School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Michael Pitblado

PhD Student, Eduation

Michael Pitblado

Michael Pitblado

Michael Pitblado: A Student and a Teacher

by Adenike Ogunrinde, December 2017

 
“How do high school history teachers approach teaching difficult history? More specifically, how do they approach teaching the history of the Holocaust?” As both a PhD student in Education and a practicing high school history teacher, Michael Pitblado is able to shine light on this topic from both ends of the academic spectrum. 
 
Michael’s love of history began as a teenager travelling on family vacations to various corners of the world. During his BA at Queen’s, Michael continued to travel, completing a semester abroad at the Bader International Study Centre at Herstmonceux Castle in southern England. This experience not only stirred his love for history, but also piqued his interest in experiential learning. “When you go to the Castle,” Michael says, “your classroom isn’t just a classroom – it’s the beaches of Normandy, or the memorial at Vimy Ridge. You’re learning on the spot, and you have an emotional response to the history before you dig into the significance of the details.” For Michael and his Castle classmates, learning at the same sites as the history that had unfolded there was both moving and powerful. 
 
Michael went on to complete a Master’s degree in History at the University of New Brunswick where he focused his research on the history of the Second World War. It wasn’t until he was given the opportunity to teach undergraduate history courses, however, that he realized where the most significant impact of pure history can be felt: in the classroom. Consequently, Michael returned to Queen’s to earn his B.Ed so that he could shift his focus from solely doing historical research to working through historical thinking with students. Now that Michael is in his PhD, he combines his dual passions for history and pedagogy by researching how history is taught and what decisions teachers make when they introduce emotionally charged historical content in their classrooms.
 
Teaching a unique grade 11 elective titled Genocide in Crimes Against Humanity is one way Michael explores this concept first-hand. The course challenges students to consider human behavior and moral dilemmas through historical inquiry into three twentieth century genocides: the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, and the genocide in Rwanda. Michael believes that, “if we are going to understand why these events happened, we need to get students to wrestle with the moral dilemmas and choices of the perpetrators.” Accordingly, Michael is constantly on the hunt to find the most effective classroom strategies to help students understand why these acts of genocide occurred. In practicing what he preaches, Michael has the opportunity to model successful strategies – not only in his high school classroom but also for his students in the Queen’s B.Ed program – and apply broader insights to his doctoral research. 
 
With a few years of teaching experience under his belt and extensive research at the doctoral level, Michael has more strategies up his sleeve to help enrich the learning of teacher candidates enrolled in the B.Ed program than when he was a first-time teaching assistant (TA). For this reason, I asked what advice he had for new TAs. Michael advised being proactive in seeking out resources to assist in teaching, both online and on campus, highlighting the Center for Teaching and Learning at Queen’s as an example: “it has great resources you can lean on for knowledge and materials that can help you plan your next tutorial or lab”. 
 
On the topic of graduate work in the Faculty of Education, Michael says “it’s very interdisciplinary – whether you are interested in quantitative or qualitative methods there is so much you can get into”. Michael is in the Curriculum Theorizing stream because his interests lie in instruction and classroom teaching, but many of Michael’s friends and colleagues are exploring topics related to assessment and evaluation, special education, cognition and literacy. “There’s a lot of room in Faculty of Education for different kinds of research,” he said; “If you take a look at what’s happening there are so many possibilities.” 
 
As a final note, Michael stressed the feasibility and benefits of having a family while pursuing a doctoral degree. Not only is Michael completing his PhD in the Faculty of Education, but his wife is as well, and they have a 4-year-old son together. Finding the work-life balance is critical and doable. “There is extra juggling,” he says, “but you find the time. Other PhD students have children as well. I feel that having a family enriches the doctoral experience rather than detract from it.”  

 

 

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