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“Laugh, Smile, and Roll with the Punches”

Social studies educator Chris Pappadackis ’08 adopts an attitude of resiliency as he plans to teach eighth through 12th grade history classes during COVID-19. He appreciates how Bethel prepared him for such a time as this, especially as he attends graduate school as a James Madison Fellow.

By Katie Johnson ’19, content specialist

August 24, 2020 | 1 p.m.

Chris Pappadackis '08 and his family live in Willmar, Minnesota.

Chris Pappadackis '08 and his family live in Willmar, Minnesota.

“I can say for a fact that I did not plan to be teaching during a world pandemic,” Chris Pappadackis ’08 says—a little baffled, a little nervous, and definitely determined to make the best of the upcoming semester for his students. Pappadackis teaches social studies in the Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg (KMS) school district in Kerkhoven, Minnesota, and his classes range from eighth grade Global Studies to 12th grade American Civics—and everything in between. “We talk about pandemics during my Human Geography class, and every year I gloss over it because it’s never really going to happen. But now, we’re living it,” Pappadackis shakes his head. “We’re living it.” 

While Pappadackis never anticipated these global circumstances, he had always intended to help students wrestle with important ideas and come to their own conclusions. Some ideas are big concepts—like why the U.S. Constitution is important 200 years after it was written—and others are relevant to his students’ time and place—like the 2020 presidential election and now the COVID-19 pandemic. “My favorite part of my job is that I get to talk with young people every day about what’s going on the world and help them navigate through it all,” Pappadackis says. “I help students see both sides of the issues and allow them space to contemplate and make their own thoughts.” He also appreciates that his school district gives him the space to have these conversations with students without addressing a specific curriculum.

In an effort to deepen his own knowledge of the Constitution to better inform his classes, Pappadackis currently attends Ashland University in Ohio. He is Minnesota’s 2020 James Madison Fellow, which is a program that funds social studies educators who teach seventh through 12th grade students about the Constitution. “I feel honored to represent Minnesota as the 2020 James Madison recipient,” Pappadackis says. “I feel honored to represent Bethel University as an alum to be there, and obviously for my family and my school district as well.”

Pappadackis could have never predicted that he would’ve ended up teaching history in rural Minnesota during a pandemic—while attending graduate school—when he entered Bethel as a freshman about 15 years ago. As he reflects on his time at Bethel, Pappadackis acknowledges how much it has shaped him—from the classes he took as a social studies education major to the friends he made in his freshman dorm to the professors who clearly cared about him beyond the classroom.

“Every Bethel professor I had took the time to get to know each student in class. Maybe not on an extremely personal level, but you could tell that they genuinely cared about each and every student. I try to emulate that every single time I get a new group of students. I want that same relationship that they had.”

— Chris Pappadackis ‘08

Bethel equipped Pappadackis as an educator in multiple ways, helping him gain proficiency in classroom management and lesson planning while also shaping the way he cares for his students. He longs to see them grow from their eighth-grade selves to the seniors they become. Bethel has also shaped Pappadackis as a person. His freshman friends journeyed with him through his time at Bethel and beyond, and his professors supported him as his worldview widened through each class and conversation. “They helped me see that, even though I was a kid from Sioux City, Iowa, who was basically just a number in my graduating class coming to Bethel, that I was valuable—that my life was valuable,” Pappadackis says. 

Pappadackis also enjoyed seeing God in a different way than he was used to. His faith grew in tandem with his own personal development, and by the time he graduated from Bethel in the heart of the 2008 recession, he continued to trust God as he applied for over 100 teaching jobs in Minnesota, got married, and gradually started his family. God lead his family out of the Twin Cities and eventually to his position in the KMS school district.

With the 2020-21 school year right around the corner, Pappadackis continues to trust God and His timing. He doesn’t know what the academic year will shape into, but he’s preparing for as much as he can, knowing he might have to adapt quickly to changing circumstances. Last spring, Pappadackis was filled with anxiety as COVID-19 caused sweeping changes in his, his students’, and his family's lives. This year, his mantra is: “Laugh, smile, and roll with the punches.” However, his goals as a teacher remain the same: to help his students navigate what’s going on in the world and form their own opinions.

And while his task is daunting, there’s perhaps no one more suited for such an endeavor.

Study history at Bethel.

The B.A. in Social Studies Education 5-12 will prepare you for a career teaching history, government, and other social studies classes at the middle- or high-school level. It combines coursework in history and social sciences with pedagogical training from the Department of Education, concluding with a student teaching experience in an area school. You'll follow your passion for the past while honing skills valued by employers, including research, critical thinking, and communication. You'll also cultivate empathy, humility, comfort with complexity, and other traits that Christians need to live in the world without being fully of it.

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