Teaching beyond books, educator earns high marks
Posted: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 8:01 pm
By MIKE JAMES
CANNONSBURG, Ky. (AP) — Piano jazz tinkled in the background, a counterpoint to the buzz of children cutting, gluing and painting at a cluttered table.
Their raw materials were pop cans, two-liter plastic bottles, sticks and nutshells. Cut up, glued together and decorated with paint, the recycled containers became forest animals, airplanes and artifacts straight out of their latest reading assignment.
In fact, making things out of found materials was straight out of the same novel, “Hatchet,” about a boy stranded in the wilderness and forced to survive using his ingenuity and whatever he can find around him.
Putting into practice what they have read is second nature by now to students in Deidre Patton’s gifted and talented class at Cannonsburg Elementary School. “She helps us read a book and then we discuss it and do all kinds of projects,” said Mollie Blevins, one of Patton’s students.
“You never know what’s going to happen in the Creative Thinking Lab,” Patton said. That’s her name for the seemingly chaotic workshop, in which children learn by doing.
Creative thinking is at the core of teaching in a gifted and talented program, and it is the essence of Patton’s teaching style. “She is the most talented person. She’s always up, always has new ideas. She brings out the best in kids in everything she does,” said Flecia Moore, a speech therapist at Cannonsburg who has taught alongside Patton for 25 years or more.
It helps explain why Patton is one of three teachers selected this year for the Gov. Louie B. Nunn Kentucky Teacher Hall of Fame. Chosen by a statewide selection committee, Patton will be inducted March 1 at the State Capitol in Frankfort.
A Hazard native who grew up in Hindman, Patton has been teaching for 28 years. Her first brush with gifted and talented classes was the one she piloted in Knott County in the early 1980s. She came to Boyd County to teach third and fourth grade in 1988, was gifted and talented teacher until 1999 and since then has been gifted and talented coordinator for the district.
Currently she works mostly with fourth- and fifth-graders who have been identified as gifted and talented, and also younger children in the primary grades who show the potential to be high-end learners.
If there is a secret to her success as a teacher, it might be that Patton remains a student as well. “You have to be learning beside your students.
That’s what it takes to remain committed and enthusiastic not sitting down at your desk but beside them,” she said.
That is why during the Creative Thinking Lab session, Patton never sat down once, much less retreated to her own desk. Instead, she remained in constant motion, finding paintbrushes, helping to cut the more stubborn bits of plastic, suggesting glue techniques and directing cleanup.
Also constant during the session was her dialogue with the children. “You’ve got to know your students. The relationship with students is critical,” she said. Patton is not satisfied unless she knows what makes each child tick academically, socially and emotionally.
One thing she learned early on in her career is that creative learning is the most satisfying and productive kind. “These are the experiences they’ll remember and pass on,” she said, looking around her at the plastic-bottle airplanes, the soda-can skunk, the three tiny mice made from nutshells and pop-can tabs.
Colleagues can depend on her to work together, according to Beverly Carr, who taught with Patton until retiring in 2008. “She does so many collaborative things … She is constantly working with other teachers,” Carr said.
The Kentucky Teacher Hall of Fame was established in 2000 through a gift from the former governor. The first inductees were chosen in 2008 and new members are chosen each year.
The hall of fame is based at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green.
Published in The Messenger 1.5.11