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Amanda Sutliff is a fourth grade teacher working for the public school system in South Dakota. She graduated from Black Hills State University with a Bachelor Degree in Elementary Education and middle school endorsements in math, science, and reading. She has completed a Masters Degree in Instructional Design and Technology from the online University at Walden.

Amanda is well versed in a variety of classroom management techniques, brain-based education, investigative math, workshop model, balanced literacy, writing and reading conferences, and Daily Five with Literacy Café. Amanda loves to integrate technology into her instruction and motivate young students to be active learners who always do their best in order to make a difference in the world. She is a proud member of Rotary, and will be the president of her Rotary Club in July 2015.

When Amanda isn’t teaching or volunteering, she is writing. She mainly writes fiction, but also enjoys writing articles about her experiences in the classroom and sharing her college experiences with students who are interested in becoming teachers. Amanda lives with her husband Patrick, who teaches middle school Family and Consumer Sciences.

Part 1: The Dreaded Generals
You made it! You got accepted to college, you moved away from home, and you’re about to sign up for your first semester of college. You’re one step closer to a career in teaching. This is usually the point where you find yourself incredibly disappointed with the list of classes you’re required to take, especially for someone who’s already chosen a major. Why do you need to take College Algebra when you want to teach middle school English? Or even worse, why do you need to take biology when you want to teach kindergarteners?
Generals can be a slog for most elementary education majors. For starters, you will want to pick a logical area of focus for your generals. The following tips should help you select classes that will fill your gen. ed. requirements without teaching you too much about subjects that you don’t need to focus on. Hopefully, this advice will help you get your degree in education without any hiccups along the way.
Science for Elementary Education Majors
As a student majoring in elementary education, you will not need bio chemistry or physics. General biology, geology, or astronomy are better choices, since they will get you thinking about some fun projects you could do with your students but won’t take you too far in depth with facts that you won’t need to know to teach the younger students. I took biology 101 in my first semester at college, which was pretty much a review of everything I had ever learned about biology with a few new tidbits of information. In my second semester, I took astronomy, which was probably the most fun I had in a generals class. It wasn’t too much studying either.
Math for Elementary Education Majors
Most colleges will require education majors to pass college algebra. I would not suggest taking any extra math classes after passing college algebra, since you will likely take math classes geared towards your specific major in later semesters. For example, I took a math course for k-12 problem solvers and a k-8 math methods course later in my college career, and both of these math courses help me teach fourth graders much more than my experience in college algebra ever will. Unless you are a mathematically inclined person, you can pick up the rest of your general education credits in many other ways and avoid pulling your hair out while trying to pass overly challenging college level math courses.
History for Elementary Education Majors
You will also not need to know much more than the basic facts from any history classes. Try to find an area of history that you already know a lot about, and take your general class on that historical time span. It will make the class easier and allow you to keep your GPA up – you will need a higher than average GPA to apply for acceptance into the college of education at most universities. To this day, the college history course that has served me the best was South Dakota State History, which is useful for my age group since fourth graders learn about state history. This wasn’t even a gen. ed. course. There are other ways to fill the rest of your required gen. ed. credits. Unless you love history, take your few required history courses and consider yourself done.
English Courses for Elementary Education Majors
Most elementary education majors might find English courses to be a waste of time, but I think these are the most important generals you will take. I like to think about the practical side of learning how to write well at the college level. After taking a few technical writing courses and one extra writing course on creative writing at the college level, I feel like I have a better grasp on what it takes to be a writer in general. I know how much work it can be to write to my best ability every day. This realization about the writing process can help better equip you to teach using a writing workshop mentality. Now that I know the challenges and achievements that come along with writing, I feel like I am better able to motivate my young students to write. If you’re still not convinced, then think about how much better your grant writing skills will be after you have a few technical writing courses under your belt. This is one area where I suggest you take extra courses to fill your gen. ed. requirements.
Filling Out The Rest of Your Generals
Now that you are finished with your first semester of college, and you have a few more generals to take before you can apply for the college of education, it’s time to start considering how you will fill in the rest of your second semester at college. Depending on your college’s requirements, you might need some specific classes, or you might just need to reach a certain amount of credits or pass a threshold in certain categories, such as humanities or fine arts courses.
At this point, it can be very hard to decide how to proceed. I remember a few classes I took that stressed me out and could have easily been replaced with other more appropriate classes. Here are my suggestions:
• Gear your courses toward your interests as much as you can. For me, that meant enrolling in band, which gave me a single fine arts credit each semester. In order to fulfill my fine arts credit requirement, I simply enrolled in band every semester at college. I got to have fun playing an instrument I had been playing since high school, and I fulfilled a requirement slowly but surely. For you, this might look like drawing classes, or poetry and literature courses, or even more science or math, depending on your interests.
• College is also a chance to try new things. Don’t be afraid to take one class every semester that is a bit out there and might give you a little challenge. These classes are also usually required in one way or another, and spacing them out throughout your first few years and semesters at college will help you fill all your requirements without creating lopsided semesters.
o I took general psychology as a required general in my first semester, but it was also a class that taught me a lot and got me interested in some psychology topics that I still think about on a daily basis while teaching.
o I also had fun in a philosophy class during my second semester at college. This class was not required, but fulfilled a humanities credit that I needed, and I still think fondly of the interesting conversations we had in that class.
o I took private vocal lessons that helped me fill my fine arts credits, as well as a drawing course and a basic guitar course. I am not an artist, singer, or guitar player. These courses really helped stretch me in fun ways, and I’m glad I had the chance to take them.
o Lastly, I took some interesting P.E. classes in college, such as swimming and a work-out course that allowed me to use the gym equipment at the college as part of a college course. That was a fantastic way to stay in shape and fulfill a required credit.
Learn From Others Who Are Further Along the Path
Probably the best way to make your first few semesters more productive and enjoyable is to ask around campus about the best classes for elementary education majors. I got to know quite a few people at my college who were in their second or third year as education majors, and they had some great advice for how to get through the generals without pulling my hair out. The best way to meet people is to join a club that will obviously attract other elementary education majors. For me, this club was the Children’s Book Club, also known as the Reader’s Association.
I sat at a different table every meeting and asked the elementary education majors which general education classes they took, which ones they liked, which ones they hated and thought were a waste of time, and which ones were easier and harder, interesting or boring. This club was also a great way to meet students who were taking the same classes as me. We started studying together and even shared notes and worked on projects together. The best part was I had some friends who I could coordinate schedules with in later semesters, making later classes all the more enjoyable. I highly suggest you find a club for elementary education majors and use it as a chance to meet people who are in their second or third year at college, as well as people who are in the same year as you. You will learn a lot about how your specific college generals work, and how to get through them without any bumps in the road.
Generals Don’t have to Be A Drag
Above all else, remember that your first year in college is more of a personal test and a way for the average college student to figure out what really interests him or her. For those people who are good students and already know their college major, generals can seem like a waste of time. Just try to remember that they are designed to help you get your feet wet without taking classes that go into too much depth, as well as a way to discover what you are really interested in. If you already know your major, then don’t be afraid to take classes that you know will be easy to keep your GPA up so you can apply to get into the college of education, as well as a few classes that might give you a bit of a challenge or teach you something new an