Viola Cohen

Email: viola-cohen@news.ok.ubc.ca


 

IT WAS A FEW DECADES AGO, but Dr. Margaret Macintyre Latta remembers the moment like it was yesterday. It was her first day of teaching and she was standing outside the small rural school in Blackie, Alberta, about to head towards the playground to supervise the children. She suddenly heard a gruff voice from behind her say, ”Here, you’re going to need these.”

She gives a small chuckle and continues, “It was the caretaker and he was handing me a pair of gumboots. I was wearing stilettos and was about to walk out onto a field covered in gopher holes and mud. He was right, I needed those!”

The school was kindergarten to grade nine, and Dr. Macintyre Latta was teaching language arts for grades eight and nine, and art for the entire school.

“It was a really interesting place to begin teaching. It was a very caring community, taking much pride in its youth and families. I found myself thinking that I was pretty good at being a teacher, but that was soon challenged!”

After several years at Blackie School, Dr. Macintyre Latta took a position at an urban high school in nearby Calgary, with larger class sizes and less than keen students.

It was in that setting she realized there was a lot more to teaching than what she had found so far. The next few years were difficult, but also rewarding as she emphasized relationship building and learning. She found she had to work hard at those opportunities in a school that was dealing with many inequities.

“I started questioning, ‘how can we think about the profession of teaching differently? How do we invest in the profession differently? How do we help people see the importance and responsibility of the work that’s being done?’”

“It was during this that I started questioning, ‘how can we think about the profession of teaching differently? How do we invest in the profession differently? How do we help people see the importance and responsibility of the work that’s being done?’ Content means very little without contact. In other words, the subject needs to matter to learners and learning,” she says. “I knew what happens in classrooms matters—now, and for the future.”

She began her advocacy by speaking to community members about being a teacher. These experiences pushed her to pursue her master’s degree.

The search for a fitting language of teaching

“When I returned to graduate school, it was to find a language for something I thought was really important, and that search is something I can trace back to my high school days.”

Throughout high school, Dr. Macintyre Latta had art classes with teachers who were practicing artists; one was renowned artist Carole Sabiston, who often involved her students in her collaborative fabric designs.

“I realized I was doing some important thinking in my art classes. I could deliberate, discern, work with materials, and rethink ideas. I loved it. Then, in more academic classes, I longed for this type of thinking. I realized this again as I was teaching and creating what felt like rich substantive learning in my arts classrooms, but in the English classroom, the predetermined curriculum hindered such student engagement.”

Dr. Macintyre Latta felt disheartened by this practice of delivering curriculum to her students in order for them to regurgitate the ideas back. She knew her students were missing what would awaken their passions and interests, as well as the development of learning.

Her master’s dissertation followed an Alberta College of Art instructor and documented the personal practical knowledge she brought to her teaching practices daily, and how much that philosophical stance revealed the instructor’s artistic and educator identity.

Dr. Margaret Macintyre Latta

Dr. Margaret Macintyre Latta.

Following the completion of her master’s, Dr. Macintyre Latta began teaching at the University of Calgary in the Department of Art and Art History. “I really liked the experience of teaching at the university level and the intersection of arts and education, so I applied to do my doctorate. I loved being a student and I wasn’t completely satisfied with what I understood about the language I needed for re-thinking teaching.”

Her PhD dissertation (and later book), The Possibilities of Play in the Classroom: On the Power of Aesthetic Experience in Teaching, Learning, and Researching, documented three teachers and 26 students at a middle school that had been organized to be arts orientated and cross-disciplinary.

“I looked at how teachers organized their classrooms, co-planned and adapted, and I watched as their ideas unfolded throughout the year. It was an opportunity to delve into the lived embodiment of these ideas that were already important to me. I drew on the idea of play, because while play is often associated with children, it’s also the play of ideas, and time and space to actually navigate, and play with, multiple ideas.

“Such play entails challenging values, assumptions and beliefs, as well as investing in personal agency. Essentially, a separate self is detached from the circumstances in which learning develops; a connected self is invested in the re-making of self—creating personal meanings and connections.” Through this research, she gained language to make learner and learning processes visible and tangible.

Shaping the scholar-practitionera student of learners and learning

Following many years at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the College of Education and Human Sciences, Dr. Macintyre Latta joined UBC Okanagan in 2013 and moved through several positions before becoming the Okanagan School of Education’s Director in 2019.

Her office walls are lined with shelves stocked full of books, and framed family photos adorn her windowsills. Behind her desk sits a framed poster with the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action for education. She explains, “My office is full of readings and images and things that continually remind me of the importance of teaching.

“Teacher education has become a vehicle for enabling prospective educators and students to experience the formative nature of professional knowledge, heightening awareness of the choices that educators make and their lived consequences for learners and learning.”

“In lots of ways, teaching hasn’t changed substantially,” she reflects. “Kids are still kids but there’s been much more attention to the role and nature of professional knowledge in the field of education. Teacher education has become a vehicle for enabling prospective educators and students to experience the formative nature of professional knowledge, heightening awareness of the choices that educators make and their lived consequences for learners and learning.”

Dr. Macintyre Latta is currently working on a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Partnership Research Grant project that brings together educators with local Elders, Knowledge Keepers, university researchers and community partners including the Okanagan Nation Alliance, Central Okanagan Public Schools, IndigenEYEZ, Kelowna Art Gallery and Kelowna Museums Society. The goal is to seek respectful and responsive ways for educators to orient their teaching practices toward decolonization and reconciliation efforts. The intent is that by the end of the five-year project, teachers and their students will have gained deeper understandings of Syilx culture with teachings that connect land, culture and understandings of self in the world.

“Classrooms are recognized in the research literature as sites to address civil, racial, ecological and social tensions and inspire transformation and reconciliation. We can describe and envision these notions, but actually teaching to purposefully encounter and navigate them requires ongoing practice, gaining more awareness, confidence and capacity to see and act on openings to do so—caringly connecting self in the world, and learning to live better in the world together.”

In recognition of her innovative community-based research, Dr. Macintyre Latta received UBC Okanagan’s Researcher of the Year award for Social Sciences and Humanities in 2022.

When asked how she hopes to influence current educators and students, Dr. Macintyre Latta smiles. “The primacy of teachers in the lives of their students is huge. For me, this awesome responsibility is an important vehicle for investing in and elevating the profession, helping educators articulate what they’re doing and why.”

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