Over at NiCHE (Network in Canadian History & Environment), Megan Jones, the chair of the history department at The Pingry School in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, writes about her experience teaching environmental history. Megan is a 2003 graduate of Messiah University.
Here is a taste of her piece:
My path to teaching in independent schools started my first year in graduate school at the University of Delaware. I was drawn there by the strength of the museum studies program (a potential career option, at the time) and, frankly, the financial aid offered. I also wanted to study how women exercised political power outside of conventional politics, and I switched to the PhD track in my second year to pursue that topic. My dissertation explored the history of conservation and early environmentalism, women’s voluntarism, and student activism in the mid-twentieth century though an analysis of the Student Conservation Association.
Before I began researching and writing my dissertation, I spent several years as a teaching assistant in the History department. My students probably had little idea that their TA was woefully unprepared to grade their papers and lead their weekly discussions. This was trial-by-fire teaching! I learned very quickly, however, that I enjoyed working with students, sharing with them the skills of historical analysis that I was still acquiring and honing, and talking with them about their lives. One student told me she’d never had a teacher or professor who actually cared about her. She gave me a heartfelt note at the end of the semester and a pen with a fuzzy topper. I lost that pen many years ago, but I still remember it, and her.
Student-teacher relationships are at the core of all education, but especially independent school education. I found that I truly valued that one-on-one connection. I initially expected to end up at a small liberal arts college with a focus on teaching, in part because that was the kind of undergraduate experience I had had at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. During my four years there, I got to know my professors fairly well. I could show up during their office hours and they’d know who I was and would be happy to talk about my papers. I sought a similar working environment, but the job market in 2008 frightened me. I was finishing up my research and writing that year; I had applied to several jobs and landed one phone interview. I grew increasingly anxious about the paucity of job openings and the growing number of individuals with history PhDs, most of whom never actually land a tenure-track position.
One night, I woke up in a cold sweat and decided to reach out to a few local independent schools in New Jersey, where I was living at the time, to see if they needed substitute teachers. It just so happened that the Director of Studies at one school was married to someone who had earned his PhD in History from the University of Delaware. She called me in for an interview and we had an excellent conversation about teaching and my academic interests. Although I had no formal teaching experience at the high school level, she took a chance and hired me as an on-call substitute teacher. I worked at that school for three years, both as a regular substitute and a long-term leave replacement, teaching grades 9 through 12. In 2010, I applied to another local independent school (The Pingry School) as an Upper School teacher and was offered the position. I successfully defended my dissertation in 2011, taking a day off from teaching to do so. Upon my return, my students bought me an enormous bouquet of congratulatory flowers. We joked that I was now “Dr. Jones,” and plenty of references to the Indiana Jones film franchise were made. Then I told them to continue discussing the readings they had done on Rousseau.
Read the rest here.