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Izzy Riddick ’23

(photo/Andrew Cislak)

1. When we last spoke, you had a couple of different opportunities you were pursuing after your graduation. What eventually did you decide to do and how has it been going?

I’m currently working at a public library! Growing up I lived next to my hometown library, so I’ve always had an affinity for libraries in general and by pure luck a nearby library was hiring not long after graduating.  I’ve been there for a couple months now and I’ve been having a lot of fun. As someone who did study secondary education I always had an affinity for public education like libraries and museums and such, but it’s been really cool getting to actually use my “teaching degree” for something that isn’t teaching. Education is beyond the classroom! I don’t know if I want to go as far as doing a master’s in library science, since it actually isn’t entirely necessary with my degree and the experience I’m now getting, but it’s definitely something I’ve been considering. Otherwise, I’m lucky enough to not need to rush into anything, so I’ve been taking things slow and considering various future options of what to do with myself. Right now, though, most of those options seem fairly library oriented.

2.You were involved in a lot of extracurricular activities and campus organizations when you were here. Can you discuss this further and talk about how these impacted your experience at the College?

Most of my time at TCNJ was split between working in the tutoring center and keeping PRISM operating, especially through the year coming back to campus after Covid. Both of these things were really great experiences because, in the end, I think they were very grounding in the idea that there were so many cool things I’d love to do that weren’t in a classroom.

Working at the TCNJ tutoring center was great, I really did like helping people with their classes. A lot of that was not specific to my actual area of study in history, it was writing assistance! And that often was simple as finding ways to motivate people to get their schoolwork done or providing feedback for people when stuck. Everyone learns differently, but being able to provide individualized, unique help to people based on their own needs and personalities was great. Plus, I ended up learning a lot of random stuff from whatever they were writing about. I always find myself recommending tutoring services to friends because it really is nice being able to talk through any difficulties you’re experiencing with someone who is just as much of a student as you are. Also, over time it was interesting figuring out the things most people struggled with and fine tuning the exact way I’d help with those subjects, which really helped me as a writer and student. I spent hours of time explaining how to do introductions and conclusions to others, so eventually I stopped thinking too much when I wrote them myself. That was a really nice bonus.

As for PRISM, that was probably the majority of my TCNJ experience wrapped into one. A lot of student organizations struggled when forced online, but even more when coming back. I quite literally was one of two people on the executive board the first semester TCNJ was on campus after Covid lockdowns in Fall 2021. I got to do finance, I got to help write the constitution, I got to do event planning, I got to do event hosting, I got to try a lot of new things and figuring out what worked and what didn’t, I got to talk with other organizations, I got to work with the Intercultural Center when it was new, I got to give speeches, and probably plenty of other things I missed. It was just about every possible little skill that you could hope to learn in college wrapped up in one really chaotic time to be involved in student life. It was awesome seeing an organization I had so cautiously entered in my freshman year with absolutely zero intention of having a leadership role become something new. The whole Covid experience was almost a reset on some of the things I wanted it to move away from and a new push to something that I thought was more appropriate for what the TCNJ campus needed.

3. Can you discuss your experience as a secondary ed major and what it was like working in different school settings?

Even though I don’t currently intend on teaching, I still think doing my student teaching experience was a good learning experience. For context: I first taught honors U.S. history to 9th graders in Bordentown and then was a special education teacher at Fisher Middle School in Ewing for 8th grade world history. It was two entirely different curricula and expectations for me as an educator with tons of entirely different experiences, yet I ended up seeing a lot of similar stuff. Both schools only gave students half a year’s worth of time to social studies education, meaning my one semester there was the majority of their time learning history.

Being in a high school in the spring, especially with a cooperating teacher who also taught seniors (this was an AP class, so I was not allowed to teach it myself, but I was there), means there was so little school to be done. The seniors in particular missed class frequently and, because my cooperating teacher was their debate team coach, he actually was out a lot of the time too as their team did really well that season. I got to do some really fun activities in my short time and the students seemed really passionate about the subject itself, which is all I could ever hope for. There were definitely some very new things that came up for me early in the semester that made my time as a student teacher challenging, but if I learned anything I knew for certain that teenagers always get way worse a reputation than they deserve.

