Posts Tagged 'Melissa Gibson'

Becoming a Social Studies Teacher

This post originally appeared on Dr. Gibson’s Medium page.

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“painting of man” by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

By Melissa Gibson

The other night, I had an anxiety dream. In it, I was conducting research at an international school on its approach to civic education (you know, part of what I do in real life). My host was a teacher I know well, with whom I’ve worked in Peru. But before I could get started, he said I needed to meet with the principal. I entered her office, where another social studies teacher was waiting; across from us, the principal sat at her large desk, her head slung down while she napped. Worst nightmare of a job interview EVER.

Eventually, the principal jolted awake and leered at both of us. Our college transcripts were in front of her. She inspected each, and then looked at us with disgust: “Why would I hire YOU, either of you, to teach social studies when you do not even have good survey history courses on your university transcript? How can you even pretend to be social studies teachers?!” The other woman, who was clearly interviewing for a teaching job at the school, began to explain how her high school offered a plethora of college-level survey courses, and so when she got to college, she was able to move into advanced history seminars. She showed off her flashy knowledge of dates and names, and then went down a wormhole about some 1800s Navy admiral she was obsessed with. She ended with a summary of her students’ AP scores for the past twenty years. The principal nodded, clearly assuaged.

Then she turned to me. “What about you, little miss interdisciplinary?”
I gulped. I began my usual explanation of what it means to have studied Women’s Studies as an undergraduate, the various social science lenses on the same questions. I showed her on my transcript the “surveys” of sociology, history, literature, political science, but how they were all focused on questions of gender. And as I explained what I had studied, I grew more animated in my explanations of how I study these topics. The principal seemed unimpressed.

Gathering steam, I tried to give a narrative of how I came to this place in my intellectual career: I talked about not seeing myself in the curriculum (or in my classmates) and seeking academic spaces that honored the questions I was asking as legitimate intellectual inquiry. I talked about questioning dominant narratives, and moving back and forth between the various disciplinary cannons and critical theorists and scholars. I talked about my discovery late in life of how thrilling history can be when it is more than a collection of dates and names. I may have shown her the syllabus to my methods courses. I definitely showed her the documentaries and podcasts and blogs that my students have written in my social studies classes.

Eventually, she relented, agreeing that while my training was non-traditional, I clearly knew how to ask questions and get students to do some work (there may have been a tirade about lazy millenials and the ills of technology). She looked about to nod off for a nap again (and I really wanted to ask a snide question about what work she did if she spent so much time napping), so I mustered the courage to ask permission to conduct my research, which she granted. The next thing I knew, the dream had morphed into a murder mystery complete with chupacabras, and instead of conducting research on civic education, I was helping high school students escape some murderous blob-ghost thing, which liked to strike during football games. Also, there were rickshaw rides and a lack of child care for my own children so…definitely an anxiety dream.

School is finally back in full swing here in Milwaukee, and we are hunkering down at Marquette to dig into the meat of our courses. And on the eve of these intellectual journeys, I guess my sub-conscious needed to pause to reflect on what it means to be a scholar of social studies education, especially when one isn’t a traditional social scientist or historian. I talked my own imposter syndrome down in the dream, as evidenced by the principal’s relent, but I woke up aware of that always present feeling of self-doubt. Which, believe it or not, is important for me to hold onto. Not because it’s a valid self-critique but because it reminds me of how my pre-service teachers may feel in my methods courses and in their placements—not quite the real deal. And that self-doubt can be paralyzing. Part of my job as their methods instructor is to help them see the multiple ways that we can become scholars of teaching, and that our most powerful intellectual tools are the questions we ask.

This publication, which we will add to throughout the school year, is a record of their journeys learning to ask good questions. Along the way, they will uncover resources, stories, places, and instruction that just may help you become a better social studies teacher, too—whether this is your first year teaching, or your fortieth.

This is social studies. Not a collection of dates and names, but a way of inquiring about the world. We hope you’ll join us on our journey.

