Reasons pre-service teachers choose secondary social studies at three mid-west institutions
Connors, Thomas G
Why do pre-service teachers choose to teach social studies? Do they do so because of respect for an interest in the subject matter and profession? Or does the widely held perception that teaching this content is often linked to coaching lead some students to enter the field primarily to coach and view teaching social studies as a means to this end? In order to examine these questions, a survey was administered to preservice teachers in methods courses at Ball State University, Kansas State University, and the University of Northern Iowa. Analysis of student responses to this questionnaire indicate that advanced pre-service teachers are interested in the content and attracted by the importance of the profession rather than ranking the desire to coach as a significant motive in their choice of career.
The terms social science and social studies are frequently used interchangeably and major terminology varies from institution to institution. For the purposes of this study we will primarily use the term social studies.
Today politicians often paint a picture of “gloom and doom” in predicting whether an adequate supply of new teachers will be prepared to replace the baby boomer teachers now approaching retirement (Waterloo Courier Jan. 26, 2000). According to a report in Education Week (Bradley 2000), Chicago public schools are now hiring foreign teachers in math and science. Yet so many graduates with secondary social studies certification enter the teaching job market each year that no shortage seems impending or, for that matter, even a balance of supply and demand (AAEE 2000). Because social science teaching majors continue to attract significant numbers of pre-service teachers, it may be useful to research why university students choose to prepare for a career teaching social studies.
Can the reasons these undergraduates select their majors be related to research that has bound secondary students like social studies least of all their subjects? Can this dislike be linked to pre-service teachers entering the profession for reasons unrelated to the subject matter? Is teaching social studies sometimes chosen as a means to a more highly valued end, decisions possibly based on a widely held perception of the job market and common practice in the schools? If pre-service teachers do elect to teach social studies but lack enthusiasm for the content and do not consider teaching a priority over other responsibilities, it may help explain why the subject is considered “boring” by secondary students, who rank it the least liked of all their subjects (Goodlad 1984, Adler 1991). There is an undocumented hypothesis that many preservice teachers elect to teach social studies although their principal goal is to coach. When employed, coaching becomes their main concern and teaching is regulated to a lesser role. Another hypothesis which may explain secondary students’ dislike of the social studies is the use of poor teaching methods that reduce topics to rote memorization and remove their intrinsically human character, leading to dull classes lacking relevance to their lives or future (Goodlad, 1984), Adler, 1991). The focus of this study is to examine reasons that pre-service teachers report guided their decision to teach secondary social studies. It is a continuation of an earlier study conducted by Weller and Smith (1999).
In 1989, the Governors’ Conference affirmed the place of social studies in the American curriculum and called for educational standards in history, civics, geography, and economics (US Department of Education 1990). In the past decade, many social science professional societies have developed national standards (Weller & Smith 1999). It is essential that those responsible for teaching middle and secondary students are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the content of these subjects and are able to present them through engaging activities, so that our society may draw on an educated and discerning citizenry in the new century.
Hypothesis and Goals of the Study
The goal of this study is to help explain why secondary pre-service students choose to major in a discipline in which the supply of graduates continues to exceed the demand. The previous study involved pre-service students at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) and Kansas State University (KSU), while this study adds students at Ball State University (BSU). The research team hopes to determine whether or not the patterns formed at UNI and KSU are similar to patterns evolving in other regions of the United States. The study includes institutions stretching across the Midwest from the Plains to the industrial Great Lakes region.
This study hypothesizes that students choose to major in social studies education for a variety of reasons and aims to measure how significant among these is the desire to coach. The goal of coaching, among other reasons discussed below, often comes up in initial advising interviews by two members of the research team. Reviews of resumes of male history majors preparing to student teach show many with extensive coaching experience at local schools or with park of club leagues during the summer. Even more have or plan to receive state coaching certification. Other reasons students have given for choosing a social studies teaching major include, but are not limited to the following: (1) a deep interest in the content; (2) the rigor of the content; (3) the pre-service student had an inspiring social studies teacher in high or middle school; (4) that a previous social studies teacher used interesting teaching methods; (5) the pre-service teacher wants to coach and perceives that teaching social studies and coaching are regularly linked on the job market; (ti) the pre-service student considers the content important in preparing students for adulthood; (7) the pre-service student cannot think of anything else for a major; (8) the preservice student believes it will be easy to get a job; and (9) the pre-service student believes teaching is important. These reasons are not exhaustive, of course, but this study intends to measure how these are rated by students as influencing their own decisions.
