Student Story: Elizabeth Milligan | Teaching of Social Studies | Arts and Humanities

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A Tale of (Studying) Two Subjects: Elizabeth Milligan

Elizabeth Milligan’s educational interests have been split. Over the years, she has developed an ardent love for both history and social studies, and enjoys teaching each subject. However, when it came to choosing a path of study for herself, the decision was very difficult.

“I was so torn about this,” she says. “Ultimately it came down to the kind of research in which I am interested, which centers on how to teach students as global citizens and empower them with historical and civic knowledge.”

Many moons after the Arapaho and wild antelopes left Colorado’s South Platte River Valley, a then-undergraduate Elizabeth grew fond of social studies and history. As her love for the subjects blossomed, she would eventually work with high school student activists, spending a semester in Washington, D.C. where she studied genocide prevention.

“Watching students become passionate about genocide…That’s what kept me in education.”

Elizabeth, who is originally from Westminster, Colorado, says that her initial teaching field work experience, which took place in a suburban school on Chicago’s affluent North Shore, reminded her of “old school history” — something that made her dislike studying the subject when she was a young student.

“When I did field work, it was…’here is the textbook and the worksheets,’” says the first-year masters student. “It was before Common Core.”

In fact, it wasn’t until she took an AP History course during her senior year of high school that Elizabeth had a change of heart about the subject.

“Once I realized history could be about human issues that re-occur,” she said, “I became really passionate about it.”

During her first three years of teaching, Elizabeth taught within Colorado’s Jefferson County. Though the school she worked in was economically diverse, it was, according to Elizabeth, racially homogenous. She would eventually move on to teach middle schoolers in East Denver—a smaller, but more ethnically diverse school district.

“Because it’s a smaller district, there’s a lot of innovation,” Elizabeth says. “Denver has been pushing a lot of reforms lately.”

She has remained within that school district for the past eight years, now mostly teaching 11th grade. Here, her classroom is her laboratory: She concocts curriculum and teaches theory, while studying the learning styles of her students.

Still, Elizabeth says it was her work within that large Chicago school district that helped her hold higher standards to teaching — standards that also led to Teachers College.

She began the Social Studies Education Summer M.A. Intensive INSTEP program at Teachers College last summer, and takes an array of online courses; she will return to campus for two weeks in the summer to take classes on campus — a feature exclusively for INSTEP students. The program’s low-residency format, which is geared toward experienced teachers, allows students to continue teaching in their current locations without having to relocate to New York for classes.

In addition to teaching and taking courses, Elizabeth is also a James Madison Memorial Graduate Fellow—a fellowship that is, according to the program’s website, bestowed upon “…outstanding teachers of the American Constitution at the secondary school level.”

The combination of the Madison fellowship and TC's program allows me to maintain a focus on education and social studies while still ensuring [the] deepening [of] my content knowledge,” she says.

Elizabeth says she had put off getting her masters degree until a friend and former co-worker, who had completed one of the school’s INSTEP programs, made her think about applying to Teachers College.

“I really love that TC provides this model [INSTEP] because it’s just been a great opportunity,” she says. “It’s tough for a lot of reasons, but it’s been really great.”

While Elizabeth says there are larger areas she wants tackle within education, in order to do so, she is “equally resolved in [her] desire to do research,” especially TC’s approaches to qualitative research, which also drew her to the school. Her particular areas of interest center on the infusion of critical race theory in Social Studies classes, as well as teaching with a social justice lens.

“I feel like my classroom is my laboratory in many ways,” she says.

Eventually, Elizabeth would love to venture into the realm of teacher education—another aspect of teaching she has always been really passionate about studying. Right now, however, she enjoys that she has the ability to pursue her love for both history—and also her love for social studies.

“I'm grateful I made this decision because it's led me deep into critical race theory and pedagogy, and anti-racist curricula, which I am then able to apply to my history and Constitution coursework.”

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