Up In the Andes: Dr. Melissa Gibson

This summer, seven of our undergraduate teacher education students and one intrepid faculty member are spending a month in Peru studying the educational system and discussing their own philosophies of education. They are writing and reflecting on their journey, and we are following along! Read on for excerpts and blurbs from Dr. Gibson and the students’ blogs. You can read more on Marquette Meets Peru and check back for updates here.  

Dr. Melissa Gibson

What does a just education look like here, this world so different from Lima…and yet so much more similar to what foreign tourists imagine when they think about Peru?

The parish retreat in Andahuaylillas, where we stay.

Up in the mountains of the Cusco region is a small town called Andahuaylillas. It is framed by the hills of the Andes, a greenish yellow ground cover reflecting the high altitude rays of the sun. A tiny plaza sits outside a masterpiece of a church, and by day, the plaza is rimmed by a dozen vendors of woolens and jewelry and llama-themed tchatchkes. After three weeks in the traffic and smog and fog and noise of Lima, Andahuaylillas is a still oasis.

If you’re lucky, you might catch a traditional celebration on the steps of the church, percussion leading the dancers who wear the furs of baby llamas on their backs. If you’re even luckier, you’ll get to know the people who live in this town. As part of our program, we spend a few days here, hosted by the local parish in their retreat center, and welcomed by community members: The directress and students of the local Fé y Alegría school, which consciously offers up a Quechua/castellano education for highland children to try in its own small way to counteract the anti-indigenous forces that demean and degrade the communities of the Andes. The youth workers and participants in the Wayra Ludoteca, a rowdy after-school program where kids from all over Andahuaylillas come to get their wiggles out and their artistry on. The residents of the even-higher village of Cuyuni, who welcome us at 14,000 feet to their community dining room, to their homes powered by recycled biofuel, and to their ceremonies of offerings to pachamama. And members of the Jesuit social projects that have renewed local churches on the Baroque Route, including Andahuaylillas’s own “Sistine Chapel of the Andes.”

A mural in Andahuaylillas depicting indigenous communities and celebrations.

Andahuaylillas is a quiet, reflective time in our trip—partly because of altitude, which forces us all to slow down and adjust, but also because it is so different from the world of Lima we just spent three weeks in. And, the educational context is different. The languages are different (Quechua). The constraints are different (three-hour walks through the high Andes to get to school). The resources are different (isolated, small town lacking teachers). What does a just education look like here, this world so different from Lima…and yet so much more similar to what foreign tourists imagine when they think about Peru?

In this round of blog posts, the students consider these questions as well as similarities they see between race in the US and ethnic and indigenous groups in Peru. And while I’m not there with them (I made it safely home to where my family has now taken over my nursing), I am delighted to read that they are still learning and thinking together in Andahuaylillas.

A celebration in anticipation of Corpus Cristi, outside the church of Andahuaylillas.

Who Is the Teacher?: Dr. Melissa Gibson

This summer, seven of our undergraduate teacher education students and one intrepid faculty member are spending a month in Peru studying the educational system and discussing their own philosophies of education. They are writing and reflecting on their journey, and we are following along! Read on for excerpts and blurbs from Dr. Gibson and the students’ blogs. You can read more on Marquette Meets Peru and check back for updates here.  

Dr. Melissa Gibson

Mural at El Lugar de la Memoria, la Tolerancia, y la Inclusión Sociale.

Unless you’re in my line of work, studying teaching and education, you probably don’t spend a lot of time wondering, “Who is the teacher?” That may in fact seem like an absurd question to you. I could ask the question differently to try to get at some of what I’m questioning: Who was your favorite teacher? What made them so? Who have been your most impactful teachers outside of the classroom, and why? What is good teaching, and how do you know?

In the context of this study abroad course, we’re asking these questions not as a matter of policy or to dictate instruction, but as a philosophical question. Because we’ve also been philosophizing about learning—not the neuroscience of cognition but the human experience of learning.

