Posts Tagged 'Teacher'

Dear Teachers

As part of Dr. Melissa Gibson’s class Teaching Middle Secondary Social Science, students are asked to think about social studies in a new light — and throughout the course, their perceptions do shift. Through their blogging during the semester, we can see these changes in the students’ own words. Read on to learn along with our students!

By Elie Ortiz

The first eight years of my life were spent in Puerto Rico. It was a place where everybody spoke Spanish. I was comfortable — comfortable talking to my parents, extended family, friends, and teachers. But all of a sudden, my life took a huge turn. I was no longer in Puerto Rico; I was sitting in a classroom where everybody spoke English. At the time, I knew about three words: door, window, pencil.

Social studies was a drag. I was forced to memorize vocabulary words such as “allegiance” and “sovereign.” I might know what they mean now, but when I was a little girl I didn’t, and I was traumatized by my entire social studies experience. All of the kids around me knew what they were talking about; they constructed arguments, they debated, and seemed like experts in the subject. Me? I was struggling to even form a sentence in my head just to ask the teacher about a homework assignment.

By high school, I was fluent in English, but I was definitely not fluent in social studies. I still hated it. It dragged just as much as it did in elementary school. Why? Because social studies was never taught beyond the books. We did not go out to explore our community, there were no guest speakers, and our readings were bland. While we did more inquiry and took informed action, I still had a negative attitude about social studies until college. I never loved social studies until now, all thanks to my amazing professor. As it turns out, social studies is not just about world wars and looking at historical documents. It’s about learning about ourselves, our community, our world — using our knowledge to question the world and take action. It’s about the impact each individual person can have on the world.


I am not telling you my story so you can feel sorry for me about my experience with social studies. Rather, it’s to emphasize the importance of teaching our kids to be sociologists, geographers, historians. Students, especially during their younger years, are curious about the world. If we lecture them, have them take notes, then give them tests all of the time, are we really impacting our students? No. We are teaching them what to think, not how to think.

Overall, my thinking about social studies in K-8 classrooms has changed tremendously throughout the semester. At first, I viewed social studies as only boring history facts, but now I see it as a powerful tool to help students not only succeed in school but as human beings as well. The C3 Framework presents the following four Dimensions: Developing questions and planning inquiries; Applying disciplinary concepts and tools; Evaluating sources and using evidence; and Communicating conclusions and taking informed actions. These dimensions can be applied in the classroom and in the real world as well.

For example: Let’s think about poverty. Why are people living in poverty? How is poverty affecting our economic status? What is the data? How many people live in poverty today? What can I do to stop poverty?

As we can see, we can apply what we learn in the classroom into the real world and actually make a difference. As educators, let’s impact our students through social studies. Every single student deserves to learn about how powerful it can be.


Becoming a Social Studies Teacher

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

mg 1

“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.

Why Teacher Professional Development Often Falls Short

7070563247_94e4848a6b_bBy Nick McDaniels – Last week I had a great professional development experience facilitated by a colleague. But my colleague, a career and technology education teacher like myself, learned professional development delivery skills from a field outside of education. She understands adult learners. My experience, most years, is not so great.

More often than not, I, like half of America’s teachers, am dissatisfied with professional development. I am usually crowded into a room, in student-sized desks (one time in a primary art room for two six hour days), with other teachers who sort of teach the same thing I teach while a well-meaning teacher delivers professional development she had no part in designing and, quite obviously, doesn’t really believe in. I leave, often appreciating the comedy of how undeveloped I was, and lament the many ways this time could have been used in a more valuable way, in a way that might actually improve outcomes for students.

So what does professional development fall short so often?

Location, timing, and content are all extremely important, and PD often times appears not well thought out, not responsive to the needs of teachers and students, and appears to lack intentionality. Professional development, particularly in times that are built into the school calendar, must be valued and the time must be maximized. Time, personnel, and resources, must be devoted to this task. If that is not possible, then PD should be abandoned. Bad PD is not better than no PD at all.

Further, the amount of research out there explaining how adults learn differently than children is astounding, particularly when we consider how so much American PD ignores the research. Unless we train teachers to teach other teachers differently than they teach students, PD will never be successful.

Fortunately for me, I had a good one last week, so at least I will go into the next PD optimistic that I and everyone else will learn something that can help us make sure the students learn better.

Rewind: Childhood Memories of Having a Parent-Teacher

d55329b4dddac6400f1a9d993dcdcbd4By Noel Hincha – A long day of crying, boogers, laughs, and academics. Today, the teacher yelled at you for not sharing properly. Today, the teacher scolded you for not staying in line. Today, the teacher told you to not forget your homework. Kindergarten is rough, but the day is done.

