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WWU / Fairhaven College of Interdiscipinary Studies

Quote: The interdisciplinary approach offered a balanced blend between “breadth and depth” by allowing me to concentrate on specific themes, yet examine them from various vantages.  - Joe Wooding

Joe Wooding

Social Studies Teacher

What made you decide to concentrate on American Cultural Studies?

All students need to complete at least two comparative/gender/multicultural studies courses in order to fulfill Western’s general university requirements. These classes tended to be my favorite. When it came time to declare a major, the American Cultural Studies program provided the flexibility I needed to continue taking the kinds of courses I wanted. As a result, I was able to double major in sociology/social studies and add a minor in political science because many of my classes could be counted toward multiple areas of study. From a practical standpoint, the program saved me time and money. For example, when I returned to Western to earn a Master’s In Teaching, I had already completed the coursework necessary to receive an endorsement to teach social studies. Educationally, the interdisciplinary approach offered a balanced blend between “breadth and depth” by allowing me to concentrate on specific themes, yet examine them from various vantages.


How did you choose your career/field?

Prior to enrolling at Western, I worked for the Federal School District and served in AmeriCorps, a national volunteer service organization. I enjoyed my experiences working in education, and looked for opportunities to volunteer in local schools when I moved to Bellingham. Subsequently, I discovered tutoring and mentoring programs staffed by students I had met through the American Cultural Studies program. The camaraderie forged from a shared interest in promoting equity, education, and diversity galvanized my desire to pursue teaching.


How did ACS influence your path?

Whether motivated by personal experience, cognitive dissonance, or some other force, most of the people I met through the American Cultural Studies program share a sincere desire to make a difference in their communities. The program offers students various lenses through which to examine the “American Dream” and the reality of living in the United States. Engaging others to address issues, raise questions, and grapple with controversy helps foster a community of people who are critical of social conditions, yet striving to improve them.

When I think of how this translates into my role as a teacher in a public school, my education has taught me to question the efficacy of existing institutions, but do my best to work for an enduring purpose. Chances are, by the time I transition from teaching, the patterns of inequality I see in public schools will remain despite my best efforts and good intentions. By uncovering the hidden rules that shape the institutions we inhabit and speaking truthfully about them, my hope is students will be better able to navigate, negotiate, and even possibly change these systems, in order to create meaningful lives for themselves and to make a difference in the lives of others.


What kind of training, licenses, and education were required?

In order to become a social studies teacher, I needed two things: 1) an endorsement to teach a particular academic subject, and 2) a teaching certificate to teach for the state of Washington. If you are an American Cultural Studies major and are interested in teaching as a career, I recommend you meet with an advisor from Woodring College to learn more about endorsable subject areas and the process of earning a teaching certificate.


What attributes (personal or otherwise) were essential?

Direct experience is perhaps the most effective means of education. In other words, get involved. Volunteer at a local school or not-for-profit organization that serves youth. Power is the ability to do work. The more responsibility you are willing to assume the more likely it is you will grow from your experience. However, expect to make mistakes - lots of them. Teaching is an art not a science. Keep in mind, you are dealing with young people in the midst of all sorts of complex mental, emotional, and physical development. Thus, the process is often messy. When events do not unfold as planned, resist the urge to problematize students or the situation; rather, focus on the factors you can control then change accordingly. Again, remember that you are dealing with young people. Your effectiveness will depend on your ability to cultivate authentic relationships with them. Give them support, help them learn, hold them accountable, and watch them grow.


Reflecting on your time as a student, what was the best/most important/influential part of your experience?

The people I met. As I mentioned previously, the American Cultural Studies program is like a community of people who people who are critical of social conditions, yet striving to improve them. Many of my classmates and teachers were the same people organizing events and volunteering for organizations on campus and out in the community. So far, I have focused on serious matters. However, life as an American Cultural Studies major was not all work and service. The same community that came together to get things done also knew how to have fun and celebrate life.


What advice would you give to entering or current students?

Connect with one of AS organizations, like the Ethnic Student Center, and get involved in campus life.


Please describe a typical day for you.

When school is in session, I am a man of routine: Get up at 4:30am, enjoy my morning coffee, read, exercise, arrive to school by 7:15am, work until 4pm, come home and prepare for the next day. Oh yeah, I stop to eat along the way. This may sound a bit robotic, but it works for me. During breaks, the pace of life changes dramatically. I use this time to recreate, travel, visit people, read books, acquire new skills...the list goes on.


What does the future hold for you?

Although I derive much meaning from the work I do, my goal for this year is to do a better job of entertaining my outside interests after school. For example, to unleash the performer that dwells within me, I plan on taking evening improv theater classes and singing lessons. If you see someone vivaciously gesticulating or singing spiritedly, there is no need to be concerned. It may just be me.


American Cultural Studies

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