Without having taken a single credit in the education department, Hillsdale alumna Bailey Steger ’16 walked into Academy of Excellence in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, just a few months after she graduated, to welcome her kindergarten class.
“I showed up in August having absolutely no idea what I was doing,” Steger said.
She was far from alone — all over the country, Hillsdale graduates with little to no experience in education prepped for the school year. Alumna Patricia Clarey, like Steger, graduated in 2016 without the classical education minor and accepted a job as an art teacher at Seven Oaks Classical School in Ellettsville, Indiana. Ben Strickland ’17 accepted a job teaching math at Benjamin Franklin High School with no education minor on his resume. It was the same for Marie Landskroener ’17, who teaches music at Immanuel Lutheran School, and Sarah Anibal ’17, who teaches fifth grade history and grammar at Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy.
Each of the alumni found their jobs at Hillsdale’s Classical School Job Fair, which will be held this year in the Searle Center on Thursday, Feb. 22, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
According to a survey conducted by Career Services at the end of the previous school year, 35 students in the 305-person class of 2017 accepted teaching jobs. Only 24 students completed the classical education minor that year, according to Registrar Douglas McArthur.
For Steger and Clarey, their first few months of teaching schooled them in the art of classroom management. Steger said, in fact, that she embarked on what she sees as the hardest — but most rewarding — year of her life when she took the charge of education 18 five-year-olds. Steger’s students earned the highest grades kindergarteners have ever earned at her school and Clarey said she wouldn’t trade her job “for the world.”
Before the school year began, both Clarey and Steger said she scrolled through Pinterest in search of activities that could help her class understand their behavioral expectations and gain foundational skills in reading. Both women were homeschooled and sought advice from their mothers who had taught them.
“I had to learn how to put together a class,” Clarey said. “That was a thing that came by trial and error. Trial and error is a first-year teacher’s best friend.”
This experience-born learning may be the case with any new teacher — not only those who lack pedagogical training.
“No matter how well you get prepared as a teacher, it’s not something you lock in perfectly your first, second, or third year, no matter what training you get,” Assistant Director of Hillsdale’s Barney Charter School Initiative Jonathan Gregg said.
Gregg, an alumnus of Hillsdale, works with administrations at many classical and charter schools to help them prepare and coach their incoming teachers. Before Gregg returned to his alma mater, he taught at Glendale Preparatory Academy in Phoenix, Arizona. He majored in English and math and did not minor in classical education because the program was not available when he studied at Hillsdale.
Alumna Hannah Fleming ’17 completed the classical education minor and said she is grateful for the philosophical knowledge and hands-on experience it provided her. She now teaches second, third, and fourth grade at Concordia Classical Academy and her first year of teaching has been smooth, though not without bumps.
“People kept telling me that this would be the worst year of my life and the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But this year hasn’t been awful. I love it. I’m having so much fun teaching,” Fleming said. “There are days that are really hard, but there’s only been one day where I wanted to curl up and cry after school. Most days I come away with a sense of what I can do better, but I also have things I can smile about.”
The philosophical training upon which the minor focuses informs Fleming’s teaching all the time, she said. She referenced Assistant Professor of Education Jeffrey Lehman’s class, Understanding the Trivium and Quadrivium.
“We thought about how our world is ordered in that class. It was one of the most important concepts that we learned. That affects everything,” Fleming said. “Order is so important, not just in our creation but in our classroom.”
Just as her philosophical studies inform her teaching, Fleming’s practical training in pedagogy has defined her approach to the classroom. Most important in this preparation, Fleming said, was her teaching apprenticeship at Hillsdale Academy, supervised by Associate Professor of Education Daniel Coupland. He taught her how to translate her philosophical knowledge into her actions the classroom.
Headmasters and principals recognize the value in an education like this. Patsy Hinton is the headmaster at Providence Classical Christian School in Oxford, Georgia, and said she has hired four Hillsdale graduates, two of whom had not earned the classical education minor.
“When I’m able to hire somebody who had the opportunity to study under Dan Coupland, it’s golden. They get a training from him and a perspective that catapults them forward,” Hinton said. “Most of the teachers I’m hiring haven’t had that, however, so I’m used to going through the learning process.”
Teachers new to Hinton’s school and to the teaching profession complete training led and developed by the headmaster herself. She sits in on their classes, schedules them to observe more experienced teachers, and provides them the philosophical and pedagogical knowledge provided by professors like Coupland and Lehman.
Hinton said she is willing to hire a teacher who needs to be worked through this learning process, though that offer rests on one important requirement: “If they have the background in the content of the subject they’re teaching, I can help with the method.”
Gregg echoed this. Classical schools like hiring Hillsdale graduates because they often have a deep understanding of the area they studied, he said.
“These schools are not saying pedagogy is unimportant. They’re saying they want students who have studied history or math or English at a deep level,” Gregg said. “Students ought to have studied deeply in the content that they’re planning to teach.”
Clarey, who studied art at Hillsdale, said she frequently draws on the lessons art professors Barbara Bushey and Brian Springer taught her. She incorporated the art department’s emphasis on mastercopying into her elementary art classes, cutting up a blown-up photo of a Van Gogh painting and asking her students to replicate each portion before they arranged the pieces to look like the original. She also references the knowledge she gained about art history, she said, as her school’s art curriculum focuses heavily on that aspect of an education in art.
Thursday, many students will attend the job fair to explore and pursue teaching opportunities across the country. Among them are seniors Rebecca Willis and Amalia Hansen. Willis is completing her education minor with an apprenticeship at Davis Middle School and has already seen how her education will influence students.
“I’ve watched an experienced teacher teach and seen how the abstract ideas of classical education are being carried out in a concrete way,” Willis said. “The teacher never tells her students that she’s going to foster virtue in them. It’s just a part of the culture of the classroom.”
Hansen has only recently realized how much she would like to impart her knowledge of patristic theology to young students.
“I love kids and I am passionate about the things that I’ve studied,” Hansen said. “I want to be able to help children have the same love for learning and learn about the cool things I’ve learned.”