MSU senior fuses education and social relations

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Abigail Harrington is a senior at Michigan State University. After studying social relations and policy at James Madison College, she decided to add education to her list of majors. In October, I was given the opportunity to speak with Abigail to discuss her story and her future plans as a potential educator.

Read Abigail’s thoughts on unpaid teaching hours in Unpaid overtime and the social expectation for teachers.

CB: Let’s start with the story. How did you end up majoring in education at MSU?

AH: “It actually wasn’t what I started out majoring in. My first major at MSU and another current major is social relations and policy at James Madison College.

“A lot of people in that field tend to go to law school or do something with politics or work with nonprofits – things of that nature. I had an internship that I got through some connections with people at the college, but the work itself just wasn’t really satisfying to me.

“One thing I did while I was in my office for that internship was daydream about having my own classroom, and how I would decorate it, and how I would be able to get other people to be passionate about the things that I was passionate about.

“I’d considered being a teacher in a less-than-serious way before. But I shot it down before I could really think about it because it’s a difficult job. It doesn’t pay very well. I told myself I’d be making more money getting a job that related more closely to my major.

“But when I got back from that internship, I saw my advisor to see what my options were. A couple things happened there. I found out that a lot more people than I had expected had actually gone the same route as me. I was able to basically get admitted into a sort of accelerated social studies education program in my junior year of college at MSU. From there, I decided I also wanted to be certified to teach English as well.”

CB: What are your next steps after graduation?

AH: “When I do graduate – and it looks like I’ll be graduating in the spring – I’ll have both my majors from James Madison College and the College of Education. I will be taking the MTTC, which is the Michigan Test for Teacher Certification, probably in January. And then, through MSU, I’ll be starting my internship. So, that could put me in a middle school or high school somewhere in the lower peninsula of Michigan or possibly Chicago Public Schools, which I think would be an interesting experience.”

CB: What draws you to a major urban location like Chicago?

AH: “I think that Chicago, which has one of the largest school districts in the country, would be a unique experience. Chicago is a very large city. It’s very unique. And I think the schools there are reflective of that. They have their own challenges, their own histories.

“Chicago has some commonalities with places like Detroit or Lansing or Grand Rapids, but the Chicago Public School District has been sort of a touching ground for a lot of different education reforms. Some of which I don’t agree with and some of which I find really interesting. I just think that, especially if you want to be able to go into any sort of urban education, Chicago is a great place to do that.”

CB: What are some concerns you have about going into the field of education?

AH: “There’s pretty much always the matter of resources or the lack of resources. Also making sure each district is modern and adequate in number … that there’s equity in how the schools are distributed based on income and demographics.

“The attitude toward education in this country and toward teachers is, I think, something that can be addressed through policy but it’s a lot more cultural. It is something that weighs a lot on teachers and prospective teachers.

“A lot of people in this country, and this is reflective of ideological and social division as a whole, are critical of how public-school teachers are or aren’t passing on certain messages. There’s this idea that teachers are going to indoctrinate their students.

“Overall, there’s just a real lack of faith in teachers and public schools in this country. And that’s something that I hope to see a change in my lifetime.”

CB: You said you daydreamed about having a classroom. What is your draw to that environment?

AH: “I am the type of person that loves learning. I really do. I think James Madison College and MSU really encourage that. In Chicago, I realized I had a talent for taking things that I’m really interested in and distilling it in a way that makes it accessible and interesting for other people. I think the ability to be able to share knowledge and encourage other people to want to learn more and to be curious about the world around them is an amazing gift to give young people. I can’t really think of many jobs that are more important than that.”

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