Geography Education: Where do I begin?
Honestly, when I first started to write this piece, I felt like I was writing a scholarship essay or a teacher travel application. But in doing so, I realized my interest in geography education has been a result of several factors: experiences, travel, education, and people.
Experiences. So, how did I get here? Looking back on thirteen years since writing my philosophy of teaching as a first year teacher, I have learned so much. Now, after twelve years of teaching in secondary education, a Master’s degree in Education, and having recently earned my doctorate in Education, I realize that the art of teaching is from within.
Teaching is a difficult, but rewarding job. Each day in the classroom is an opportunity to reach students. How you teach students can change daily and sometimes within the same day. No matter how much you prepare, things will not always go as planned. But, this is what makes a teacher a teacher. Setting an expectation for learning, not being afraid to try a new lesson or integrate a type of technology, and having a growth mindset can foster teaching that is memorable and meaningful.
Our classrooms are diverse environments with many individuals of whom each has a unique background. Teachers must be cognizant of their students’ strengths and weaknesses, their interests, and find what motivates them to take initiative of their own education. We are not all the same, nor do we learn in the same way. Incorporating opportunities for students to think critically, discuss, and engage in the educational process can bring learning to life.
Knowing the content or knowledge students should learn is one thing, but exhibiting love and excitement for the material is key. Passion can inspire. Students may think you are a geography nerd, but they remember you and what you taught them. Teachers more often than not also care about their students and their success in learning.
We can always learn. As a teacher I learn each day. My students teach me about what they know and understand as well as their uncertainties or what intrigues them. Teaching requires you to absorb the experiences happening in the classroom and use that knowledge to grow. At the end of the day, if you can go home knowing that you provided students with new knowledge, and as a teacher, you learned something new too, education has succeeded.
Travel. I love to travel. Though my list is likely short compared to some, I have visited Mexico, Ireland, Denmark, and Germany, where I had the best brauts and possibly gained a pound or two! I have been fortunate to travel extensively with teacher education programs such as the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia, where I climbed the Great Wall and drove a rickshaw in the Hutongs of Beijing, China. I also traveled to Turkey with the Turkish Cultural Foundation as a part of the Education Programs sponsored by the World Affairs Council, where I tasted some of the freshest tomatoes and bread in my life, and I like bread. Most recently I explored the Sonoma and Napa regions of California, truly a beautiful place. I learned early that it is important to see, explore, and savor all that I can of this world.
Education. I first became interested in geography while taking Dr. Byron “Doc” Augustine’s World Geography course as a student at what was then Southwest Texas State University, and present-day Texas State University ~ San Marcos. I was fortunate to take many courses from what I consider the “best of the best” in the field of geography, and try to use what I learned on a daily basis, especially when it comes to the energy my professors exuded while teaching. Though I am sure I am leaving someone out, I owe a great deal of gratitude for my success and early interest in geography to Doc Augustine, Dr. Richard Earl, Dr. Jim Peterson, Dr. Dixon, Dr. Butler and Dr. Lawrence Estaville; I learned valuable experiences from each. Upon graduating I decided I wanted to teach, and here I am thirteen years later doing just that.
As a new teacher in Richardson, TX, I taught Pre Advanced Placement World Geography and World Geography. Since that time I have taught AP Human Geography and a GIS course. Did I mention I love teaching geography? I have also been an AP College Board reader for the Human Geography test for several years. During the middle of my teaching career I had a short jaunt and worked for National Geographic as the Editor and Manager of the National Geographic Bee.
As an educator, I have taken an active role in my school district by writing curriculum, serving as a mentor teacher to novice teachers, presenting during professional development opportunities, and taking on a leadership position as the Chair of the Social Studies Department at J.J. Pearce High School.
When it comes to geography education, I am very involved in presenting instructional strategies and participating at professional conferences such as the Texas Council for the Social Studies conference, as well as the annual NCGE conference – one of my favorites! During the past two years I have been volunteering as a Steering Committee member on the Texas Alliance for Geographic Education. Most recently, I have had the opportunity to work with Maggie Hutchins with the Texas Alliance for Geographic Education, and Dr. Jeff Lash to present at Education Region Center workshops throughout Texas working with teachers learning how to teach Social Studies with digital maps. Additionally, I am currently a member of a writing team with Esri developing lessons that integrate ArcGIS online into Human Geography. Much of what I have learned as an educator has been a collaborative process from the knowledge I have gained from individuals directly associated with geography education.
People. One thing I have learned about geography educators is that we are all in it together, holding geography very dear to our hearts. At one of my first College Board AP Institutes I met Susan Hollier, who has since become a colleague and friend. I learned from Susan that a classroom environment must be stimulating and challenging by establishing high expectations in learning for students. In addition to presenting at conferences, I have attended numerous professional development conferences including the above mentioned TCSS and NCGE, as well as Esri Teachers Teaching Teachers T3G, and the Esri Educational Conference where I have been inspired in my teaching perspective gaining new instructional ideas and leaving most often with a few new friends. Mentors, including Marilyn Moore and Dr. Andy Milson, have played a valuable role in who I am as a teacher. Lastly, many of the instructional strategies and lessons I use in the classroom were created by what I consider the “crème brulee” of geography educators.
I would list every person here, but I am afraid that I would leave someone out and this might turn into a novel. Just know, I appreciate the ideas and knowledge that have been shared with me from the people I have met as an educator; you know who you are, thank you!
Dr. Megan L. Webster