Demographic information about the students involved in this study helps provide background for evaluating the value of its results. The Teacher Education programs at BSU, KSU, and UNI all require a minimum 2.5 GPA (on a 4.0 scale) for admission. At KSU and UNI, this GPA must be maintained in the professional education sequence, in the secondary content major, and in the overall cumulative GPA before students are permitted to student teach. In addition it is required that students pass at these three institutions pass the Pre-Professional Skills Test with a minimum score of 173 in all areas (Weller & Smith 1999). UNI and KSU majors must also receive a “C” or better in basic oral and written communication courses.
UNI demographics include not only the social studies teaching major, but also other social science education majors: economics, geography, history, political science, psychology, and sociology/anthropology. At UNI, a former state teachers college, about 30% of its students are in a teaching program, almost half (45.8%) of them in secondary majors outside the College of Education. The proportional size of UNI’s education program roughly parallels percentages from BSU (25.2%), if not from KSU (41%). Of secondary students at UNI, over a fifth (21%) are in the social sciences, while they are nearly a quarter (24.1%) at BSU and over two-fifths (41.2%) at KSU. More than three fifths (61.6%) of UNI’s social studies majors are men, while almost two fifths (38.4%) are women–generally similar to he numbers generated at BSU (70.7% male and 29.3% female). At KSU, the difference between genders is even more marked, the program being two-thirds male (67%) and one-third female (32.9%).
UNI and KSU (despite its relatively smaller number of students) have about the same number of self-identified minorities: 12 (UNI) and 11 (KSU). Despite efforts to attract minority students to UNI, few who have enrolled there have chosen social science teaching majors. During the years Weller has advised social science teaching candidates at UNI, the major has never contained more than two minority students at any one time. These few have been attracted from the Chicago area as well as a few metropolitan areas in Iowa (Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, primarily). Studies have found that non-white secondary students have a particularly pronounced dislike for history (even when compared to their white peers). (Loewen, 1996) This would seem relevant in explaining the difficulty in attracting them to history teaching majors at least, especially if they had received a traditional presentation of American history and western civilization in high school: “feel good history for white males” perhaps, but clearly less affirming for others.
Students enrolled in the secondary social studies teaching methods course at UNI, KSU, and BSU were surveyed. All of them were juniors, seniors, or post- graduates working toward teaching licensure. The survey instrument was constructed from a list of questions and answers developed during interviews when students declared a social science major at UNI over a period of two years.
A Lickert type scale of one to five was used to measure responses to the survey. The self-reporting responses obtained using this method help measure attitudes. Because responses are self-reported the researcher can never be sure of the degree that subject’s responses reflect their true attitudes (Borg & Gall 1989). The construction and administering of this survey were designed to protect participant anonymity. The scale ranged from one to five as follows: (1) strongly disagree, (2) disagree, (3) neutral, (4) agree, (5) strongly agree. A simple mean has been used to calculate results of the survey. The questions on the survey reflect oral responses during initial advising sessions with social science majors at one of the institutions.
Results of the Surveys
Tables three, four, five, and six represent the results of self-reporting questionnaires completed by students enrolled in social studies methods courses at UNI, KSU, and BSU. All students completing the survey were secondary social studies teaching majors. Table 6 shows the number of males involved in secondary social studies education at 71, or 67% of the students, and females involved at 35, or 33% out of a total of 106 completing the survey.
“I chose the secondary social studies teaching major because the content is interesting.”
Students at UNI responded to question one with a mean of 4.64. Male students there averaged 4.68, slightly higher than females, with a mean of 4.57 for a difference between them of 0.11 (See Table 3). Male students at UNI apparently find the content of the social studies more interesting than female students, although the difference does not seem significant.
