Dr. Karin Sconzert: Carthage College’s Chair of Education

American psychiatrist William Glasser once said, “Effective teaching may be the hardest job there is.” However, Dr. Karin Sconzert of Carthage College seems to have figured out the secret. With a Ph.D. in Administrative, Institutional and Policy Studies and a B.A. in History, Dr. Sconzert is arguably one of the most intelligent and caring professors I’ve ever had the honor to meet. Even though she was recently named the chair of the Carthage College Education Department, thus exponentially more busy, Dr. Sconzert was kind enough to sit down with Her Campus Carthage and answer all of the questions we had about what it means to be a teacher

HC: How long have you been working at Carthage? What drew you to Carthage initially?

KS: I came to Carthage in 2007. My initial interest was entirely geographic. My husband and I had been living near Philadelphia and, after our son was born, we realized we needed to be closer to one set of grandparents or we would be spending all of our free time traveling to visit them; so we applied to places closer to either Buffalo, NY or Green Bay, WI. But then we realized that our friend Richard Heitman (Philosophy professor) taught at Carthage, and I also really liked Carthage when I visited for my interview. I liked the faculty and students, and it was clear from the start that there were a lot of opportunities here both at the college and in the community, and we thought it would be a great place to raise our son (and it has been).

HC: Why did you decide to become a teacher and eventually a professor?

KS: I was a history major and theatre minor in college, and expected to go to law school or into business. Then I spent the summer between my sophomore and junior year working in an office without windows, sitting at a computer filling supply orders for millions of dollars, and I hated it. I came back to college that fall and got into the teacher certification program. After college I wanted to move outside of Wisconsin, so I took a job in a private school in Indiana, and then in New Jersey, and I became really interested in inequalities in schooling. I went to graduate school just to look into some of those questions I had about education, history and policy. A few years into graduate school, I had a chance to supervise student teachers through an Urban Education program in Chicago for students from liberal arts colleges all over the Midwest. I just loved going into schools, watching young teachers, and talking with them about teaching, so I decided to become a teacher educator instead of a government policy wonk, which is where I had been headed. I’m glad I made this change. Sometimes fate leads you into unexpected directions.

HC: When you first made the transition from professor to Chair of the department, what kind of changes did you have to make to your routine? Was it a difficult transition?

KS: The biggest difference was moving to a new office on the third floor of Lentz, which is much busier than the second floor. People pop into my office all the time up here! Which leads to the next biggest difference: just how many people I talk to on a given day. Before it was just my own students on most days. Now I’m in contact with so many different people all over the campus every day. I think I speak with someone from the registrar’s office pretty much every single day. This wasn’t difficult, just different. Also, education students already know this, but Josie Kick, our departmental assistant, is amazing. That’s something I already knew, but has been reinforced since becoming department chair.

HC: What’s something about the EDU department that not many students know?

KS: I doubt that many students know just how many majors and minors we have: Majors in Elementary and Special Education, minors in Secondary Education, STEM, Urban Education, and Educational Studies, and add-on licenses in ELL and bilingual education. Students outside of education majors can take education courses, too. We also have graduate programs: ACT (Accelerated Certification for Teachers, in case you decide to become a teacher after you finish college) and a Master’s degree program with several areas of specialization, as well as licenses in administration, special education, bilingual, and ELL. There’s a lot going on!

HC: What makes the EDU department here at Carthage unique?

KS: I’ve worked at three other colleges/universities, and I wrote my dissertation about four other ones, so I have some detailed knowledge about how Carthage’s teacher ed program is unique. First, it's at a liberal arts college, which I consider to be excellent preparation for any future teacher because your base of knowledge is so broad. But, it’s different than the other liberal arts colleges. Being in this area means we have access to urban, suburban, and rural schools, many types of religious schools, charter and specialty schools, and so on. The KUSD has amazing arts programs, and both RUSD and KUSD have dual language programs. I’ve also been able to take students to visit schools in Milwaukee and Chicago. It’s a really good place to learn about an array of different kinds of schools, and we’re lucky to have good relationships with so many, so you can learn to be a teacher from us and our excellent partner teachers in these diverse local schools.

HC: What qualities, do you believe, separate a good teacher from a great teacher?

KS: This is an interesting question, because I wrote my 50-page graduate school qualifying paper on this very issue over 20 years ago. The conclusion I came to then, and I still believe today, is that great teachers are reflective. They take time to think about their practice and improve it. They share with other teachers and learn from them. And they read, in their subject areas, but also research on teaching. In short, great teachers are curious, analytical, lifelong learners.

HC: What advice do you have for current (or future) EDU students?

KS: Come and talk with us early! Even though you have a first-year advisor, it doesn’t hurt to get some extra advice on which courses to take when. And find mentors: older students, teachers in the schools, and when you’re a new teacher on the job, make sure you have a mentor in your school (and maybe another one outside your own school who can offer perspective). Also, be aware that the first few years are tough. You’ll get better over time, and you’ll feel much more confident by the fifth year.

HC: Is there anything that you would like to share that wasn’t addressed in the questions above?

KS: It’s never too late to become a teacher. If you didn’t decide until your senior year, or five or 10 or 20 years into a different career, it’s never out of reach. Come and talk to us and we can help you find a program somewhere that suits you.

You heard it here, folks: It’s never too late to become a teacher because fate sometimes leads you into unexpected directions. If you ask any teacher, they’ll almost always agree that teaching is such rewarding work and has some of the most interesting people working in the field (including Dr. Sconzert!). So, if you’re interested in learning more about the Carthage College Education Department and all it has to offer, visit their website.

Rep image courtesy of Pexels