My middle school students did mostly medieval world history. It was by this point I was pretty certain I was not going to be teaching post graduation, but I was still intent on finishing the degree I started. Most of what I was there for was medieval Chinese history and early religious history. If I learned anything here it was that I absolutely was not built for standard classroom instruction, but small, specialized instruction as a special education teacher was really fun. I had one inclusion class, so that was one classroom of somewhere between 20-30 students (I forget the actual number) and that was definitely interesting with three adults in the room, but my smaller classes of 6 and 3 were the best. I think having done tutoring for, by then, two years really helped me modify lessons to fit those classes specifically, but also the students there were great. Also, in that school district I was more involved and got to learn more heavily how Covid impacted things like reading and writing, which gave some interesting perspective that I think those of us who graduated k-12 beforehand wouldn’t know about. If I had to go back into k-12 teaching at any point I definitely would look to get a special education certification. In my entire time teaching both schools, the students were always the best part.

4. In addition to majoring in History/Secondary Education you also minored in Sociology. Can you talk about how your work in this minor helped you shape your future goals?

 One of the things I’d say sometimes is that a really good historian would always be a good sociologist and I stand by that. The study of sociology requires learning so much about human society and learning how to view that non judgmentally and analytically. While it was a bit annoying to me that, somehow, I was never able to find a class that overlapped between the sociology and history department requirements (not because I needed it, just because it felt so doable), I think learning each part helped strengthen me in the other.

To emphasize this more, I remember there was a semester where I took LGBT U.S. history and the sociology of race in the U.S. at the same time and that was one of the best duo of classes to take. These subjects overlap very heavily and much of my interest in these subjects comes from the intersectionality of race and queerness. However, it also hit a level of similarity between the subjects that was just comedic when one week I was assigned the exact same documentary for both classes. Which was nice because it did save me time and also really cool to talk about the same source from two different perspectives (LGBT history focusing on the queer aspects and historical aspects, while the sociology of race focusing on the racialized aspects and the modern societal impact), but it was still a coincidence. It was also fun to go to one class and bring up the reading from the other just because it ended up being relevant. These weren’t the only classes in sociology and history that had interesting overlaps of course, but it was so incredibly blatant in this experience that I’m still amazed I managed it at all. My only regret is that I didn’t get to take those classes in person as that was in Fall 2020, but it worked out. And of course once I ended up teaching myself, being able to use the level of perspective that sociology encouraged helped me find avenues to connect with my students too.

Much of my passion for history is intertwined by my passion for sociology. I love social history, I love understanding the ways in which human society has evolved, what norms created certain events, what events created certain social expectations, everything!  The thing I like to encourage is to make sure some part of your degree, whether it’s a major, another major, a minor, or another minor is something you care genuinely about even if you’re not certain how you’re going to use it (yet).

5. You took a class in historical archaeology. Can you talk about this experience and what it was like excavating part of TCNJ’s campus?

It was far from a traditional class, I would refer to it to my friends as my “digging class” where every morning for a few weeks I’d go out in the hot summer sun and dig up glass in the dirt for hours. Which on paper sounds like a nightmare, but it was really fun. I also got to play with a total station, which is used to take images of the dig site based on elevation. It was kind of like a fancy laser camera that you took pictures of a special staff to figure out just how much we were digging and how much digging was needed to find things. By the time I did that class I had just come back from a trip with friends out to Utah, specifically Arches National Park, which are great places to visit if you can, so I was already looking at professional digs when we stopped at Dinosaur National Monument and Canyons of the Ancients. I never studied much ancient history, so we did not get to do much archeology in my history classes when talking about things from the last couple hundred years, but luckily the project at the William Green House is specifically focusing on Revolutionary era history there. The biggest thing we found when I was there was excavating the Springhouse (something I barely touched when digging and cleaning it out), which was interesting to see something like that so well intact right next to where I lived the previous semester!

Also, during this experience, we got to go to the New Jersey Museum in Trenton and talk to some professionals working there. That was interesting for me as I was the only history student, to my memory, and possibly the only education student too. Pretty much everyone else was in anthropology or sociology. The idea of working in a museum is a complicated topic in my mind, especially since what first comes to mind for history museums is large museums that have a history of questionable practices that I am not a fan of. The New Jersey Museum is quite small, but it was interesting talking to someone about how the actual process of being a museum educator worked and I got very invested in the conceptual process of doing the writing for museums like that. It’s really a balance between legible enough for younger kids, educational enough for older kids, and interesting enough for adults. I think this is the type of thing I’d be interested in doing myself in some aspects, so I’m glad I got that experience and that I now get to be slightly more annoying to go to a museum with.

6. What advice would you have for a prospective college student?

Just do whatever sounds coolest to you now. I know when I started at TCNJ I thought I had a pretty clear plan and, while I can’t say I’m too surprised by anything I ended up doing, I won’t say I predicted my life from freshman year turning into what it is now. And, while I do think being online for three semesters can be thanked for a lot of the weirdness I did end up experiencing, I don’t really regret anything I did.