KSU students responded to question one with a mean of 4.67. Men there replied with a mean of 4.65, while women had a 4.71 for a difference of 0.06 (See Table 4), even smaller than that at UNI.
BSU students responded with a relatively lower mean of 4.42, with its male majors averaging a low 4.29, while females gave it a 4.80. These, the lowest and highest scores for any of the three schools, show a difference of 0.51 in means (See Table 5). Women at BSU find the content more interesting than do men there by the largest difference at any of the three institutions.
The combined means for the three institutions was 4.59. Men from the three institutions had a mean of 4.54 and women had a mean of 4.69, leaving a difference of 0.15 between them (Table 6).
“I chose the secondary social studies major because I perceive the content to be rigorous.”
Students at UNI responded to question two with a mean of 3.35. Males there averaged a mean of 3.40 and females a 3.26, leaving a small difference of 0.14 between them (See Table 3).
KSU students responded to the survey with a mean of 3.46 for both genders. Men replied with a mean of 3.59, and women with a 3.14, making a difference of 0.45 between the genders (See Table 4).
BSU students responded to the survey with a mean of 3.31; 2.92 for men and 4.40 for women. This leaves a difference in means of 1.48 (See Table 5).
Table six shows that when the three institutions are combined the mean for all majors is 3.41. Males have a mean of 3.22, while females have a mean of 3.80. The difference between them is 0.58 (See Table Six).
Responses to question two indicate that men at UNI and KSU consider the content more rigorous while at BSU women do. Table six, however, shows that the combined means of the three schools indicates that females perceive the content to be more rigorous than do males. This result is, of course, skewed by the difference large (1.48) difference in means between the sexes at BSU. A previous survey focusing on UNI and KSU, as reported by Weller and Smith (1999), found that men perceived the content to be more rigorous than women.
“I chose the secondary social studies teaching major because I had an inspirational social studies teacher.”
UNI students responded with a mean of 3.62 for question three. Men averaged a mean of 3.63 and women a 3.61, with an insignificant difference of only 0.02 between them (See Table 3).
KSU students responded with a mean of 3.21. The males there replied with a mean of 3.12 and females with a 3.42, making a difference between them of 0.30 (See Table 4).
Students at BSU responded with a mean of 3.95, men averaging 4.00, while women averaged 3.80. The difference in means by gender is 0.20 (See Table 5).
UNI students responded nearly equally in crediting their former social studies teachers while at KSU and BSU there was a considerable difference in how the sexes responded. It is also interesting that students at KSU ranked this influence considerably lower than their counterparts at UNI and BSU. Perhaps this may be explained by the smaller sample rather than asking whether social studies teachers in Iowa and Indiana use more interesting teaching strategies or perhaps are more enthusiastic about their subject than teachers in Kansas.
When all three institutions are combined the mean is 3.59 for all students. Male responses average a mean of 3.58 and females a mean of 3.61. For question three the difference between genders is slight: 0.03 (See Table 6). Women at the three institutions seem to have been a little more influenced by an inspirational social studies teacher than men have been. When comparing the responses at the individual institutions and the three institutions together the results seem quite different.
“I chose the secondary social studies teaching major because the teacher in question three used interesting teaching methods.”
Responses by UNI students had a mean of 3.53 for question four. Males there had a mean of 3.55 and females a 3.50. The difference between the genders is 0.05 (See Table 3).
KSU students responded with a mean of 3.25 on question four. Men there averaged 3.18, while women averaged 3.43. The difference in means between the sexes at KSU is 0.25.
Students at BSU responded to question four with a mean of 3.90. Males replied with a mean of 3.86 and females with a 4.00. The difference between genders at BSU is 0.14 with females having the highest mean (See Table 5).
Table six shows that responses to question four have a mean of 3.57 with men averaging 3.53 and females 3.64. The difference between genders at all institutions combined is 0.11 (See Table 6).
