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Teaching identities

Teaching identities

On May 13, 2022, Kate Cathey (Elementary Education, '22) graduated from Fort Lewis College, marking it her final day of school as a student and her first day as a professional teacher. Cathey is now in her first year as a Pre-K teacher at Needham Elementary in Durango. Her years-long academic accomplishments came full circle during the Teacher Education Department’s May 2021 Professional Exhibition, or PEX, when she presented a hula hoop.

In lieu of tri-folds or PowerPoint presentations, students in the Teacher Education Department are asked to consider more personal mediums to display their academic efforts.

“We implore student teachers to engage in active learning with their kids,” said William Camp, coordinator of field experiences in the Teacher Education Department. “We extend that pedagogical approach PEX.” 

"We want our students to not just accept but invent their identity as professionals.” William Camp, coordinator of field experiences in the Teacher Education Department."
— William Camp, coordinator of field experience for Teacher Education

Camp further explained that in the Teacher Education Department, all majors study four primary modalities of learning: print, kinesthetic, auditory, and visual. According to the holistic philosophy underscoring PEX, tri-folds only engage the print learning modality. The Teacher Education Department encourages students to find ways to demonstrate who they are as professionals through multiple modalities.

To engage these multiple modalities, PEX participants must explain their work, who they are as a teacher, and—more abstractly—who is the self that teaches. This process is done during a jam-packed, 30-minute exhibition where students use what the Teacher Education Department calls an “artifact” as a teaching intermediary and stands as evidence of their efforts. 

“The hula hoop I made represented the school year I shared with my students as a student teacher,” Cathey said. “Within the hoop, I strung a bunch of yarn in geometric patterns and beaded the names of each student in my class into those shapes. I also included mini posters of inside jokes and other memories I shared with my students.”

Cathey presented her hula hoop before a crowd of her friends, family, and colleagues. The process, she said, made her more aware of her own teaching philosophies.

“When creating my artifact, it made me reflect on the school year and the kind of teacher I want to be,” Cathey said. 

Cathey's hoop was one of many eclectic artifacts students showcased at PEX. From YouTube videos to poetry and musical performances, each artifact and presentation uniquely highlighted its creator.

A hand threading a needle through a pair a beaded moccasins.

“We want our students to not just accept but invent their identity as professionals,” Camp said. 

Tori Burch (Elementary Education, ‘21), a first descendant of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, spent three months crafting a pair of low-top, beaded moccasins for her artifact. 

“I related the process of putting together those moccasins to my time at FLC as a student in the Teacher Education Department,” Burch said. 

“Beading takes patience, perseverance, and grit. Each row of beads is a new start, just like each day as a teacher is a new start—a chance to start over, shake off the previous day, and solve the unexpected problems that arise before you finish.”

The meaning behind Burch’s moccasins goes deeper still. “I lost family members, contracted COVID-19, worked two jobs, moved into a new house, helped raise my nephews, and taught hours away in Towaoc, Colorado,” Burch said. “Every row on my moccasins symbolized each event that happened while I attended FLC.”

"Every row on my moccasins symbolized each event that happened while I attended FLC."
— Tori Burch (Elementary Education, '21)

Presenting her artifact at the Winter 2021 PEX, Burch felt a tremendous sense of pride for everything she did to earn her degree. She noted that PEX and her education at FLC prepared her for her role as an educator. 

“PEX was a unique, important chance for me to showcase my undergraduate career to my family, mentors, and professors,” said Burch, who is now in her second year of teaching in her home community at Ignacio Middle School. “That process was long and tedious but, in the end, it paid off. More than that, it was so special to be able to show everyone what was, and is, unique to me as a teacher.” 

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