Filling the Missing Piece: A Conversation With Teacher Educator Kathleen Tate

Currently Program Director of the M.Ed. in Teaching and Associate Professor in the School of Education for the American Public University System, Dr. Kathleen Tate has been a teacher educator for nearly a decade. While developing her research agenda, she realized that something was missing from teacher training programs, and her search for the missing piece led her to IHE and humane education. Here's our conversation with Kathleen:

IHE: Why did you become a teacher?

I watched the television show The Paper Chase when I was a child and was fascinated by the Harvard law professor on the show -- not by his intensity, but by the position of teaching others. As a third grader, I claimed I wanted to be a professor one day, though, at that age I really did not completely understand what that meant.

Later in high school, I decided I wanted to be an elementary French teacher.  My parents actually dissuaded me from pursuing teaching and demanded I major in business or engineering in college like my brothers. I attended the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, and did not make it through the Top 10 business school’s pre-business classes too well.

Long story short, I graduated with a liberal arts degree, worked corporate in Houston for a while and then returned to UT on my own dime to pursue teacher certification. I ended up acquiring Texas lifetime licensure in 1st-8th grade Elementary Education; 1st-8th grade Theatre Arts Education; and PK-12th Special Education. I also completed courses for visual impairment certification and a master’s degree in Special Education. My father had severe disabilities, and I was drawn to special education because of it. After completing special education field experiences, I knew I loved working with children and especially children who need accommodations.

It is ironic that I seemed to go full circle after teaching and become a professor as I first dreamt about as a third grader! I realized I absolutely love helping students of all ages strive to reach their learning potential.

IHE: You've been a teacher educator for many years. You've said before that you felt "there was a piece missing" and that humane education was that piece. What led you to humane education (and IHE), and why do you think it's such an essential element of education?

As a professor/teacher educator, I knew I valued the arts and arts-based instruction. To meet the diverse needs of individual learners, I also knew they need variety and varied pathways for learning and expressing understanding. Though I feel I am an expert at making learning fun, relevant, and rigorous for all students, I have always felt there was a larger purpose.

I was initially exposed to Susan Kovalik’s Integrated Thematic Instruction (ITI) model in the 1990's as a teacher in Austin and revisited Kovalik’s later work during my Ph.D. program at Florida State University. Kovalik espouses integrated, thematic instruction that involves responsible citizenship. The notion of elevating curriculum and instruction to extend beyond school walls impacted me.

When I had the opportunity to revamp and bring an undergraduate arts methods course back to the College of Education at the University of West Georgia, it finally started clicking. I knew I had to prepare teacher candidates with more purposeful lesson planning with the arts and across content areas in the thematic, integrated manner I advocate.

In early 2008, as I searched online for the missing piece, I came across IHE's website. Every explanation on the website made sense to me and seemed to provide the missing piece I had been seeking. I liked that IHE focuses on the three major areas of animals, environment, and people, and that the goal is to involve all ages of people in making the world better for all. I cannot fathom how educational settings could ignore this call to be more informed, caring, and transformative. When teachers can connect instruction to a larger picture and allow students to take action in meaningful ways, curriculum comes to life. My preference is that this is done through integrating the arts with other areas of the curriculum. My passion is helping educators in this quest. 

IHE: Once you discovered humane education, you began incorporating it into your teacher education courses. Tell us about that. What did you do and how?

I approach methods courses thinking about theory and practice. I want students to understand national and state expectations in conjunction with solid research and theory; and how all of that should inform practice. My college courses include vivid PowerPoints, planning activities, discussions, hands-on activities, and modeling. I bring in thematic materials and literally run students through an elementary classroom lesson simulation so that we can discuss it through the eyes of both children and teachers. We discuss how the modeled lesson relates to theory/research.

As one example of how to model humane education, I decided to integrate a 5th grade economics, language arts, visual arts, and theatre arts curriculum. I explained to my students that I wanted to model an issue that might be more controversial, as I believed it would serve them better. So, I focused on the issue of  factory farming. Specifically, we examined National Chicken Month (in September) and the horrors of eggs and the chicken industry.

To address economics standards, this issue was viewed in terms of factors of production, limited resources, and the function of business in producing goods and services (e.g.,  Who decides what will be produced? What factors of production will be used and how?). By reading a brochure from [the advocacy group] Compassion over Killing, the lesson simulation had the students identify main and supporting ideas about the topic in groups and create an artistic graphic organizer that: (1) identified main and supporting details (language arts) and (2) used symbolic images to produce images with richer meaning (visual arts).

To set up this work, I began with a discussion of the subject area standards, an economics overview, review of main/supporting idea strategies, and an overview of humane education. I began the lesson simulation asking students to recall what they have viewed about humane education on the course's website. Using a plethora of humane education-focused décor, posters, and resources, I put students into groups and had them brainstorm issues for one of the categories of Animals, Environment, and People, which we wrote on a big whiteboard. I showed and skimmed through a few children's books focused on these issues, such as Mungo’s World Tour: The Exciting Adventures of Mungo, Lemmy, and Albert Ross by Rae Lambert and We Dream of a World…by the Gifted and Talented Students of Pershing Accelerated School in University City, Missouri.

We again added humane issues to the board that were not thought of during brainstorming. Since so many of the students teach in PreK, K, and 1st grade classes, I also shared Our Class is Going Green, which was written and illustrated by kindergarten students of the Oak Park Elementary School in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.  We discussed which issues on the board were age appropriate for lower, middle, and upper elementary grades. I then introduced National Chicken Month and the brochures and they went through the lesson simulation activities. I shared a variety of egg cartons so they could analyze the labels and discuss the validity of them. They shared their artistic organizers and main/supporting details about the topic.

