Why I Dropped Out of Becoming a History Teacher

by Skyler Sneathen about a month ago in teacher

My Journey and Decision

Why I Dropped Out of Becoming a History Teacher

The year was 2008, I was in college and the first black U.S. President was just elected. I had no real direction in college at the time, just taking general classes. The victory of President Obama was a big deal. This is the first presidential election for me after high school. Second, I felt it was time for me to finally get involved and be up to date with politics. I knew, however this required much reading and history. All and any issues the president-elect has, they inherit from before. Their problems are not birthed from a vacuum.

Two years later and my free time comprises of usually reading history books and watching documentaries. Still, I had no direction in college; say for wanting to possibly become a writer. My then girlfriend and now ex-wife was not supportive of this. She simply argued 'well... you like history, why not become a history teacher.' I gravitated to it instantly as a sort of 'duh' moment. It just made sense! Little did I know anything about teaching and education. Furthermore, I had no idea what I was really getting myself into.

Fast forward and half-way through my college career, I am having doubts. Students particularly do not like history. Hell, most working adults I find do not like it either, and have no respect for it. I might as well go work for the IRS, for they are just as beloved and respected. I felt in the beginning I could change all of this. One can make history interesting, exciting and teach students the truth and not general abstraction and old myths and dates passed down by older generations. At one point I even brought this up to my wife who is paying for my tuition. I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I felt going to school for a teacher's certificate in Secondary Social Studies was not for me. Disillusionment was in the air. She did not take this well and denied me. Yet, she did not understand how she was behaving like her late father. He cut her tuition when she decided to change majors and of course, she was upset about it. My family and friends supported me in my career path though; I felt I owed it to everyone. I pushed forward with a plan to graduate in spring 2019, but then due to bad advising I had to push it back to fall 2019.

Enter spring 2019 as I begin my student teaching. I go to a high school once a week for student teaching. Really, I was nothing more, but a small-time assistant—passing out papers and grading quizzes. My pairs of instructors had little interest in me. Meanwhile, the class from University of Missouri St. Louis was terrible at organizing this. Meeting once a week was hardly beneficial to future teachers.

History is boring! At least under these instructors it was! I failed to understand why the Protestant Reformation was remotely vital to kids today. Personally, I've always felt Modern U.S. and World History are more beneficial to students. The Protestant Reformation is of importance, yes, but it felt like this instructor was spending a whole month on it. Keep in mind I only went once a week, and they had blocked schedule days. Is a week if not two, not enough for such a topic for high school students? Meanwhile, the more modern history teacher was profoundly dull. He had nothing but dry lectures filled with dates to remember. I could tell his students were never engaged with the material, and then again he never engaged them. Both teachers also relied on that brick of a text-book. Growing up did any of us care much for our history textbooks? They are dry, mundane, and challenge no thinking. They pose no ideas whatsoever. History textbooks read like scientific research papers. In case you are unaware, the textbook business is just that—a business. All textbooks, especially U.S. History textbooks instill a status-quo, American exceptionalism narrative. If you want more on this topic, I suggest you read James W. Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong.

Staying on the subject of these teachers and the textbooks, one exercise they both used was handing out the students’ notes to take. These were simply worksheets with fill-in-the-blank statements, because you know... this is an apparently elementary school, not high school. Students' instructions are to read their textbook chapters and fill-in-the-blanks. Really? I am going to school for this? One must have a degree to do this? Students see this as nothing but busy work usually, that no one really learns from. Plus, it is something the teacher can assign to shut their class up, while they just mingle in the meantime.

Meanwhile, my other class has me writing up new lesson plans every single week. Each time I turn them in they are never good enough. Hence, I have to re-do them while having a new one due on top of it. My classmates were having the same problem. In all of my lesson plans I went for the unorthodox. I held debates, had the class watch historical films, not just documentaries. I have students also looking at the music, film, and television of the time. Believe it or not, our own pop culture is a product of its own time. I try to get students to actually think and challenge ideas within history. 'Do you think World War 1 was a just cause?' And tell me what you really think, be passionate about it, don't just tell me what you think I want to hear. Tell me the war was a complete cluster-fuck, and we had nothing to gain. Unfortunately, this did not sit well with my instructor. Everything boils down to simplicity and down-right robotics. Imagination flies out the window in favor of the mundane.

Things finally came to an end in the Modern History classroom. My instructor, showed his passiveness as nothing more but a slacker here. The topic was World War II, and he assigned different parts of the unit (using that brick of a textbook) as the guideline for his class. For example, one student will cover the Battle of Okinawa, and the other will cover Auschwitz and... You get it. He put it as he wanted each student to become experts in the topic he assigned them. Then they will present their topic to the class and their classmates must take notes. Wait a minute? Isn't that your job sir? Aren't you in a sense the expert on these topics, whose job consists of presenting to the class while they take notes? These students are neither teachers nor historians. Plus, it takes more than a week and that piece of crap textbook to become an expert in their topic. I have read much on European Fascism, but still do not consider myself an expert.

The day came for their presentations. Each one was as dry and boring as the next. The lights were out, and they all had boring, black and white footage to show. In time... I fell asleep. Rude, indeed I cannot deny. However, I doubt the students really cared. Again, they had no engagement or passion in their presentations. This was again simply busy work, a project. Their presentations were as dry as their teacher's. And why shouldn't they be? He is the model they know best. I face suspension you could say right there on the spot. Now some of you are thinking, this is your fault! And that's fine, honestly, I do not care and do take any blame. Instead, I took this as a sign. Luckily, an opportunity lied in front of me to finish up under a different instructor at a different high school, but I did not take it. It appears that teaching is heavily bureaucratic and standardized. No room allows for thinking outside of the box. I began starry-eyed, thinking I could change the world. Let's face it; I can't, at least not on my own in such an uninspiring system.

I simply dropped out. I felt I could not make my instructors happy at all. No longer married; hence paying my tuition fell upon me. Finally, it was all my decision. If I was not happy with this path, then why continue it? I had no real plan for the fall when I would be attending school five days a week, making lesson plans every night, and would have to leave work to do this full-time. What would I do for money then? Hence, it was easy to say I needed the money more than the education. Our American education system is morally bankrupt, I must say. It has no interest in producing critical-thinking citizens of passion, but instead little drones with no passion or imagination. That is not a system I want any part of.

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Skyler Sneathen

Full-time worker, history student and an avid comic book nerd. 

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