By Jessica Patrick Majerowicz ’04
I arrived at Hope College with no idea what I wanted to do. I enjoyed history but had not considered pursing it as a career. As soon as classes began I was surrounded by the history department in some form or another; Professor Baer was my advisor/freshman seminar professor and I had ancient civilizations with Professor Cohen. One day Professor Cohen pulled me aside and asked if I had ever considered pursuing a history major. I was surprised and said that no I hadn’t. He said I should. The more I thought about it the more I liked the idea. But then the obvious question came up, what on earth would I do with a history major? I figured I had two choices: teach or live in a cardboard box. I was a little nervous about teaching- most people I knew who wanted to teach had been dreaming about it since they were little and that was definitely not me!
To make this work I knew I needed to teach high school or college. One of my favorite things about history is it is not black and white, but nuanced and downright messy. It teaches us how to think critically and challenge commonly held beliefs. I wanted to teach students old enough to really grapple with some of its complex questions. There is also the issue that I am very sarcastic and was afraid I would make kids under the age of 14 cry.
After student teaching, I knew I was in the right place. High schoolers are so fun; they are trying to figure out how to be adults but are still kind of goofy. It’s not always easy but there is nothing more rewarding than when a student finally understands a concept or simply figures out that hard work translates to success. I always thought I’d only want to teach AP kids, but was surprised to discover I liked teaching students with disabilities just as much.
I’ve also had some really unique opportunities as a teacher. While spending a semester at the University of Aberdeen my junior year, I was bit hard by the travel bug and a few years after graduation I was hit with a desperate need to get out of the country. Unfortunately, the downside to teaching is that it’s not the most lucrative field and travel is expensive. Luckily I discovered a company that did tours for students and decided to give it a try. It’s fantastic! Traveling with students is amazing- getting to watch them experience firsthand what they learned in school is the ultimate teacher/history nerd high. I’ve done four tours with students- one to Greece and China and two to Italy (and I’m taking another group back to Italy this summer).
One of the things I’m most proud of is the creation of a new elective. After I finished my master’s degree in global history I decided it was time to put my new skills to use by creating my dream class. I proposed a women’s history/studies elective to our school board and it was unanimously approved. It has run for three straight years and keeps getting bigger every year. I run it as a seminar/project based course where we go through the basics of women in world and U.S. history and tie it into modern women’s issues. I’m very passionate about women’s issues worldwide and this course gives me the opportunity to make my students more aware. They are continually shocked by the human rights abuses women still face in the modern world and want to help change things. To encourage my students to think about how they could create real change in the world they create a hypothetical organization to combat a particular issue for their final project. They do a fantastic job and I have no doubt that some of my students will actually turn their project into something real in the future.
I never pictured myself as a teacher but it has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. So if you are thinking about pursuing teaching with your history degree but don’t feel like you fit the profile of a typical teacher, never fear. There is no one right way to be a teacher and you may just find your own uniqueness is just what future students need to succeed.