For the second part of the lesson simulation, I introduced creative drama and tableaux (frozen pantomime “photos”) definitions. In their groups, they planned and then shared a tableaux that conveyed one of the main or supporting ideas from the brochure. We closed by discussing how the issue fit into the business and production questions. We discussed how after the modeling, their students would choose an issue they are passionate about and in small groups would research the issue and make an action plan from there.

I feel this kind of in-class simulation prepares preservice teachers to plan and teach their own humane education lesson plans in the elementary schools. Throughout the rest of the semester, I make sure to continually relate our course work to humane education.

IHE: How have your students reacted to humane education? Have you found that they're integrating it into their own teaching once they're in their own schools?

Initially, in the fall semester 2008 when I began teaching this way, there was a permeating sense of resistance from my students. I was surprised.  I assumed those training to be teachers would be readily empathetic and open. Although discouraged overall, I stuck with my beliefs. Fortunately, the presidential campaign at the time coupled with increased media attention to “green” efforts seemed to result in a very different reception to humane education in spring 2009. Also, I made sure to reflect upon my delivery of the material. I found that as I tweaked nuances, the spirit of humane education was better received.

Over time, I also introduced humane education as something that everyone should consider regardless of their belief systems. From a social studies perspective, for example, we can argue that schools should prepare literate citizens. Since citizens have the power to vote, they need to be aware of and “literate” about issues that relate to people, environment, and animals. I feel that by framing the course in this way, it helped every student relate in some way from the onset. Over the last couple of years, “green” children’s books have increased significantly, which also helped engage my students. This increase of resources also helped my students more easily plan humane education lessons for their field experiences in the local elementary schools. 

IHE: You recently wrote an article (that was published in Teacher Education and Practice) detailing your experiences integrating humane education into your undergraduate and graduate education training courses. Tell us some of what you've learned and what you recommend for other teacher educators.

Focusing on humane education is in alignment with views from the current body of teacher education literature, which calls for the preparation of globally competent teachers. Education cannot continue to teach children in a vacuum, where the learning of facts and skills is done in isolated, non-thematic, impersonal, and meaningless ways. Teachers must be more informed of the global landscape and prepare children who become more responsible and socially responsible citizens. Global borders are diminishing and people in our society can no longer view issues that seem distant or unrelated as not pertaining to them. The world is rapidly becoming more interconnected and we must take care of all of it in the most compassionate ways possible. Teacher educators must consider these notions. Humane education does not have to be a part of every single college course, but it can be easily integrated into reading, language arts, science, social studies, fine arts, and physical education methods courses. Humane education can also be a part of courses that focus on diversity, classroom management, and curriculum. I strongly recommend that teacher preparation programs include humane education in ways that emphasize incorporating it into lesson planning across subject areas and exploring theories and educational philosophies that support it.

IHE: Future plans/dreams/projects?

Future plans? I hope to write children’s books with humane education as the focus. Also, in the future, I also want to develop mixed methods longitudinal studies to attempt to (1) measure humane education impact in terms of three variables: student motivation, engagement, and achievement; (2) look at correlations between society benefits and motivation vis-à-vis society benefits and achievement; and (3) examine particular methodologies in K-12 classrooms that lend themselves to teaching humane education.

Dreams? My dream is to build, run, and/or fund my own animal sanctuary one day. I do not currently have the prerequisite skills to do this; but, it is my dream.

Projects? I conducted a research study and gathered data in the late spring on most of the students I taught humane education to from 2008-2011. The study is titled "Preservice Teachers’ Attitudes toward Humane Education: A Mixed Methods Study." I am currently analyzing the data and look forward to sharing, publishing, and disseminating the findings of the study. I think it is important to build the body of literature in this area.

IHE: What advice would you give to a teacher educator who is hesitant to introduce humane education into the curriculum?

I would suggest researching humane education through IHE's website and relating it to theory and the body of teacher education literature that pertains to social and civic responsibility and the need to prepare globally competent teachers. I suggest gathering resources as well (e.g., online websites, online videos, photos, magazine and newspaper articles, and children’s books). 

Then, it is important to be knowledgeable about relevant state character education standards. Interestingly, it seems a lot of states’ character education standards are not known or discussed in teacher education programs. From there, it is easy to relate humane education topics to your content area standards (e.g., social studies, science, language arts, math, health, and the arts). I recommend developing just one day in a semester devoted to humane education in the course and building from there.

Most important, humane education is action-oriented. Incorporating humane education as lecture only without an application or action component would likely be ineffective. Finally, I would advise professors to collaborate within teacher education programs to develop threads of humane education throughout courses at the entry, mid-point, and end-points of the program. That kind of integration would be more effective than one-shot experiences.

I think teacher educators should also understand that the notion of being socially responsible is not a fad or a new notion. There are centuries of philosophers, theorists, and citizens who have advocated for this kind of active society. It is just that now, with technological advancements and globalization, there is no excuse to be ignorant or complacent.

IHE: What advice would you give to a teacher educator who is enthusiastic about integrating humane education into the curriculum but is finding resistance from fellow educators and administrators?

I suggest that teacher educators who are enthusiastic, but finding resistance, stand firm in their beliefs. My first semester of teaching five sections of a course where I integrated humane education did not go as stellarly as I had hoped. But, it still went well overall. Despite some resistance, a lot of my students did rise to the occasion and helped make a difference locally and beyond, while helping to shift their own teaching direction and possibly the mindsets of the students they taught in the elementary schools.

Though my colleagues did not seem ready to incorporate humane education into their teaching, they were very supportive of what I was doing. I believe it would be difficult to be opposed to helping animals, children, and the environment! As momentum grew, excitement grew within and across my courses. So, it does take time and people should stick with it. It is worth it!

~ Marsha

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