Responses to this. question show KSU students again having the lowest mean with BSU students again having the highest KSU and BSU females responded with higher means than their male counterparts, while at UNI males responded with higher means. The means for this question were lower at UNI than for question three. Perhaps this indicates that it was the teachers who inspired these students rather than their teaching strategies. KSU students’ responses were slightly higher for question four than question three which may indicate that the teaching strategies were a bit more inspiring to KSU students than they had been for UNI students. BSU females responded more favorably for this question than the males, which is the opposite of the responses to question three.
“I chose the social studies teaching major because I want to coach also.”
UNI pre-service teachers responded to question five with a mean of 2.79 for all students. Males rated this reason with a mean of 3.00, while females only reached 2.43. The difference between the genders is 0.57 (See Table 3).
Students at KSU responded to this question with a mean of 3.12, broken down into men having a mean of 3.41 and women of 2.43. Here the difference in responses by gender is even more striking: 0.98 (See Table 4).
BSU secondary pre-service teachers responded with a mean of 2.58. Male students averaged 2.79, while females averaged 2.00. There is a difference of 0.79 between the sexes (See Table 5).
When combining the means, students from all three institutions responded to question five with a mean of 2.77. Men replied with a mean of 3.07 and women with 2.29, for a difference of 0.78 between them (See Table 6).
BSU students responded lower than students at UNI and KSU did in ranking coaching among their priorities. KSU students responded with higher means than their counterparts did at the other two universities. At all three institutions men responded considerably higher than did women. From these results, it appears that men see coaching a more important influence on their decision to teach the social studies than do women. However, at none of the three institutions were the responses over 3.50. Male students at KSU responded with the highest mean for this question with a 3.41. KSU has a strong history of interest in sports as a Big Twelve school and perhaps that may have influenced responses. Despite common assumptions, the relatively low rankings of coaching as an influence in choosing to teach the social studies suggest that stereotypes about students selecting a social science major in order to coach do not accurately reflect students’ actual motives.
“I chose the social studies teaching major because the content is important for life.”
Secondary pre-service social studies teachers at UNI responded to question six with a mean of 4.30. Males and females both averaged 4.30. Both genders in secondary social studies teaching at UNI seem to consider the subject matter important to an equal degree (See Table 3).
KSU students responded with a combined gender mean of 4.42. Men responded to question six with a mean of 4.53 and women with a 4.14. This is a difference of 0.39 between the genders (See Table 4).
Pre-service social studies teachers at BSU responded with a mean of 4.16. Men there averaged 3.86, while females averaged 5.00. The difference in means between males and females for question six is 1.14 (See Table 5).
When combining the responses of both genders at all three institutions the average score was 4.31. Male students responded with a mean of 4.23 and women with a 4.48 (See Table 6). The responses of females at BSU somewhat skewed the overall female mean This particular question had no consistent response across institutions. At UNI both sexes responded equally to the question, while at KSU men responded more favorably to the question. At BSU women responded more favorably to the question.
“I chose the social studies teaching major because I could not think of anything else in which to major.”
UNI students responded to question seven with a mean of 1.66. Males replied to this question with a mean of 1.80 and females with a 1.43. This is a difference of 0.37 between genders (See Table 3).
Students at KSU replied with a mean of 1.50 for question seven. Men there averaged 1.53, while women averaged 1.42 for a difference of 0.11 (See Table 4).
BSU students responded with a 1.69 for question seven. On this question, males responded with a mean of 1.79 and females with a mean of 1.40. The gender difference for BSU pre-service students is 0.39 (See Table 5).
When students from all three institutions and both genders are combined, the mean for question seven is 1.63. Men replied with a mean of 1.73 and women a 1.42. The difference for means between genders from the three institutions is 0.31 (See Table 6). Males responded more favorably to this question at all three institutions.
“I chose the social studies teaching major because I think it will be easy to get a job.”
Students at UNI responded to question 8 with a mean of 1.94. Males there replied with a mean of 2.13 and females with a 1.61 for a difference of 0.52 (See Table 3).
KSU students responded with a mean of 2.13 to this question Men there averaged 2.24 and women 1.86. The difference between genders for KSU pre-service social studies teachers is 0.38 (See Table 4).