Félix, a community educator in El Agostino and one of the many fantastic teachers we’ve met on this journey.

There are plenty of reformers, educators, and individuals who are rolling their eyes at me now. Who would tell me about job preparation and test scores and knowledge and cultural literacy and on and on. And here is what I would respond, just as I tell my teacher education students:

Learning is a relational and emotional process. The emotional parts of our brain are involved deeply in learning. Thus, the teacher and the student are in a relationship, and the quality of that relationship directly connects to the students’ learning. But they’re not alone in that relationship; they are in a community of learners, the classroom and the school. So what is the nature of a teacher/student relationship and a learning community that actually cultivates learning and deep understand? Questioning and critical thinking? If a teacher is always the omniscient, all-knowing sage leading the classroom, what does that mean for these relationships? And if students can repeat all sorts of information, is that the same thing as learning?

Neuroscience can help us answer these questions, as can instructional design and educational research. But for me, these are at their core philosophical questions. So in this round of blog posts, the students are starting to grapple with these questions to answer, Who is the teacher?

Perhaps a recipe at the heart of good teaching?

This Is Not a Service Trip: Dr. Melissa Gibson

This summer, seven of our undergraduate teacher education students and one intrepid faculty member are spending a month in Peru studying the educational system and discussing their own philosophies of education. They are writing and reflecting on their journey, and we are following along! Read on for excerpts and blurbs from Dr. Gibson and the students’ blogs. You can read more on Marquette Meets Peru and check back for updates here.  

Dr. Melissa Gibson

As students of education, we are trying to understand the relationship between pedagogy and the social contexts of schooling.

In Pamplona Alta with Luís & Yisella.

People keep asking us, What are you doing here in Perú? We are not volunteering. We are not missionaries. We are not voluntourists. What are we then? There doesn’t seem to be a familiar paradigm for answering that question, and we always get a bit of a cock-eyed look when we explain, We are here studying education in Peru. Researching, do we mean? Teaching about education, do we mean? Practice teaching, do we mean? Nope. We are studying education in Peru.

Why, then, the trip to Pamplona Alta, where families opened up their bathrooms to us to show us the engineering marvel of a dry/compost toilet? Or why keep going back to El Agostino to play soccer and jump rope? What is this, if not slum tourism or voluntourism?

Pamplona Alta, a pueblo jóven, or informal settlement. Lima is over-populated and unplanned, and there is a shortage of livable space. Pueblos jóvenes were settled by folks living in other parts of Lima or in the highlands who wanted homes of their own. From nothing but a dusty and rocky mountainside they’ve constructed, from scratch, a community. This one, Nueva Rinconada, is especially tightly knit and committed to the gradual improvement of living conditions. With only one public school serving all of Pamplona Alta—much of which is inaccessible by car and without running water—the question of context in education is especially pressing.

As students of education, we are trying to understand the relationship between pedagogy and the social contexts of schooling. I guess you can do that theoretically, but those relationships become clearest when we are actually immersed in differing contexts and when we can actually begin to experience different philosophies of education put into practice. Because we are working with a Jesuit university partner while we are here, we are lucky to get to visit and learn about various Jesuit social projects. So in Pamplona Alta, Luís, a biologist working with PEBAL, walked us around to show us his work—which included installing fog catchers and dry toilets. In El Agostino, Patí and all of her Encuentros programs welcome us visitors to get to know their work with children in the neighborhood. Through partnerships and relationships, we learn about not only the different neighborhood contexts of Lima but also about how different people are approaching their work in these contexts.

Legos, ping pong, foosball, soccer, and scooter riding. Every kid’s dream of how to while away an afternoon.

The Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm calls us to cyclically move through an investigation of context, experience, and rigorous reflection. We are, therefore, here to experience a context both similar and different from our own; our seminar readings provide some structure and prompts for our reflection. We continually cycle through these three phases of Ignatian pedagogy, knowing that the final two components—action and evaluation—will come later, in our own context, where we are actors and agents and not visitors.

