Profile Nicole Vickerman
Nicole completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Texas, at Austin. She wanted to be a history teacher, but when she did her student teaching she was assigned to teach world geography. Initially, she was not happy with the assignment, but as soon as she got into that classroom, it just clicked for her and it has been something that she has loved ever since. So she has taught world geography at the same school for her entire career. She even went to Clark High School as a student. She was hired by one of her former teachers who was someone she wanted to emulate. She says, “He had always been somebody who was really exciting in the classroom and always had very active lessons and was always challenging and so that was the kind of teacher that I wanted to be.” After teaching for several years, she went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of North Texas at Denton.
Nicole is the World Geography Team Leader at Clark High School. She teaches World Geography, Pre AP/IB World Geography, and online World Geography.
Nicole learned quickly that even though she had some background in the subject matter and strategies needed to teach world geography, she needed much more. So, she spends a lot of time participating in professional conferences and workshops. She makes constant improvement one of her goals. As a result, she is active in professional organizations at the local, state, and national level. She is involved in the local council for the social studies, which she views as a network of teachers keeping each other informed on everything from legislation affecting education to new brain research. She has attended and presented at the Texas Council for the Social Studies, the National Council for Geographic Education, and the National Council for the Social Studies. She also takes advantage of professional development opportunities and publications offered by these organizations. In addition, she is active in the Texas Geography Alliance which offers opportunities for student and teacher growth and in the World Affairs Council. Because of her relationship with the World Affairs Council, she runs a Junior World Affairs Council club which allows her to support students from the school who have an interest in current events and international topics.
Nicole views the lessons she designs as two pieces of a puzzle that must fit together. There is the content that must be covered and there are the strategies that are used to help students gain a genuine understanding of that content. She admits that when she first started teaching she would use direct instruction. As a new teacher she wanted to be sure to say everything that the students needed to know. “I was sort of more worried about me getting the information out and then sort of expecting them to make meaning out of it and learn it.” Nicole now describes her approach to teaching quite differently. “I definitely think that the single most important thing is to have the students play the primary role in their learning. And that may be them reading and writing but I think discussion is also really important. If they can explain something to each other then you know that there is genuine understanding there. I was involved in a professional development situation and the leader said something that just really clicked with me and that was--only the student can create meaning for themselves. If you explain something they’re still only getting that at the level of sort of understanding it. They have to work through it, do something with it before they get genuine meaning. And so always in lessons I am trying to make that happen.”