Stephen F. Austin State University

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SFA's Early Childhood Lab teachers reflect on beginnings as student workers

October 16, 2017 - University Marketing Communications
Several current teachers in Stephen F. Austin State University's Early Childhood Lab began their careers with the lab as student teachers while in the elementary education program at SFA. Pictured, from left, are Dr. Lori Harkness, director; Karen Farris, pre-kindergarten I master teacher; Emily Tacquard, pre-kindergarten II master teacher; and Tammy Wall, infant teacher.
NACOGDOCHES, Texas - The student has become the teacher. This statement is true for several of the current teachers who work in Stephen F. Austin State University's Early Childhood Lab.

Dr. Lori Harkness, director; Karen Farris, pre-kindergarten I master teacher; Tammy Wall, infant teacher; Emily Tacquard, pre-kindergarten II master teacher; Rebecca Gatwood, infant teacher; and Falynn Monk, pre-kindergarten II teacher; all began their careers with the lab as student teachers while in the elementary education program at SFA.

Through this program, SFA students participate in clinical/student teaching at various schools, including the ECHL in the Janice A. Pattillo Early Childhood Research Center, to gain experience in the classroom. Harkness began as a student worker and has been with the lab for 22 years.

"This history and devotion to the ECHL program is one that I have grown to love. It is a part of who I am," Harkness said. "The opportunity to have teachers who share that history and dedication to the ECHL is invaluable. We are not only professionals, we are family."

For 32 years, Farris has been a part of the ECHL family. She began as a student teacher in the infant room while enrolled in a practicum course.

"I remember walking into the ECHL for the first time; I fell in love with everything about it," Farris said. "I grabbed a brochure and said, 'This is where I want to work!'"

Since graduating SFA in 1987, Farris has held many roles in the lab and has been in her current teaching position since 1999. She also teaches university students in an early childhood practicum course.

"I have now taught adults whom I once taught as infants, toddlers and preschoolers. I also have taught their children and feel so honored. I have had several teacher assistants in my classroom whom I once had as students," Farris said. "I can pick 'my babies' out of a crowd - it is in their eyes and smile. I remember what each child was like and picturing things they did and said still makes me laugh."

Likewise, Wall observed the lab classes as an SFA student and was a student teacher for two years, where she worked in all the lab's rooms.

"I was so amazed by how the children learned through play. I was learning this in my education classes, but seeing it was awesome," Wall said. "The amazing teachers whom I worked under were great mentors. It was fascinating watching the children as they worked in the learning centers."

Wall has been with the lab 18 years and said it is an honor to see SFA students taking the same path she once did.

For 12 years, Tacquard has been involved with the ECHL. As an undergraduate at SFA, she was a teacher's assistant in the lab and worked in the toddler II and pre-kindergarten II rooms.

"Being a teacher's assistant was wonderful. This is where I learned everything I know today about how to be a good teacher," Tacquard said. "My mentor teachers taught me everything I know. Practicing all the theories we learned in class was amazing."

Because of her experience, Tacquard said she understands how important teaching assistants are and can better relate to current assistants and students.

"I probably have very high standards for the college students because I know how much they can get out of this job and how much it is worth," Tacquard said.

Since August 2011, Tacquard has been the pre-kindergarten II master teacher and said her favorite aspect is building relationships with the children in her classes.

"It is so hard to watch them go, but I always fall in love with the new bunch of kids I get. I also try to stay in touch with the families and keep up with how my kids are doing," Tacquard said. "It also is important to me to build strong bonds with the entire family, not just the child. We are a classroom and school family, and it is important that this includes everyone."

The ECHL is a facility maintained for the education of SFA students who are preparing to work with children and their families. The lab is part of SFA's Department of Elementary Education, but it is available to university students in early childhood education and human sciences child development courses.

Each fall and spring semester, more than 2,000 college students use the lab for observation, participation and other educational purposes. The program is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

For more information, visit http://www.sfasu.edu/echl/.