programs. I have many colleagues who received master’s degrees from other universities, and they talk about how they barely had any work. You get out of learning what you put into it. I absolutely love research and paper writing — I know, I’m strange that way — so I wanted a difficult program that would challenge me.

ZH: I would recommend starting your master’s as soon as you feel settled where you are working. I wanted to be at least in my second year at a building before starting. This allows you to adjust to a new school and then tackle your master’s later.

MM: I don’t know that I’d recommend doing it your first year of full-time teaching like I am. (It’s a little stressful!) But I would say do it when you’re younger if you can. I’m only a month or so into it, and it’s already provided immediate benefits to my teaching.

JH: Having completed my M.A. in Educational Leadership, I am now in the middle of getting my Educational Specialist Degree (again, at CSP). This is essentially a step in between a master’s and a doctoral degree (Ed.D). Once I complete this program, I will receive my administration license from the state of Minnesota. This will allow me to pursue becoming a principal down the road if and when I choose.

Any closing advice for current or prospective students thinking about teaching social studies?

MM:  Get involved with youth now in whatever capacity possible. Whether that’s tutoring, volunteering with youth groups, after school programs, etc. Spend time with kids. Get to know them. Spend time in different communities with people of different cultures. You can be so solid in content knowledge and your passion for social studies, but if you can’t connect to your students it means nothing.

ZH: Pursue what you love. Everyone knows that teachers do not make the most money, but you can do something that you really enjoy. Take courses that you find interesting and that will challenge you to make yourself a better teacher.

DR: I would say commit to a school for at least three years. That may seem like a long time but I think that after that you will really know if you want to teach and you will give yourself time to grow as a teacher. The third year really is so much better than the previous two. And get a mentor ASAP. Having someone observe me and give feedback bimonthly changed my teaching so much. It truly made me a much better teacher.

KVW: Think about teaching middle school if you can see yourself working with kids who are beginning to develop self-reliance but also are young and highly impressionable. It takes a lot of patience, clear communication, creativity, problem-solving, flexibility, stability, and humor. Most of all, you must be comfortable with teaching students in all areas: academically, socially, emotionally, etc. Do not go into middle school education if you are only comfortable with the academic side of teaching, or you will be miserable and your students will be miserable.

Kelly Van Wyk and some MOC-Floyd Valley middle schoolers
Kelly and some of her middle school students from Alton, Iowa

DR: I always want more Bethel grads to try teaching in Minneapolis or St. Paul. We could always use more Christians, and those schools are often short on teachers. There are some awesome staff who have really made their life mission teaching here, and I love my colleagues who have given their life to these kids. They are an inspiration to me daily.

JH: The most challenging aspect of being a teacher is planning for the unexpected. Let me tell you a quick story. A few weeks ago, I went to bed at night expecting to teach the next day about the historical importance of the Berlin Wall. I had a killer lesson plan ready and was feeling good about the next day. When I got to school, the following happened:

Period 1) Found out one of my student’s siblings committed suicide; that student had a breakdown/seizure in class.

Period 2) Unexpected school lock down because a student made a threat to the school on social media.

Period 3) One of my students had the stomach flu and threw up in my garbage can during my lesson.

Period 4) Blessedly, nothing happened so I spent that hour trying to get the smell of vomit out of my room.

Period 5) Caught a student vaping in the back of my class and had to get security to come down because he would leave to go to the office.

Each of these things happened in the middle of my super awesome and killer lesson plan. In fact, none of my classes finished what I was hoping to get done. They were completely distracted and had very little interest in the Berlin Wall. Weird, right?

The perspective I would pass along is to remember three things: 1) You must have a sense of humor to be a teacher. Do not take yourself too seriously. 2) Plan to be flexible. Something unexpected will always happen. The sooner you can find peace with that, the less emotionally traumatic teaching will be for you. 3) Finally, remember why you love to teach. It is, and must be, always about the students. These students are with you everyday for a semester. What impact do you want to have? Remember that some things in life are more important than any lesson plan that you made. Build relationships and continue to cultivate those relationships throughout the year. If you show them that you care for them as individuals, I guarantee that they will begin to find excitement in that content that you are going to be teaching them.

MM: Teaching and learning social studies with young people is worth it. There is such a need for kind, compassionate educators in today’s schools. Students need to be known, loved, nurtured, and challenged, and that’s what you get to do as a teacher.

KVW: Just throwing this out there: you can major in history and find a job outside of social studies education. Don’t feel like education is your only option if you major in the humanities!

<<Read the previous post in this series

Alumni Teaching Roundtable: From Bethel to the Workforce

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.

Joe Held '13
Joe currently teaches AP Microeconomics, AP Macroeconomics, and U.S. History at Centennial High School

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.

<<Read part one of the conversation                Read the conclusion of this series>>

Alumni Teaching Roundtable: Picking a Major (or Two)

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?
Kelly Van Wyk teaching
In addition to teaching 6th grade social studies and 8th grade American history, Kelly coaches high school volleyball and softball

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.

Micayla Moore
Micayla teaches Spanish immersion social studies at Minnetonka Middle School West

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.

Read part two>>