In college, Susan McDanel strongly considered pursuing a career in museums and imagined herself living in a city doing research.
As often happens, life got in the way.
“I got married, and my husband wanted to farm,” she says. “There aren’t too many big museums close to Centerville, so teaching was an option.”
McDanel then had to choose a subject. She considered English and history but leaned toward history because there were only a few female history teachers in Iowa then.
McDanel says she has become more and more oriented toward project learning. By assigning projects, she encourages students to research topics, present research in a way that makes sense to them and learn to talk knowledgeably about their work — skills that can serve them the rest of their lives.
Many former students remember the architecture project from McDanel’s U.S. history course, in which students learn about various architectural components then photograph houses in Centerville that exhibit those traits.
McDanel says she hopes this project prompts students to see the history around them on a local level.
“I think they need to realize that we have history here in Centerville,” McDanel says. “If we can appreciate our history here, we’ll take care of it better.”
McDanel teaches government and says she requires students to attend public meetings because she wants them to become participatory citizens.
“If we don’t have people that know how the government is organized and how it runs, then they can easily be manipulated,” she says.
McDanel started at Centerville High School as a mid-year replacement in 1976. Other than technology, the biggest change she has seen over the years is in family structure. More students today live with only one parent or even on their own or with friends.
“That’s the biggest difference,” she says. “Other than that, kids are still kids — they still try to give the same excuses from when I first started teaching.”
McDanel, who is nearing retirement, says she is glad she became a teacher.
“I feel like I’ve made a greater difference doing this than I ever would have stuck in a room doing research,” she says.