Q & A with Nancy Watt, Interim Dean of Education

A former English teacher, school librarian, media specialist, and secondary school administrator, Nancy Watt came to Pacific in 1991. She holds a bachelor's degree from Willamette University and a master's in education from Western Oregon University. After growing up in Oregon, she worked in public schools around the state prior to helping Pacific grow its education offerings. She will complete her duties as interim dean of the College of Education (COE) this summer and is planning for her next adventure - retirement.

How has your job changed since you came to Pacific?

I had left a principal job at Elmira High School, which is outside of Eugene, Ore. Pacific needed someone to teach teachers how to use computers in the classroom. That was 15 years ago and computer use was much less sophisticated and technical than it is now. At that time, Pacific University only had a fifth-year secondary program and they wanted to add elementary education, so they asked me to write the proposal. Then one thing led to another and we started the program in Eugene, and I did most of the planning and work for that particular program. I just kept picking up extra stuff and I am still here. I certainly didn't intend that when I came here. I assumed I would look for another principal job, but I was interested in what I was doing. I'd like to say I planned it, but I believe in serendipity.

Have you always worked in Oregon schools?

Yes, for a number of school districts. I started in Salem, then McMinnville, Park Rose, and Tigard.

What drew you to teaching and education?

I graduated from college in 1968. I grew up on a farm in a small town - Jefferson, Ore. My parents were poor and not well educated. I became a teacher, because those were the educated people that I knew. I couldn't imagine doing something other than working in education. I actually did for about three years when I lived in California. I worked for a textbook company. By the third year I was done. Ultimately, I learned two things. One, that if you're educated to teach, you are educated in such a way that you can be successful in almost anything. Secondly, you have to do something that you think is important. It was one of those great experiences because for a period of time and maybe still, there is this perception about teachers - that you become a teacher because you can't do anything else. It was such a wonderful validation to be successful at something else.

What was your K-12 experience like?

I went to one-room schools - first through third grade in one school, and fourth through sixth grade in another. There were actually only four people in my grade. I have always been a reader and the libraries in both of these small schools were not very large. When I got to my last year at these schools I had read all of the books in the library. The teachers would go to the Oregon State Library and check out books and bring them back for me. I am still a reader and probably ended up as a librarian because of teachers like that. At the end of sixth grade we had to go into Jefferson to what I considered the big school. I graduated from high school in Jefferson with a class of maybe 40. I am lucky to have been in small schools with teachers who encouraged me. I think my parents encouraged it because they saw the way out of poverty was education.

What are your teaching and leading philosophies and have they changed over the years?

When you're young you're pretty sure you know everything. The older I get, I think I have the questions; finding the answers is much harder. I believe you are a model whether you want to be one or not and whether you recognize the fact that you are or not. When you teach you have to be very careful and think about what you say and do, in particular how you treat your students and how you manage a classroom. You are teaching a child something when you tell them something and you act differently. I think that about leadership. I don't consider myself a leader. I am embarrassed to say this, but I am more of a herder. I work with very learned people and sometimes the leadership issue is making sure that you herd them all in the same direction. The most power you can have is to give it away to others. Do I have a philosophy of leadership? My job is to make sure that all the circumstances occur so that the students can learn and the teachers can teach.

You have served since 2001 on the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission (TSPC). What is your role on the Commission and why have you made it a professional priority?

Teacher Standards and Practices is the agency in Oregon that determines the requirements for universities to teach in teacher licensure programs. It is an independent board composed of teachers, administrators, higher education, and school boards. There are 17 members and I represent private colleges and universities as one of two higher education positions. I serve as chair of program approval. All universities, when they want to offer a new program, have to go through program approval and be approved. It's a great fit - I have written many programs to take to TSPC. But more than that, it's an opportunity to use my experience in public schools in addition to my time at Pacific. It's a wonderful way to use that knowledge to help with a licensure system that ultimately serves the students in K-12 schools.

What are some of the lessons you have learned from your students?

One of the things I learned early on is that lots of the students that I had in my class were smarter than I. I was more mature than they and that was my advantage. Sometimes I think teachers hinge their feelings of authority or their confidence on the idea that they are smarter than the kids. But the truth is, there were lots of kids that were smarter than I am. The part that you want is for all of those kids, whether they're smarter than you or not so smart, is to be able to teach in a way that they go forward in their learning. When I started teaching, virtually all beginning teachers graduated from college with their degrees and teaching licenses. I look at our students here and only half of them are recent graduates. The other half is change of career people. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone said to me "I really wanted to teach as an undergraduate but..." Now 10 years later, 15 years later, they are here. We have one person who finished the program at 60. It's such a rich mixture when you have the very young and those who are tempered by experience. They all learn from each other. The older ones need that healthy sense of idealism that the young ones bring and sometimes the young ones need a dose of real life experience. The mixture of students is just so rich.

How has the College of Education, both in Forest Grove and Eugene, continued to be a leader in teacher education?

There's a wonderful balance in the College of Education between faculty that are traditional academics and faculty who bring lots of public school experience. You put them together and you get a very dynamic group of people who are all so utterly committed to what they are doing. They translate that into their classes. If you talk to our students and ask them why they came to Pacific, a very high percentage came here because they know someone who went to the program and had a really good experience. It's part of meeting student needs individually. We have wonderful professors. We have people who model good teaching practices. We do well with our relationships with public schools and we have schools where they want Pacific student teachers. We have principals say, "When they come they know how to teach."

What are your plans for retirement?

Part of it is sort of scary. I have never not worked - ever. It will be different, but I have also never been bored. In spite of working, I have always done a lot of other things. I'm not going to plan particularly. That's the way things have happened for me in my career as well. English teacher, then a librarian; I wouldn't have planned that. Eventually I ended up at Pacific on a fluke. I've been able to take advantage of opportunities. When there has been a fork in the road I've kept going. I feel fortunate to have had so many opportunities and that they have been so rewarding. I wouldn't take anything back. I haven't liked everything, but they have been learning experiences.

Photo: Ken Schumann