Why Some teachers hate teaching Social Studies or why I flunked Math (part 2) a

( Authors note) Missed last weeks publication. I know this disappointed literally no one as I have a total of like 5 readers and the rest are some scam with risqué usernames all from weird outlook.com adresses. But if you did miss it, or happen to like any of the posts, could you send it to one teacher friend?

Thanks

John

Just to clarify, I  covered why I flunked math in last weeks post. This week I want to look at why some teachers may not enjoy teaching social studies.  So with that, lets look at my premiss about social studies:

Some teachers don’t like it.

Some teachers like it.

But that wasn’t an entirely easy thesis to support. The data that quantifies this may be out there but I didn’t find it for free. BUT! I do get some anecdotal evidence.

Check out this blog post it’s from Angela Watson who apparently is the bedrock on which American Teaching has been built. This form her Blog THE CORNERSTONE for teachers : Practical ideas that make teaching more effective, efficient, and enjoyable.

Here are some of her highlights:

Many teachers have trouble making social studies interesting because they don’t understand or like the subject themselves.

Later asking the question:

Why is Social Studies so boring?

Answering

Didn’t you hate history class when you were in school, memorizing all those meaningless dates and names and places?  At the beginning of the school year, not one of my students typically names social studies as his/her favorite subject, and most kids don’t even understand what the subject is about.( Look at this last line! What does that even mean!?)

and

What if *I* hate Social Studies?

Answering:

Chances are, you hate social studies either because it’s boring to you and/or the kids (in which case, you’ll now have a ton of interesting activities to try) or you just don’t know anything about history and you’re uncomfortable teaching it.

Image result for So much room for activities!

(in which case, you’ll now have a ton of interesting activities to try)

Alison does tell us that:

Social studies instruction should challenge students to think about the events that have made our world the way it is: the lessons should be so engaging and interactive that no child could ever find it boring.  I tell my kids on the first day of school that by June, they will be describing themselves as ‘history buffs’…

She will achieve this through 15 interesting “activities” including flip up books, pop up books, history bags and other hands on favorites. It is a good start for kids “who don’t understand it” and teachers who “hate” the topic. I am just not sure this is really going to change the way they feel about the topic. More importantly I think they don’t feel it is important or relevant.

Now lets look at the people we serve: our students. There is actually an entire thread on Rddit detailing “Why did you Hate History in School?”

Answers included:

  • I never liked memorizing dates and locations and such. Real tedious.
  • The lack of variety. It was just WWII over and over again.
  • My teachers always took the “Take notes while I talk in front of you” approach to the class, which is a teaching method I can’t @#$%ing stand
  • I never hated history, but I hated the way it was presented/taught.
  • So who are these boring teachers ruining history and social studies for a generation of people

Then I came across a kind of rant by a guy named Steven Webber who identifies himself as a “Superintendent or Asst Super” of Fayetteville, AR

He writes

… if a word is dead to him [Stephen Colbert ] it means that it should never be used again in his presence.  In this article, I want to offer that thousands of students, teachers and principals could proclaim “Social Studies Is Dead to Me.

Here are a few lines:

  • Do fourth graders believe that social studies is a study of holidays (i.e., Constitution Day, Thanksgiving, Veterans Day, Christmas Around the World, MLK Day, Presidents Day, and other holidays)?
  • Does integrating social studies in the content areas mean squeezing it in when it is convenient?
  • Do students think that famous African-Americans are only important in February?
  • Do students know the difference between geography and economics?

I’m pretty sure this guy is expressing his frustration with the lack of this instruction but the page was a WTF moment for me.

Elementary Teachers Teaching History: A Tale of Two Teachers by James Juricas is a helpful no nonsense look at two highly qualified teachers and their approaches to teaching social studies.

The study compares two teachers. One loves the topic, one lacks confidence. One has a personal connection and resources at her disposal. The other utilizes exclusively a textbook, answering chapter questions and testing. The other creates simulations and goes so far as to dress in historical garb. ( I think this is a white whale. Everyone thinks there going to do this one day, but I have yet tp see it!)

The conclusions were:

This study confirms the findings of earlier studies that teachers with more historical
background knowledge and that have a vision of history, make better teachers of history.

While passion or enthusiasm for a subject maybe difficult to quantify it
appears that because history is something that Ms. Grant enjoys she is able to pass along someof that enthusiasm to her students.

Ms. Becker on the other hand, who in the eyes of her principal is an above average teacher, lacks not only resources but confidence in teaching history so she relies on the textbook. Her lack of confidence translates into a lack of passion or enthusiasm for the subject matter and thus her students report that history is boring.

So in a nutshell, teachers and students have a combined lack of understanding of our history and of social studies in general. There is a cyclical problem of students having bad teachers, and teachers teaching badly.

But I have to wonder what else is out there? Is it that in social studies we look at hard topics? That we ask all of ourselves to discover the ugly truths, along with the affirmations of life?

Well, that is for another post. I really don’t want to denigrate teachers who  don’t embrace a topic just because I think its important or they have had bad experiences. We really need to work with our colleagues and show them the seemless and intuitive ways that social studies can be integrated and used in a variety of content areas.

Happy Teaching!

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