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Alumnus Voice: Pursuing a career in teaching through JMC

March 17, 2023 - Erika Sponsler (SR '96)

Erika Sponsler graduated from James Madison College and the College of Education with a degree in Social Relations in 1996. Sponsler minored in environmental science with a cognate in sociology. She completed her teaching internship in 1997 and later returned to MSU to add a minor in English while completing a master’s in curriculum and instruction in social studies education. Sponsler is a teacher at Western High School in Parma, Michigan.

Erika Sponsler 

Approximately one year into my MSU career, my academic program as a group social studies major was eliminated. I was looking for something that would give me a diverse foundation and prepare me to teach various topics in social studies. The advisor suggested Madison, and it was the best decision I almost never even knew to make.

My time as a JMC social relations major prepared me for my current position as a high school history teacher and county-wide social studies consultant by introducing me to a variety of people, ideas, primary/secondary sources, methods and styles. I was able to not only learn diverse content  — from pulp fiction of the 1950s as a reflection of Mid-century social values to the workings of urban development in cities like Flint and Detroit — but to also observe some of the best teachers I’ve known.

Each of my Madison classes was a learning lab for me in how to think critically, present diverse sources, integrate social studies, literature, and writing and to encourage and promote student engagement and discussion. While I was learning and discussing content, I was also cataloging the methods my professors were using and the ways in which they developed and structured their lessons.

Erika Sponsler standing on the sidewalk along Grand River stores

I use the skills I learned and refined in Madison daily, finding and incorporating multiple perspectives, conducting research on current issues, using various resources to create and expand on an idea or claim. Educating high schoolers requires flexible thought, understanding of community and the ability to communicate not just ideas and content but also empathy and impact. All things I learned in my classes and from my peers and professors while at Madison.

I was lucky to have Dixie Platt as an advisor at JMC. She was a genius at navigating Madison, the College of Education and MSU. I told her my goals and she worked with me to make sure I was on track. And the College of Ed worked well in meshing my Madison degree with my teaching requirements. I found so many similarities in the two colleges — from the focus on engaging students in their own learning to the way professors investigated and researched current practices and methods. I was able to use the content of my Madison courses and degree in developing lessons in my College of Ed methods courses. JMC’s hands-on approach to research, teaching and learning was exactly the style of teaching I wanted to learn and emulate in my own classroom.

Erika Sponsler in her classroom teaching
Erika Sponsler teaches her students in her classroom in Parma, Michigan.

Being a teacher is a challenging balancing act. Madison and the College of Ed prepared me to learn, grow, adapt and thrive in rapidly changing conditions  — skills which are timeless and necessary for working with students and the world. Teaching is a clear way to impact and create the future… one kid at a time.