#WhyIChoseEducation: ‘I Bring Compassion, Patience and Skillful Teaching to Each of the Classes I Teach,’ Says Associate Professor of Middle Grades Social Studies Education Candy Beal, Ed.D.

Candy Beal

This is part of a monthly “Why I Chose Education” series in which NC State College of Education alumni, students, faculty and staff share why they chose education.

As the child of an Air Force airman, Candy Beal, Ed.D., moved every three years. She attended six different schools in three different countries before graduating from high school. Her experiences in various school environments and around the world have influenced her teaching.

As a child, Beal says, she was an at-risk reader. It was through the use of Nancy Drew books that she was able to teach herself to read. The books were “high interest, low vocabulary and I just kept reading until I figured out how letters, sounds and words connected.” That experience inspired Beal to earn a master’s degree in reading education from Duke University before earning a doctorate in curriculum design with a focus on middle school from the NC State College of Education.

“In the 1950s, reading was taught using the Look-Say approach. You were never taught phonics, but rather looked at a memorized word and said what it was,” Beal said. “It was a failed teaching approach and many kids like me struggled to read.”

Beal landed her first teaching job in Durham County in 1968, which was the first year of integration. She had many kids in her seventh grade class who were reading on a second grade level. Because she could relate to their struggles and pain, she spent the entire year teaching her students social studies and language arts through their reading lessons.

For the past 24 years, Beal has been a part of the faculty at the NC State College of Education, where she leads and prepares middle school educators as an associate professor of middle grades social studies education. Her main focus is on development theory and application, as well as curriculum integration design and global education.

“I’ve stayed with middle school for 52 years and still believe early adolescents are the best group of children to teach. They don’t deserve the nasty stereotypes they have and I am determined to dispel these and teach my students just how lucky they are to have selected middle school to teach,” she said.

Her passion for middle school comes from her own experiences. Her best school years were when she was a middle school student in Oslo, Norway. Her Air Force school was a German war barrack and her teacher “believed that if you worked really hard in the morning, you could go out to nature in the afternoon.” In the fall and spring, they would play softball and in the winter they would go skiing. Beal says it was the most wonderful three years.

“The same kids, the same teacher and everyone belonged in a great, supportive and secure learning environment. It was what middle school should be for everyone,” she said.

Because she moved around so much at a young age, Beal says she was never able to have much. Her family never took much with them from base to base, which sparked her love of collecting things. She’s an avid collector who takes comfort and finds a sense of security in surrounding herself with things she’s collected over time.

She started collecting clocks (13) then antiques — she once owned a sleigh — then moved to Royal Doulton figurines (800), and has recently added Norwegian rosemaling bowls and plates to her ever-growing collection. Her friends refer to her home fondly as the Beal Museum.

Beal shares why she chose the NC State College of Education, what she enjoys most about being in the college, how education has shaped her, and what others should know about the college.

Why I Chose the NC State College of Education: I chose the very best, the NC State College of Education, and that is in light of some pretty good schools that came before NC State. I knew of the college by reputation and selected the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction because of Dr. John Arnold. He is one of the founding fathers of middle grades education. He is a brilliant educator, gifted curriculum designer and above all, practices humane education, always believing in each and every student and their promise for success.

While taking courses, I was fortunate to have Dr. Carol Pope, another incredibly gifted professor and sterling human being. She is responsible for much of the research we have done regarding how early adolescents learn English Language Arts (ELA), especially when reading novels. “The Outsiders” was a decade-long project we did together with our own students and the seventh graders at Centennial Campus Middle School (CCMS). Both Carol Pope and John Arnold were founders of CCMS.

Another project that I did, this time with Dr. Lisa Grable, was a wetlands project with eighth graders at CCMS. It was a curriculum integration and they used ELA, social studies, science and math to study an issue in a local wetland. The project culminated with the entire eighth grade riding the “cheese wagons” over to the campus to present their findings about wetlands. The Spell of the Land was a prestigious conference hosted by NC State’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the topic was “Use of Space, Sense of Place.” The findings they reported (skit, mural, reports and photos of the wetland that were accompanied by Handel’s Water Music) were greeted with applause from the chancellor, deans and Raleigh’s city leaders. It showed these kids and the community the promise of early adolescents, and the students did not disappoint.

Finally, the College of Education enabled me to mount a massive curriculum integration project that involved 5,000 middle grades students and teachers and their study of Russia and global education. Partnering with the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, we took 18 MSL [middle grades English Language Arts and social studies education] undergraduates, graduate students and teachers to Pskov, Russia, to ask and research 300 questions about Russia that were posed by the home-based middle grades teams — those 5,000 students. I developed a two-week unit on Russia that teachers taught while we were gone and as each of the students’ questions about Russia were answered, they were sent back and added to the unit the teacher was teaching.

When the NC State traveling team returned to Raleigh, we partnered with Natalie Bates, a dynamite teacher at Dillard Drive Middle School, who hosted a Global Connections Conference. Many of the home-based kids brought their projects and shared them with their student colleagues. Results? Curriculum integration offered a new way to connect the subjects everyone was studying and enabled a new appreciation and understanding of the importance of countries other than the United States. Grades went up, attendance improved and social studies became students’ new favorite subject. Music to the ears of an undergraduate government major!

What I Enjoy Most About the NC State College of Education: The College of Education allows me to teach my own way. I bring compassion, patience and skillful teaching to each of the classes I teach. I am well-schooled in middle grades education, thanks to Drs. Carol Pope and John Arnold. Dr. Sam Snyder taught me all there is to know about development theory and I have taken that to inform my practice both with my own students, and also in helping them understand how to apply development theories when they teach their own middle grades classes. I do a project that involves the N.C. Museum of Art, a Great Raleigh Trolley Adventure and a tour of Oakwood Cemetery. All of these places enable us to look at who kids are, where they live and how our cultures and histories are intertwined. We study the removal of the monuments and how taking them down is only the first step. Dealing with the 400 years of social injustice needs to come next. Addressing that and how you live your life as an anti-racist individual and educator is one of our most important tasks.

How Education Has Shaped Me: Education has helped me realize that even the most at-risk can be successful. It takes patience, compassion, empathy and the Jimmy V “Never Give Up” attitude. No child comes to school hoping to fail and no teacher should allow a child to fail.

We are all trying to answer life’s two questions: ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What is my place in the world?’ Everyone is on a different continuum for their development. Dewey said to look at each child for what that child brings to your classroom and then craft the curriculum to fit the child. Spit-back tests and a test to the death mentality/approach will never be successful. Teachers with great compassion and skill can reach any student, but they need resources and support. I believe in my students, just as Carol [Pope] and John [Arnold] believed in me, and seek to do whatever I can to support each and every student I teach. Teachers must walk a mile in their students’ shoes.

What Others Should Know About the College of Education: Students should know that the Student Success and Advising Center is one of the most extraordinary and supportive places in the college. Amanda Beller [interim director of advising] works with the students in our program, MSL [middle grades English Language Arts and social studies education], and no one can match her advising skills, dedication and compassion for our students. Mary Martin in the dean’s office can answer any question you might have and goes out of her way to help with small and large problems. Anona Smith Williams, Ed.D., [Associate Dean for Student Success and Strategic Community Engagement] has a dedication to students and faculty that is matched by no one. The list goes on, but students should know that everyone in the College of Education goes the extra mile to help and support their journey. This is especially important in the time of COVID-19.

The Last Thing I Experienced that Inspired Me: Some may think this is a cheesy answer, but for me, it’s always my students. They inspire me. They go the extra mile to help one another, connect on Zoom and share some of their stories, and I find our students to be brave and resourceful. I have confidence they will persevere through this horrible virus. I love and respect them, and will always support them because for me, they are the very best thing about the College of Education.