So no, we are not volunteers or missionaries or teachers or researchers. We are not here to fix anything, to engage in charity, or to feign to have the answers. We are also not here to ogle. No, we are here to learn, and we are lucky to do so in partnership with communities and individuals who are so deeply involved in positive social and educational change.

We are students, and we are here to learn.

Looking down on El Agostino from the losa, or slab, in the mountains where we played soccer and practiced our Spanish with neighborhood kids.

Marquette Meets Peru

This summer, seven of our undergraduate teacher education students and one intrepid faculty member are spending a month in Peru studying the educational system and discussing their own philosophies of education. They are writing and reflecting on their journey, and we are following along! Read on for excerpts and blurbs from Dr. Gibson and the students’ blogs. You can read more on Marquette Meets Peru and check back for updates here.  

Dr. Melissa Gibson

 “So in the first two days of seminar, my job is to make the familiar strange—and to make the strange familiar. It’s the students’ job to start making their own sense out of this, which is what you’ll read about in this next installation of blogs.”

Now that the initial excitement of the first few days in Peru has morphed into a weekly routine, it is time for us to get down to academic business. Our university partner here in Peru calls our program, “Diverse Contexts of Education in Peru,” and that is exactly right. The course syllabus describes our task this way:

This course will examine the philosophical underpinnings of various educational approaches in the US and Peru, as well as the key issues, policies, and practices that are part of global debate about what constitutes a high quality and equitable education. The course will combine educational field studies in Peru with traditional seminar meetings in order to link theory, research, and practice. Students will work comparatively between the contexts they are encountering in Peru and the contexts they may know intimately in the US. Topics addressed will include [1] the social context of schools; [2] theorizing and distributing educational aims; [3] educational (in)equity, neoliberalism, and school reform; [4] race, class, and language; and [5] approaches to educational change. Students will articulate their own emerging philosophies of education, and they will comparatively analyze an educational issue facing Peru and the US.

To do this (which is a mighty big task for our month!), and after throwing ourselves into the broader context, we hunker down with some key topics: What kinds of schools are there? What are the challenges that schools are facing? And what makes a school or educational program good or just?

To investigate these questions, we visited two schools—one, a prestigious private American school; the other, a Jesuit public school (you read that right!) serving working and middle class students. We also considered the global privatization of public schooling, which is rapidly occurring here in Lima, and the push to redefine a high-quality education around twenty-first-century skills and around liberation and social change.

Our first seminar.

The visit to Roosevelt is a hard one for me, as the instructor. Especially after spending time in El Agustino and meeting students at UARM, who are generally not from Lima’s elite, the extravagance of the Roosevelt campus can be disheartening. How can this one school community have so much, and millions of Peruvians have so little? That’s a hard inequality to stomach—and as the students note this week in their blogs, it’s an inequality that made them deeply uncomfortable. As it should.

But. That inequality is not that different than what we see back in the US between, say, privileged suburban schools and low-income schools in segregated neighborhoods. It’s just that the inequality is so much more visible at Roosevelt. It’s a challenge to help my students recognize this about our home context.

But also. Roosevelt is a pedagogical exemplar in some ways. Thanks to their “sky’s the limit” resources, they get to do what so many other schools feel is out of reach: deep dive inquiries. personalized learning. experience and travel. interdisciplinary curriculum. entrepreneurship. And they are trying to do all of this in the service of socially responsible students who can lead lives of integrity. The global elite exist. So how should we be educating them in the service of justice and equality? Can we even do that?

A tiny taste of learning at Roosevelt. A student’s outline for his documentary on the Peruvian music industry, made during an in-depth unit on economics.

It can be hard for my students to see past the makerspace and the lush playing fields to the underlying pedagogy and philosophy.Yet this is what we’re here to do: to connect context with philosophies and pedagogies. And by doing so here, in a place so seemingly unfamiliar but also kind of like a distant cousin to the US, we ultimately should be able to turn that critical and hopeful gaze back on our own context.

