His Teachers Showed Him Why History Matters. Now He Wants to Pay That Forward.

Plenty of students find social studies lessons a bit dull. Not Caleb Brown.

Where some students might see a sequence of dates to memorize, he sees turning points that helped define the world we live in today. Where some might see a long list of presidents whose names and timelines blur together, he sees stories of courage and perseverance. Where some see bloody battles and impassioned speeches that no longer seem relevant, he sees a chance to understand what we’ve been through and where we’re going.

Brown loves — and has long loved — learning about history, civics, geography and government, in part because he had teachers who brought infectious energy and enthusiasm to those lessons. Eager to build a career out of his interest in social studies, he thought about museum curation, archival work and practicing law. But nothing felt quite right, until he considered teaching.

Teaching, Brown thought, offered him an opportunity to continue to learn and talk about history and government every day while paying forward the passion that was imbued in him at any early age.

Brown graduated high school when the pandemic began and entered his freshman year at Clemson University as the virus raged on, shaping his experiences as a student and shaking up the career he had decided to pursue. Now, Brown is a senior at Clemson, and next year, he’ll graduate and begin teaching in his own classroom.

He recognizes the challenges that will come with it — the field has changed so much in just his four years of college, he notes — yet he is undeterred. He feels teaching is what he’s meant to do, that he is well positioned to be a role model to his students, even as he acknowledges that he has as much to learn from them as they do from him.

In our Future Teachers series, we meet people in teacher preparation programs who are on the cusp of entering the classroom, aware of the decline of the teaching profession and still unswayed. This month, we are featuring Caleb Brown.

The following interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Caleb Brown

Name: Caleb Brown

Age: 20

College: Clemson University

Area of study: History, secondary education

Intends to teach: Social studies

Hometown: Rock Hill, South Carolina


EdSurge: What is one of your earliest memories of a teacher?

Caleb Brown: My third grade teacher, Ms. Wright, definitely had a great impact on my life. I just remember her caring so much about her students, investing a lot of time with students who maybe didn’t get concepts as quick as others, and just always being there.

Later on, as I went into middle and high school and was wondering what I wanted to do in my career, I would think about teaching, and Ms. Wright would come to mind as an example of how to do education right. She led with great skill in the classroom.

When did you realize that you wanted to become a teacher yourself? Was there a specific moment or a story?

In high school, I participated in Teacher Cadets, a program that allows high school students to explore the education field as a possible career, in part by having them go into local elementary and middle schools and by serving and observing in the field.

Through that program, I found out that I really enjoyed the craft of teaching, the art of teaching. I did go into an elementary school and I learned that I did not want to be an elementary school teacher. But I did enjoy teaching. I was always interested in history. I enjoyed my [Advanced Placement] U.S. history class and had always enjoyed my social studies classes. So I felt like teaching was a great way of blending my passions — talking about and learning about history, helping people and being part of their journey. So it was during Teacher Cadets that I really started considering teacher education programs in college.

I imagine you must’ve had a little bit of an interest in teaching already if you participated in Teacher Cadets. Is that right?

Definitely. That kind of goes back to those fond memories we were talking about earlier, with my third grade teacher and my early elementary years.

But there were also a lot of times when I realized how interested I was in history and social studies and was wondering what I could do with that. Maybe I could work in a museum or a library. A lot of people suggested I go into teaching. So it was one of those things where I was very curious and just wanted to explore that career path. Teacher Cadets was offered at my high school, and I figured it was something I could at least learn from. So it was an initial curiosity that kind of turned into a yearning to learn more.

So you went through the program, and your curiosity blossomed. Did you ever reconsider?

Well, I always thought about going into other history-related fields. I thought about possibly going to law school. Then I shadowed a lawyer, and I wasn’t too psyched about that work. It just wasn’t my passion, and I wanted to do something I was passionate about. Being around students, being around young learners, is definitely something I found out I was passionate about. I also explored possibly working in curation or some kind of a museum setting, but always found myself coming back to teaching.

Why do you want to become a teacher?

A lot of times, social studies gets a bad rap. That can be true for other subjects too, but social studies is often [reduced to] memorizing facts and dates. But for me, social studies has always been so much more. It’s really learning about stories and origins — it’s learning about our present by looking through the lens of the past and understanding so much more about where we are now.

I think by bringing that energy into the classroom — even if social studies isn’t somebody’s passion — students can at least come to respect it and recognize it. That’s always been my ‘why.’

Also, I want to be there as a role model. Of course, we can talk about pedagogy and state standards, but teaching is a people profession. So learning how to love people, being part of the community and being part of something bigger than myself is also my ‘why.’ And I think teaching offers that in a way that no other profession does.

Was your own experience in school largely positive or largely negative? And how does that inform your decision to teach?

I’ve always been in public schools, and I’ve had ups and downs. For the most part it’s been positive.

Getting into high school, I had the opportunity to do a little more specialization, taking AP courses in history — U.S. history, European history, human geography, AP government. That’s when I got to really experience a deeper level of social studies content. I had great teachers who were passionate about issues ranging from the U.S. Constitution to how the government works, and their passion often ignited my passion because I could see that they were just as excited talking about it as I was learning about it.

What gives you hope about your future career?

It’s a dynamic field. It’s been a rough few years, just with the pandemic and the profession becoming so politicized. But what gives me hope is those times in the classroom when you kind of get that ‘eureka!’ moment or that ‘aha’ moment with an individual child. In those moments, you understand that you are more than just the politics — more than the chaos you often see on the news.

As a teacher, you’re dealing with individual lives and destinies. You’re working with real people and their trajectories. And truly, that gives me hope. Even if I can play a small part in shaping that person, whether it’s related to social studies or maybe something less direct, that gives me hope and lets me know that I’m in the right profession.

My hope is always in the students and their possibilities.

What gives you pause or worries you about becoming a teacher?

It kind of ties into the same thing that gives me hope. A lot of times you look at the headlines, you see how political schools are just by the nature of our education system, and you see the different agendas being pushed through the schoolhouse. Sometimes, this may have adverse effects on kids.

I have other concerns too, like pandemic burnout and increased use of technology. You have artificial intelligence on the scene. It’s a dynamic, constantly changing field. That gives me pause because I’m in a teacher education program preparing to go into teaching at a time when so much is changing. I was a freshman in college in fall 2020. I came to Clemson University and the teacher education program during COVID-19. I’ll be leaving in 2024. Even in those four years, as I’m preparing to go into the field, so much about it has changed.

I don’t think change is necessarily a bad thing. Change can also be hopeful. But when you look at the headlines and you look at the state of our world and of our education system, it gives me pause.

I also worry about the kids. I’ve worked in schools where kids do not have all of their basic needs met. It’s hard to teach somebody about the importance of the American Civil War when they’re hungry. So a lot of things give me pause as an incoming teacher, but I keep soldiering on.

Why does the field need you right now?

We need teachers who are willing to admit that they may not always be right about everything; teachers who are willing to be challenged and to learn from others; and teachers who practice critical thinking and active listening. You would think these traits would be fundamental for educators, but it’s often lacking.

I think what I bring to the table is that I’m someone who’s willing to learn, somebody who’s willing to be a forever student. Even as an educator, the process of learning never stops. I can learn from students as much as they can learn from me.

Source: https://www.edsurge.com/news/2023-10-09-his-teachers-showed-him-why-history-matters-now-he-wants-to-pay-that-forward

Source: https://webfulnet.com/

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