You hop into the car as your mother habitually details, “How was your day? Oh – well today, I gently told a child to share, guided a rambunctious first grader back in line as we walked down the hallway, and reminded everyone about their homework.” In this moment, you remember you can’t escape: your parent is a teacher.

Alas, here are a few memories to reminisce:

  1. You were perpetually caught off guard hearing others address your mom as Mrs. To be honest, as a child, your parent was actually a celebrity. Everywhere you went, be it the mall or a restaurant, you were bound to run into people – former students. Mrs. this, Mrs. that; however, it was never addressed to you, and now, only mildly confuses your senses. Should I be calling you, “Ms. Mom?”
  2. While still out in public, your parent commanded the attention of small children. There was a child misbehaving in line? Supermom-teacher to the rescue. A temper tantrum in the middle of the mall? Superdad-teacher to the rescue. Your parent knew how to brainwash even your second grade friends into using sanitizer or taking turns.
  3. You never had to shop for school supplies because they were hoarded at your house. Back to school shopping meant wander around the house and pick up a few extraneous academic utensils: safety scissors, double sided tape, binders, loose-leaf paper, pens, markers. Anything and everything was available and hoarded from previous years because your parent knew there was bound to be budget cuts in the future – save now.
  4. On that note, stickers were the choice of decoration. If there was ever need for a reminder or random note, it was sure to have stickers on it; even calendars had stickers on them. There were packets of every variety: animals, plants, letters, smiley faces, and the newest fad of pop culture – a side-eye to Frozen. Further, your friends envied you for your decked out notebook, obviously covered in more stickers. Not everything that glitters is gold.
  5. Mailed coupons were not for groceries, they were for teaching essentials. After a strenuous day, the mail lay by the front door. Most people found coupons for their local grocery store, BestBuy, or delivery restaurants; however, if your parent was a teacher, the coupons were for the local teaching supply store. In essence, this meant frequent, domestic field trips to the nearby Learning Shop.
  6. Before you went back to your school, you went back to your mom’s school. It involved heavy, manual labor. Why? Because whoever stored the room away for the summer never puts things back where they were supposed to go. Why was there a table in the corner and a cabinet with its doors facing the wall? Where did all the puzzles and posters go? These were all valid questions for you to answer, and then, fix.
  7. Every room in your house had secret compartments for sanitizer, lotion, and animal crackers. You walked into your room after another stressful day at school, without realizing it, you reached for the sanitizer placed conveniently to the side of the door. You walked from your room to dinner, animal crackers in hand, and sat down; “Go, wash your hands. You just touched the door knob.” Don’t fret, if the sanitizer dried out your hands, there was always lotion lying around. Please, wash your hands.
  8. The home was a commendable library. Every open surface area was covered with books. Basically, it was no surprise that you started reading Harry Potter by age five. If one were to stand in the middle of your home, every degree and angle a body can turn would meet a book. A plethora of dictionaries, fiction, biographies, newspapers, children’s literature, textbooks, and notebooks. The amount of paper was probably an immense fire hazard.
  9. There was a family excursion to Madison when the unmentionables happened. 2011 – Remember when your mom called for a future budget cut? It happened. Teacher unions, among others, were battling a small problem, which is a slight understatement. Luckily for you, this meant a few days off of school to visit Madison. In consequence, during this memorable era, you may have even been on TV.
  10. You appreciate education. Complaints are acceptable every now and then, but because it is engraved in your mind, you know you are the future and education – although it should be a right – is a privilege. Through everything, it is almost innately known that you are where you are because of your education, and you don’t take it for granted. In fact, you advocate for education and further value its role in society. You understand that literacy creates power of the individual and that education creates a holistic being. Teachers are the respectable individuals that foster the future of our world.

The Education System: “Now Climb That Tree”

5232012052424iwsmtBy Micah Russell — This cartoon has been making rounds on the internets recently. It’s hilarious, but also a powerful statement on the approach of the education system. It shows a variety of animals of different sizes, weights, and capabilities in a row. The proctor at the front then states that, to be fair, they will all be asked to take the same exam. “Now climb that tree.” The reason it’s so funny is because many of us have felt that way at one point or another (or maybe not, maybe some of us are the monkey). How can so many students feel that way? Where is the violent educational uprising?

Yes, to say that the education system needs reforming is an understatement. However, I don’t want to waste this blog discussing the flaws of the system. If you want a comprehensive view, check out Waiting for Superman. Rather, I want to emphasize a potential solution.

