For education students, lessons are learned both in and out of the classroom

Corinne Fucci '14 at Occupy New Haven

There’s a teacher in all of us.

Maybe it’s not a school teacher, but it’s some kind of teacher. And the education department at Gettysburg College helps bring that inner teacher out, challenging students to leave behind preconceptions and think about teaching and learning in new and unconventional ways.

“The study of education is well suited to the liberal arts experience,” said Dave Powell, assistant professor of education at Gettysburg College. “Professional work in education calls for deep, flexible knowledge of a range of topics, and an ability to adapt that knowledge to different situations. We try to provide that in our courses and through our affiliations with other departments on campus.” Students can find their inner teacher by minoring in educational studies, completing teacher certification programs, incorporating education courses into their self-designed majors, or by taking education courses as electives. The programs and courses were specially designed to offer a well-rounded examination of education as a social, cultural, philosophical, historical, and professional phenomenon.

Meet four Gettysburg alumni and a current student, all products of the education department, who are teaching and continuously learning inside and outside of the classroom:

Thanks to education courses she took at Gettysburg, English major Emily Davis ’10 jumped at the opportunity to work at Tyee High School: Academy of Citizenship and Empowerment in SeaTac, Wash. With interests in advocating for bilingual education and teaching in an urban environment, Davis feels there’s nothing better than gaining first-hand experience in the field you wish to pursue. For example, she learned she had to be a teacher, researcher, counselor, disciplinarian, and entertainer all rolled into one while student teaching. “Student teaching was a lot of trial and error, but I had excellent support from my peers, professor, supervisor, and co-op,” Davis said. “I fell in love with teaching during this experience; facilitating and experiencing the inside jokes and quirks, and of course the learning of a group of young people is one of the most rewarding experiences I had during college.” And even though she graduated from Gettysburg in 2010, this teacher hasn’t stopped learning. “My liberal arts education continues to teach me to consider multiple perspectives,” she said. “It has made me a more self-aware person, and has provided me with the opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone, inside and outside the classroom, and embrace adventure.”

Ellen SpeakeEllen Speake ’10 has a passion for education and social justice. After completing an internship with a Mastery Charter School in West Philadelphia, Pa. during her junior year, she returned to campus knowing her work with the institution wasn’t over yet. The English major maintained a connection with her colleagues throughout her senior year, and even helped bring prospective students to Gettysburg for admissions tours. Towards the end of her senior year, Speake was offered a position at the school and she happily accepted. “My education courses definitely prepared me for my job,” she said. “My favorite course was Urban Education; not only was it centered around urban education, but it also blended several different components. I enjoyed the instructional knowledge that I gained, examining policy with respect to urban education, and looking at the different ways cities are trying to address the achievement gap. And the service-learning component was phenomenal!”

Nick CalaNick Cala ’10 knew he wanted to be a high school social studies teacher early in life and hasn’t changed his mind. He’s currently enrolled in the Teaching of Social Studies program at Columbia University’s Teachers College. “When I’m learning about a certain concept, such as the hidden curriculum, I’m able to build on the web of connections that my professors at Gettysburg have already helped me make,” he said. “I feel extremely capable when it comes to taking part in informed discussions about the classroom.” A history major, he loved the way the best psychology, civics, and history courses were as much about the opinions of students as the content of the courses. But it was Prof. Powell’s Social Studies Methods course that made a major impact on his path to a career in teaching. “He united a study of some of the deepest issues of social studies - historical thinking, truth, the construction of in-groups and out-groups - with the possibilities that those issues have in the classroom,” said Cala. “Even having taken a year of graduate courses dealing with the teaching of social studies, it’s difficult for me to think of a time when I felt as engaged as I was in that class.”

Not all teachers inhabit the classroom.

Drew WolenterDrew Wolenter ’11 is more likely to build a classroom than work in one. He serves as an AmeriCorps National Direct Member with the Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake organization, where every day is like the first day of school. “I’m the teacher and my volunteers are the students,” he said. “During the morning talk, which touches on safety and daily goals, I use the techniques I learned while at Gettysburg.” One of his favorite lessons learned in his education courses has also proven to be one of the most important: teachers should question their techniques to try and improve. A math major, he values his liberal arts education because he believes it encouraged him to be curious about the world around him. “If you meet somebody who does something completely different than you, embrace it as an opportunity to learn something awesome about a topic you may not have known about otherwise.”

Corinne FucciCorinne Fucci ’14 is a current student who designed her own major, Education Policy. “I love being able to explore issues affecting the education system, such as the charter school movement, in Social Foundations of Education,” she said. “And I love how Teaching Social Studies is teaching me how to prepare students for active democratic citizenship.” She feels the knowledge gained from her education courses has provided her with a clearer idea of what role education should play in children’s lives and in society as a whole. “It is my hope that students learn to engage in active citizenship and also have the skills that will make it possible for them to attain a decent standard of living,” she said. In addition to being actively involved in the Dance Ensemble, College Democrats, and Alpha Phi Omega on campus, Fucci is a volunteer for the Lincoln Intermediate Unit, which is a tutoring program for local migrant students. “These kids are so much fun to work with, and it's really amazing to see how this program has helped them.”

Students taking education courses are challenged to think about teaching and learning in unique ways, with discussions centered on topics such as the way schools are and the way they could be. “We want to draw back the curtain and help students see how schools function so they can become more informed parents, voters, co-workers, school board members, and community activists – and better citizens,” added Powell. He says the department has a simple message for students: “No matter what you end up doing with your life, there's a good chance you’ll find yourself needing to teach somebody something. We're here to help you learn how.”

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Posted: Fri, 20 Apr 2012

Read more news