The Caring Social Studies Teacher: Part I

Teachers must care for their students in order to instruct effectively, but depending on the educator, what is considered adequate caring can vary immensely. Some caring is obvious; a teacher should be concerned with their student’s academic success. Caring can be much more ambiguous; for example, a teacher may believe that they must protect a student’s physical well-being. If a caring teacher had a hungry student, then they would ensure that student would be properly fed at school, although some teachers may not actively look for such physical ailments as hunger or sickness. Caring connects to the six themes of the Handbook of Research on Teaching. The six themes will be compared to the concept of caring in order to determine the importance of a caring teacher in a social studies classroom.

Other forms of caring can be associated with the curriculum but not directly stated in the duties of a teacher. For instance, all students should receive a social studies education that helps them navigate their communities and makes them aware of their rights as citizens. A teacher who cares about the future community roles of their students must develop sincere relationships with their charges in order to properly guide them. Unfortunately, this level of caring can be challenged as unprofessional. In her book The Caring Teacher, Nel Noddings described how caring and professionalism are seemingly in conflict because “caring requires relations intimate enough for personal understanding; professionalization presses for distance and a certain aloofness” (Noddings, 101). Despite the supposed contradiction between professionalism and caring, effective teachers must be both; in fact, it is a combination that needs to be maintained if students are going to learn from a teacher (Noddings, 102).

The Six Themes Found in the Handbook of Research on Teaching

  1. The Purpose of Education and Teaching
  2. Sociocognitive and Sociocultural Perspectives
  3. Teaching and Learning as Systems Phenomena
  4. Inequality of Opportunity
  5. Teaching as Adaptive Expertise
  6. The Interactive Nature of Teaching
Click on picture to be taken to purchase options

First Theme: The Purpose of Education

Why do we educate people? Does education help society prosper?

The first theme is the purpose of education. An often queried question in education: “Is education meant to improve society, or to improve the individual?” This question is further complicated because educational theorists identified multiple domains of purposes in education, such as qualification, socialization, subjectification, emancipation (HRT, 32), and the establishment of educated individuals who can react to an ever changing society. All of these purposes must exist in order for society to prosper, and a caring teacher constantly must ask themselves how these competing purposes affect their curriculum and pedagogy.

All of these purposes are necessary for a caring teacher because we live in a highly complex, pluralistic society.  A social studies educator teaches students skills and gives access to knowledge that will help each individual be successful in a democratic society, and in turn, communities benefit from having a knowledgeable citizenry. Since we live in a pluralistic world, with numerous levels of community, people must make judgements that will impact each other. Since these judgements are being made, students must be trained to make them, especially in learning about the repercussions of making decisions (HRT, 18). A practical example is students understanding how they can directly impact their local government with activities like voting, protesting, attending open forums, and communicating with their elected officials. If a caring social studies teacher feels like this purpose is not being practically applied to their curriculum, then they would adjust.

Need help with promoting discussion in your social studies classes? Check out History Forge’s project Skills Based Grading and Grading for Mastery

Second Theme: Sociocognitive and Sociocultural Perspectives

The second theme focuses on the social and cultural purposes of teaching. Society influences curriculum, pedagogy, and who teaches in schools. For example, throughout United States history, parents shaped who could teach in schools based on what was culturally and socially acceptable. The Handbook of Research and Teaching described such limitations on teachers in the 1960s and 1970s, where community protesters influenced who taught in and ran schools (HRT, 107).

Pressure to do the right thing is difficult when teaching, especially when going against societal norms

A caring teacher may find themselves stuck between what they feel is best for their students against pressures from their communities. For instance, a social studies teacher may want their students to practice critical thinking and more inquiry tasks. Administrators, other teachers, parents, and even the students could disagree with this pedagogy and challenge it as not proficient in learning specific themes in history, such as a patriotic version of United States history. A caring teacher must always challenge their students’ understanding of why they are learning and give them problems that will allow them to discover what pressures are being put on them. It is not the teachers task to fill their students cup with standardized knowledge, but give students a child-centered education that focuses on what is best for them (HRT, 15, 19).

Third Theme: Teaching and Learning as System Phenomena

According to the third theme, teaching and learning are interactive experiences; a caring teacher knows this and makes an effort to receive positive feedback from their charges. This feedback is important, because if a student rejects the “claim to caring,” that means the teacher must reevaluate their practice (Noddings, 102). Determining what and how to teach is difficult because there are many theories, interest groups, and resources to choose from. It is important for educators to be well versed in the variety of teaching resources; however, interactions between instructor and students must be considered when determining how and what to teach. A common issue with social studies teachers is they attempt to teach about community while doing nothing to establish such in their own classroom.

Which pedagogical "path" will you take? How do you determine which way to go?
Establishing a student government does not need to be difficult.

History Forge creator Taylor Hamblin worked on a Mock Senate with his students.

 Both inside the classroom and in the school system as a whole, teachers and administrators have forgotten to establish a community of caring to benefit students. For example, in the 1960s, with the space race as a sociocultural influence, schools increased their populations and became more regimented in order to produce students with more scientific knowledge. The drawback to this was schools lost a sense of community, it became a place for only academic achievement (Noddings, 103). This model of schools is still prevalent, and with the ever increasing size of schools, is unlikely to change soon. A social studies teacher could begin remedying this issue by establishing a mock senate in their classroom that would actively question, research, and produce ideas to help their community, both inside and outside the school.

Conclusion of Part I

Being a caring social studies teacher can be difficult, but the result is students who want to do better and a future citizenry who will participate in their government. More theory and philosophy will be covered in The Caring Social Studies Teacher: Part II

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *