We spoke to Dan Cropper, a geography teacher at The Fallibroome Academy, located just outside of Macclesfield in the north of the UK. Dan studied Geography at the University of Manchester and completed his PGCE at Manchester Metropolitan University.
How did you first get into geography?
“I enjoyed Geography lessons at school and found that I seemed to do well at it so continued with at GCSE and then A-Level. I really enjoyed learning about different places around the world but also the fact that, particularly when it comes to human and environmental geography, the discipline seemed to be based around the desire to improve the world we live in for all. A classic subject rivalry at school is between Geography and History (both are fantastic subjects) and I found myself preferring the fact that Geography looks to the future whereas History looks to the past (though I definitely acknowledge how important it is to learn from the past!).”
What area of geography do you find the most interesting?
Do your friends see you as an expert when country questions come up in pub quizzes?
“I imagine that a lot of the onus would be put on me, yes. But some of my friends could certainly contribute too. I do enjoy questions about countries, capitals and flags but I definitely don’t know everything. African and Asian countries are my weakness.”
What made you decide to study geography in Manchester?
“As I said, I enjoyed Geography at school and did well at it so chose that as my subject at university. I chose Manchester simply because I got an amazing vibe when I was there. Wasn’t anything to do with the course or stuff like that – I knew that it would be great at a university as esteemed as that – so I just went on how I felt there during the open day. The fact that I support Manchester United and love music also helped. The music scene in Manchester was a big pull.”
Did you have a lot of options with your course or was it quite rigid?
“The first year was pretty rigid in that we had to do a range of modules across the discipline. However, beyond that, we could choose from a good range of modules in the second and third year, as well as choose the location for the second-year field trip we went on and our dissertation title. I went to the Czech Republic (which was my second choice after New York) and had a brilliant time. I think that other people went to Cuba, Crete, possibly Morocco and Ireland.”
Would you ever like to go back and continue your studies in Geography?
“I did consider doing a masters in something related to Geography after my degree and before my teacher training, but mainly for the sole purpose of making myself more employable. The one issue with a Geography degree, in my humble opinion, is that, because it is so broad and gives you such an array of different skills, you leave not necessarily being tailored for a specific job. When potential employers are looking for experience in a specific field during an interview, that can be a little problematic.”
How did your teacher training prepare you for your current job?
“Quite simply, without it, my first year in the job would have been incredibly difficult. I took the School Direct PGCE route which I felt was right for me because you spend more time in schools learning the trade so-to-speak, rather than in university. It gave me experience in so many aspects of the job that was invaluable when you are left on your own, in your own classroom, with your own classes for the first time in the NQT year.”
In your current role as a geography teacher, do you get to take your class on many trips?
“We don’t do trips with our Key Stage 3 classes (Year 7 to 9) but, after that, there is a trip with each year. We mainly stay domestic but there is a chance to go to Iceland with the Year 11s, which I managed to get on last year and will be going again in October. It is my favourite country, a geographer’s dream I always say, so that is very special.”
What’s the most rewarding thing about teaching geography?
“Apart from getting to go to Iceland(!!), I would say the most rewarding thing is helping the students to realise that there is a world out there, beyond their little bubbles. Geography helps us to develop an appreciation and understanding of different people, places, cultures and environments so that we become much more open-minded towards them; more empathetic and accepting. What made me want to teach Geography in the first place was the desire to help others reach that point.”
Finally, what advice would you give to any student about to start a geography course at university?
“Give everything a go before you decide what aspect of the discipline you perhaps want to home in on. Don’t rule something out because you find it difficult – if you actually work harder at that particular aspect, you may find yourself actually enjoying it. Make sure you go on any trips because they invariably are the most memorable parts of the course. Finally, pick a dissertation topic that you have at least an interest in. It is a unique opportunity to put your stamp on the discipline; but also a huge piece of work that you will spend HOURS on, so make sure you choose wisely!”