So in the first two days of seminar, my job is to make the familiar strange—and to make the strange familiar. It’s the students’ job to start making their own sense out of this, which is what you’ll read about in this next installation of blogs.

Getting to Know Dr. Melissa Gibson

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Dr. Gibson being kissed by a monkey on her recent research trip to Bali.

Dr. Melissa Gibson is  an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Policy & Leadership (EDPL). She teaches Elementary Social Studies Methods and Middle/Secondary Social Studies Methods. All throughout this semester, we’ve been getting to know our faculty a little better by sitting down to see what makes them who they are!

Tell us about you! How would you describe yourself?

Thinker. Writer. Mother. Sister. Traveler. Friend. Activist. Creative. Silly. Disorganized. Doubtful. Outspoken. Grounded. Spontaneous. Loyal.

So where did you grow up? And how long have you lived in Milwaukee?

I grew up in the Chicago area, suburbs mostly. I say I’m “from” Elk Grove Village, but I’ve also lived in Skokie, Lake Forest, Harwood Heights, Edgewater in the city—and for many years, I pretended I lived in my older sister’s Lincoln Park and Irving Park apartments. But I have also lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for five years; Madison, Wisconsin, for six years; and Guadalajara, Mexico, for three years. I’ve been in Milwaukee since July 1, 2015.

What was your favorite educational experience?

My most pivotal learning experience was the semester I took off from college to go to Paris. This wasn’t study abroad; this was eighteen-year-old me hopping on a plane to look for work and a place to live and make friends and… When I look back on it now, it doesn’t seem that crazy, but at the time, it was the hardest and most independent thing I’d ever done. In terms of school-based experiences, I don’t know that I can pick a specific one. I’ve been lucky to have phenomenal teachers and mentors throughout my life.

What drew you to Marquette and the COED?

I felt kinship with a university and college that expressed a moral imperative to work for equity and justice in our schools. I also loved the collegiality, the smallness, and the need for faculty not to be hyper-specialized. I’m a generalist at heart. Also, Milwaukee is close to my family and my husband’s family.

We’re glad that Marquette is a good fit for you! What do you see as an exciting opportunity for this upcoming academic year?

I am excited to be returning to Peru for our second study abroad program. For me, it is a mix of all the things I love about this work—most especially, that putting it together has been a creative endeavor. Looking forward, I love the openings that the new core and DPI revisions to certification are creating for us to creatively reimagine teacher education. I hope we, as faculty, can imaginatively think about placements, course sequences, and “high-quality” education.

And, what do you do when you are not teaching?

Not counting all the hours I spend doing laundry, cooking dinner, and resolving sibling quibbles (= parenting), I write a blog and I love to work on my house and garden. I’m also a NY Times crossword addict.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to write about you! As a fellow blogger, what does blogging mean to you?

I have always been a writer, since my first-grade award-winning Young Author’s Contest poem about my pets. Writing is how I make sense of the world. It is creative, reflective, expressive. I often can’t express in speaking what I can in writing, and I find I can be more vulnerable in writing than I can in face-to-face situations. While my blog is non-fiction/personal essay/social commentary, I’d love to move into fiction writing at some point—I keep a notebook of novel ideas, and every time I drive to the UP, I work a little more on the details of my future screenplay about unlikely love in the northwoods.

Do you have any advice for readers who are interested in blogging?

Start a blog! They’re free. Read Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird. Share what you write, even if it’s just with your best friend.

Who is the inspiration for your work?

My own teachers inspire my work, Mrs. Bessey and Mrs. Harper especially. But also all of teachers who saw moments when I was struggling, personally or academically, and they treated me humanely, with mercy, and with patience. I am also inspired by all the K-12 students I’ve worked with, but especially those whom I’ve failed in some way.

You can learn more about the College of Education along with our undergraduate and graduate programs by visiting us online!


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