The answer comes to us from psychologist Charles Spearman. At the beginning of the 20th century, he had a theory of intelligence that he titled the “g factor”. The g (or general) factor was a measure of cognitive abilities across variables. Spearman argued that psychologists could gain a better perspective on an individual when they evaluated a wide array of intelligence rather than specific intelligence (such as that measured by an IQ test).

The education system may benefit from this model and find the strengths in their students by utilizing different assessments of intelligence and knowledge. Therefore, to relate it to our cartoon, beyond a climbing test, there may be a swimming test, an eating contest, a footrace, etc. Tommy may not be good at standardized tests, but he’s an amazing artist and can think abstractly. Jill has low test scores, but is able to form cohesive and convincing arguments. Bobby is struggling to stay awake in class, but he has a strong work ethic and is great with hands-on, practical application. Each of these students has a different intelligence that may go overlooked, depending on who’s looking.

So the real question becomes, how do we become advocates for our students? Until next time….

Opening Up About Bullying

By Stephanie Rappe — Last week I had a rude awakening to bullying in my classroom. The morning Journal prompt said, “How do you want to be treated by your classmates? How are you treated? List both good and bad examples.”

I made this the prompt because the day before I had two girls upset because they had heard someone talking about them in a negative way. Therefore, I thought this prompt could initiate a good class discussion. As I read through the student’s responses to the prompt I was shocked. There were a couple of students whose writing had me holding back tears. There were three boy’s writings that really stuck out to me.

In the first that caught my eye, a student talked about how he was being teased by another boy in our class for being fat. He said that this mean boy sometimes calls him slow and weird. He also told me that this bully calls him fat in Hmong so that I can’t understand what is being said.

The second writing that stuck out to me was a boy that said the same bully as the first one was also bullying him. It said that he calls him ugly, and says things like “wow, you suck” to him. I couldn’t believe this! Especially because these boys seems to all get along and enjoy being around each other during free time.

The third response made me very uneasy. It was from a boy saying that he wished he were bigger because he wouldn’t get picked on if he was taller. He wrote about the same boy that the other boys wrote about, and wrote down the hurtful things he said to him.

These writing responses made me feel sick. I was so sad for these boys who were feeling hurt and self conscious about themselves. Some of the girl responses were similar, but not to the extent of these three from the boys. Thus, I had a long discussion with my kids about bullying. I told them about the effects of bullying, and how their actions affect others. We talked about why it is wrong to judge people, and how our differences make us special. We also talked about how some things that you think are a joke others might take to heart.

This discussion triggered many emotions and ideas in my students. They began to ask me questions about what they should do when people say hurtful things to them, and what to do if they don’t stop. They shared different instances when they were hurt by something someone else said, and they also shared how they each want to be treated. This was eye opening for them because they realized that they all want to be treated the same way. They all want to be treated kindly and with respect.

After this discussion we sat down and had a peace circle. This circle’s purpose was to have the students taking turns saying positive praises to one another. As we went around the circle, the students did a great job of thinking of meaningful praises for each of their peers. I am hopeful that this will help them be more conscious of their words and actions so that we can move forward in a much more careful and kind manner.

Changing Gears: From 7th Grade to Kindergarten

By Colleen Ryan — So far this school year has been a complete 180 from last year.

After I graduated in December, I taught reading, writing, and math to the 7th graders. I enjoyed working with the older students because we got to have really in depth conversations day to day about what they were learning.  Moving from 7th grade to kindergarten has been a joyful but overwhelming change.

During the past 3 weeks I have been working on retraining my brain to think on the level of my students.  Often times during the day I have to remind myself that school is something that is new to them.  The little things that I didn’t have to teach my students last year are now practiced every day until they become natural habits; like walking in the halls, saying their name loud in the lunch line, how to share, etc.

One of the best parts of teaching kindergarten is the excitement the kids have in each activity.  From the first day of school my 5 year olds came in with huge smiles on their little faces ready to learn.  Its amazing how the littlest things makes them instantly excited and engaged in what is going on, whether its using a puppet to teach letters or counting “like a lion” it is very easy to get the student enthused about each activity.  I could tell from day one that these little people have huge hearts, they all want to learn and they all want please me in every way they can.

I have had the pleasure of working with a veteran kindergarten teacher, which has been beyond helpful.  It is amazing to see what come from years and years of experience, and exciting to bring new ideas to the table. In the past three weeks I have learned so much about how to teach to these younger students and I am looking forward to learning more and more each day.


Colleen Ryan ’10 graduated from Marquette with a degree in Elementary Education and Communication Studies.  For as long as she remembers she has always wanted to be a teacher because teachers have the ability to impact lives each and every day.  She will be starting her first year of teaching at the Hmong American Peace Academy teaching K5.  

What is a Marquette Educator?

Follow us on Twitter