BSU pre-service students responded to question eight with a mean of 1.58, while males replied with a 1.64 and females with a 1.40. This leaves a difference of 0.24 between genders (See Table 5). Table six shows that students from the three institutions responded to question eight with a mean of 1.80. Males replied with a mean of 1.92 and females with a mean of 1.57. The gender difference between the means is 0.35 (See Table 6). Men responded more positively to this question than did women from all three institutions indicating they believe it will be easier to get a job in this discipline than do their female peers.
“I chose the social studies teaching major because teaching is important.”
UNI students of both genders responded with a mean of 4.59 to question nine. Males replied with a mean of 4.48 while females responded with a 4.78 for a difference of 0.30 between genders (See Table 3).
KSU students responded to question nine with a mean of 4.70. Men averaged 4.76 and women averaged 4.57 for a difference of 0.19 (See Table 4).
Students from BSU responded to question nine with a mean of 4.63. Men there replied with a mean of 4.50 and women with a mean of 5.00 for a difference of 0.50 between them (See Table 5).
When the means of the three institutions are combined the mean for question nine is 4.65. Men responded to this question with a mean of 4.56 and women with a 4.84 for a difference of 0.28 (See Table 6). Females consistently replied considerably more positively to this question than did males. The means for the genders at KSU were closer for this question than were results from the other two institutions.
UNI students rated reasons one (4.64) and nine (4.59) as their most significant reasons, affirming they found the content interesting and the profession of teaching important Another reason related to content, number six (4.30), dealing with the content’s relevance to life, ranked as the next most important reason for choosing the major. Although during some initial advising sessions students have stated they chose social studies because they could not think of anything else to major in, this reason (seven — 1.66) received the lowest score on the survey. The second lowest score was for question eight (1.94), which suggests getting a job will be easy. From these results, it seems UNI students who have completed two field experiences and enrolled in the methods course can argue that they have remained in the social studies teaching field for sound reasons and believe in the value of the content and the profession. They also tend to have a realistic view of the job market. It is interesting that male students tend to take a slightly more positive view of how easy it will be to get a job. Is this influenced by a stereotype of male social studies teachers who coach KSU students also ranked questions nine (4.70) and one (4.67) highest, with only .03 separating the two questions. They too rated question seven (1.50) lowest and eight second lowest (2.13). These results indicate that KSU students choose to teach secondary social studies for appropriate reasons.
The results from BSU show strong parallels. Students ranked questions nine (4.63) and one (4.42) highest, while eight (1.58) and seven (1.63) scored lowest. BSU Students rate the importance of teaching the top reason for choosing their profession and the ease of getting a job the lowest. They, too, seem to have chosen to teach secondary social studies for appropriate reasons and have a realistic notion of the job market.
When results from all three institutions are considered together, question nine (4.65) is ranked first, one (4.59) ranks second, and seven (1.63) and eight (1.80) rank lowest. It is interesting that students rate the importance of teaching so highly considering the wider variety of reasons students have given for choosing the major early in their university experience. This is, perhaps, how it should be. As students take more content and education courses and begin to teach during field experiences, one would hope their appreciation of the profession and subject matter would deepen and that they could articulate this.
Question five involves coaching as a reason for teaching social studies. BSU students gave it its lowest ranking (2.58) among the institutions while KSU rated it highest (3.12). Many social studies teaching majors prepare themselves to coach by completing certification as an undergraduate and in Iowa at least, where a teaching license is not required, many begin coaching before completing their degrees. There seems to be a widely held and negative perception among university social science faculty that for many of the secondary social studies pre-service teachers coaching would rate as the most important reason for choosing their career. However, the results of this study would strongly suggest that this is not the case. This raises additional questions. School administrators have perhaps encouraged undergraduate majors by hiring them to coach. Certainly the responsibility and commitment involved would require college students to place coaching high among their priorities. With many teachers reaching retirement age, lack of available faculty may have led schools to recruit pre-service teachers to fill these part time jobs. Many secondary majors believe coaching experience will be an advantage in a job search (and it is hard to argue that it could be detrimental). It should be noted that at all three institutions men ranked coaching considerably higher than did women, the largest difference (0.71) between them. This is significant when placed in the context of the gender imbalance in social science majors, which attract almost a third more men than women at UNI and KSU (See Table 1).
