The State of Teaching Social Studies–A Quick Write

Click for the .pdf close-up of this image…by the way, my blog is not specifically about this graphic but it does connect well to the current status of modern Social Studies teaching (or the lack thereof).

By Ron Hustvedt, Jr.

I recently received an e-mail from a Professor friend asking for my thoughts on the modern state of teaching Social Studies. The purpose was for sharing with colleagues and students at that institution. The request arrived on a late Sunday afternoon and I’d already been doing schoolwork for several hours beforehand with at least several more hours of work ahead of me. It seemed like an interesting diversion to the work I was completing so I did it on the spot, and wrote these thoughts down in about 20 minutes.

I preface this blog acknowledging that it’s somewhat of a stream-of-conscious style writing and very lightly edited. It contains my thoughts at the moment and comes amidst a very busy period of time with finalizing the D.C. trip I take students on, spring planning for the next school year, budget planning and the annual representative convention with the Elk River Education Association, and a major case of spring fever (will spring actually arrive?).

The questions given to me are numbered and in bold. My responses are as follows. What did I miss? What would you have added? Please add your comments as desired or reach out to me privately.

1. How does COVID continue to impact your work as a teacher? Do you expect these impacts to be long- or short-term? What can teacher preparation programs do to prepare candidates for the changes you have seen?

It truly has impacted every level of my work as a teacher. While it doesn’t directly feel that way day to day, indirectly it occupies a place in the classroom much like an elephant in the corner. Student mental health, their development/maturity as learners, and the feeling of security have all been impacted. We spent last school year in three different learning models. While this school year has been all in-person, the spectre of a change was a daily concern much of the fall and winter. Teacher preparation programs need to prepare candidates for noticing and supporting a variety of student mental health concerns. Also, candidates need to understand how to build relationships with students and focus on scaffolding instruction, assessment and a classroom environment that supports and empowers students. Those are pre-Covid needs as well, but classrooms where those things are all taking place are much more effective now more than ever. 

2. What should new teachers know to better support students facing mental health challenges?

Student anxiety and attentiveness has definitely been impacted. Depression and suicidal thoughts are things new teachers need to know how to identify and take supportive but necessary action. Better understanding the reasons for student defiance, passive-aggressive behavior, work avoidance and other negative behaviors will help prepare them for effective, consistent, strict but flexible classroom management and mental health support. 

3. What are current and emerging trends in social studies education that we should address in our teacher preparation program?

Student voice and choice is essential. Use of primary sources, inquiry skills and student questions leading the instruction. The ability to write questions, search a variety of sources for information about those questions, determine the validity of those sources and using them to analyze the information, and then communicating those findings to an audience (kinda like the NCSS C3 inquiry arc) as a form of action is essential. Helping students understand media literacy and looking at all social studies benchmarks in their “real world” contexts are also essential. 

4. How have ongoing national political tensions and backlash against culturally inclusive teaching practices impacted your teaching? What suggestions do you have for discussing these issues with preservice teachers?

Preservice teachers need to be aware of the political tensions and backlash, they need to understand that not addressing culturally inclusive teaching practices does more harm to students, and they need to be well versed in understanding how to let the content/sources speak for themselves. Teaching real social studies as required by current and future social studies standards requires those skills and being well read in best practices is essential. Read what’s out there, understand the battles teachers are facing and how teachers are successfully navigating that landscape. Also make sure preservice teachers understand the necessity of union activism, collective bargaining and due process so that when they face tension or backlash, they know how to access resources that will support them. Education Minnesota, NEA and AFT have a tremendous set of resources for teachers and representatives of those organizations would be great to hear from as guest speakers. 

5. Covid aside, what are the biggest challenges that you face as a social studies teacher?

Pretty much everything I just wrote about. Doing all that while making my classroom fun and interactive but also serious and with students having the mindset that they are learning how to be superheroes who will save our Republic. 

6. What makes teaching social studies education at this moment exciting and rewarding?

Despite all the challenges out there, an eager and constantly learning Social Studies teacher is still the best defense against misinformation, disinformation, extremism, hatred and despotism. Social Studies teachers are working everyday to save our Republic and our world. Doing that and walking the tightrope of having fun in the process of learning serious stuff is extremely exciting and rewarding. 

7. Are there any additional insights, ideas, or issues you would like our educator preparation program to better understand and/or address?

Preservice teachers need to be in classrooms early and often. That can include field trips to existing classrooms were magnificent things are happening. Working and coordinating with local K-12 educators is absolutely necessary. Given the virtual abilities we all have now more than ever, the issues of transportation could be replaced by having a preservice class meet with a teacher about a lesson ahead of time, view that lesson in action, and then debrief with the teacher about that lesson. 

Connecting preservice students with professional organizations in the state and nation and examining a wide variety of curricular resources so they have confidence to not be textbook dependent. 

There’s more, much more, but that’s all I have time for now.  

What did I miss? What would you have added? Please add your comments as desired or reach out to me privately.

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