Linda Sue Warner (Comanche) understands teacher education and leadership at all levels. Launching her career as an elementary school teacher, she went on to teach high school English and serve as a principal. She eventually transitioned into higher education, taking appointments as an assistant professor at the University of Kansas and director of the American Indian Leadership Program at Penn State. However, it was her leadership roles at Haskell Indian Nations University and Comanche Nation College that put her on the map as a renowned and respected tribal college educator and administer. TCJ caught up with Dr. Warner, who offered these words of wisdom on teacher education programming at tribal colleges.
Can you tell us a little bit about your tribal college experience as an educator and leader?
In my career, which began as a second grade teacher and ultimately included teaching at every level, as well as administrating programs at all levels, I found the most positive experience was at a tribal college. I served on the college council for the Comanche Nation College for eight years and it was the most collegial and professional experience I had. I had the opportunity to work with an amazing group of fellow council members who, I believed, cherished the goals and objectives of Comanche Nation College. Each of us had varied experiences in higher education and sharing perspectives and learning from each other produced a solid platform for the college.
As an administrator, I had the opportunity to work in a multi-tribal school where we used the following excerpt from the “Great Law”—modified by permission—to describe our work. I also used this when I hired a new teacher. I asked the prospective teacher to read and reflect on the philosophy and to be absolutely sure that they agreed, because if they did not, then it would not be a good fit at our school. The philosophy is summarized as follows:
As teachers, we are mentors of our students for all time.
We labor to stand against anger, sadness, criticism, and defeat.
Our hearts shall be full of peace and our minds filled with an urgency for the welfare of our students.
With endless patience, we embrace our duty.
Our firmness shall be tempered with tenderness.
Our words and actions shall be marked by calm deliberation.
Why are teacher education programs at tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) so important?
Teaching is a moral enterprise. The profession requires that we send the best students into the field to work with tribal youth. To do this effectively, it is important to introduce opportunities that allow students to grow, or to opt out if they find that they do not enjoy teaching. Teaching is hard work; it is not for the faint-hearted or the individual who believes that it means they get summers off each year.
What do you see as the greatest challenges for tribal college students in teacher education programs?
One of the most significant challenges is understanding that the way students learn may be changing significantly. By that I mean that students have an awareness and understanding of mobile technology that most teachers do not have, moving student learning platforms to different dimensions than traditional teaching platforms that emphasize paper and pencil responses.
Many graduates from teacher education programs have difficulty passing state credentialing exams. How can this situation be improved?
I am not sure that “many graduates” do, in fact, have difficulty as I have not seen any data that would support this assentation. However, if graduates from teacher education programs cannot pass state credentialing examinations, then I would suggest that is a reflection on quality of delivery experienced in those programs. There are professional organizations and state agencies which certify teacher education programs and if review by the appropriate agency is in place, then I would guess that the programs are delivered to assure the knowledge and skills needed to pass state licensing examinations. The last time I took state tests to be credentialed, it required that I have a basic understanding of grammar and mathematics, as well as an understanding of teaching methods.
Tribal colleges have a unique cultural mission. How can TCU administrators ensure that culture is integrated into teacher education programs?
I am confident that TCU administrators who are based on tribal land are already doing this because it is integral to their mission and vision.