Pre-service students at UNI, KSU, and BSU choose to major in secondary social studies teaching for appropriate reasons. Although many retirements are expected within the next five years, the demand for new social studies teachers does not yet exceed the supply. Teachers launching their careers in the next few years will teach social studies to our children for much of the first half of the new century, so it is vital that this new crop arrive in the classroom with a passion for the subject matter and a love of teaching. Graduating new teachers who have entered the profession primarily to coach or because they could not think of anything else to major in seems likely to perpetuate the perception among secondary students that social studies is boring and badly taught. It is important that not happen. The social sciences, like any other subject, should be taught by those committed to the content.
Although the surveys are self-reporting, the students attracted to the social studies teaching programs are academically equal to other students at the three institutions. Teaching social studies is a challenging career, so it is gratifying to know that those choosing to enter the profession maintain grades equivalent to students in other areas.
As advisors we must make certain that those seeking a career in secondary social studies teaching are academically qualified and that they understand fully there is a larger supply than demand in this field. Indeed, social studies secondary teaching majors ought to be the “cream of the crop” so that their future students can better relate the content to their lives. Perhaps new teachers entering the profession will be passionate about the material and will endeavor to integrate teaching strategies into the curriculum that will transform the social studies from being the most hated subject to the most engaging.
The conclusions drawn here about the reasons undergraduates choose to teach social studies raise additional questions about the basis of the popular perception of the connection between teaching this subject and coaching. Further research should attempt to measure the value of middle or secondary coaching experience (gained while in college) on the job market and how frequently these part-time or volunteer positions lead to full-time teaching positions in the same school or district. Perhaps as important would be to explore further whether students perceive this to be the case. How many of our majors bring coaching experience to the job market? Are these graduates more likely to receive job interviews and job offers? How many advertisements for social studies teachers include or even emphasize coaching? Do new teachers feel pressured to coach when interviewing or accepting a job offer? Are social studies teachers coaching more than their peers teaching English, Science, or Math? What role does gender play in all this? These questions, among others, remain to be addressed in future research.
Conclusions of this research cannot be generalized beyond the three institutions and the Midwestern/Plains region. It does raise some questions about why our pre-service teachers seem unable to explain why they are choosing to major in a field with a larger supply than demand. It is important for those involved in the advising of these pre-service teachers to make certain our future teachers are entering the profession for sound reasons. Unless teachers are entering the profession for appropriate reasons it can be expected that the teaching of this important subject matter will be continue to produce students who dislike the subject.
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Thomas G. Connors, University of Northern Iowa
Melinda Schoenfeldt, Ball State University
Kay E. Weller, University of Northern Iowa
Ben A. Smith, Kansas State University
Thomas G. Connors is assistant professor of History at the University of Northern Iowa, where he teaches Social Science Teaching Methods, and American, British, and Irish history. His current research includes
developing a pre-student teaching field experience and investigating the connection between coaching and teaching social studies.
Melinda Schoenfeldt is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Elementary Education at Ball State University. She taught at the K-12 level for 18 years before graduating from Kansas State University with a doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction and Social Studies Education.
Kay E. Weller is the Coordinator of the Geographic Alliance of Iowa and teaches in the Department of Geography at the University of Northern Iowa. She is the editor of the Journal of Social Studies Research and is involved in the preparation of pre-service teachers in social science and geography. Weller has been active in the NCGE and has served on the GEM task force as chair and is currently chair of Women in Geography Education for that organization. She received the women’s scholarship in 1993 for research in geographic education.
Ben A. Smith is Coordinator of the Kansas Geographic Alliance. He is editor of Geographic Insights and is on the faculty in the Departments of Elementary Education and Geography at KSU. His research interests are in geography/social studies teacher education and in the history of American Geography Education. Smith has received the Mentor Award and distinguished Teaching Award from NCGE.
Copyright University of Northern Iowa Winter 2000
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