The THC Gateway to Learning Program supports Utah Educators
The Gateway to Learning Educator Workshop program was established in 1990 and has been held annually for K-12 teachers throughout Utah. The Workshops offer teachers the opportunity to learn educational tools and engage in humanities conversations that they can then integrate into their classrooms. Taught by university faculty, the workshops have covered an array of topics, all of which address core humanities themes and subjects. The Tanner Humanities Center works closely with the Utah State Board of Education, to ensure teachers earn credit and relicensure hours for their participation.
Classes are kept small and affordable, and the THC also offers scholarships to Title 1 teachers who teach in at-risk schools. The one-week courses take place in the THC “Jewel Box” conference room. Beyond listening to lectures from humanities experts, teachers also participate in group discussions, activities, and field trips around Utah.
Beth James, associate director of the THC, took over the Gateway program in 2015.
“This program has been the most enjoyable aspect of my career. I have gotten to know
many of the teachers well, celebrating their successes, hearing their frustrations,
and staying in close contact with them throughout the school year to keep up on what’s
new with them. Some have become very good friends and I value their commitment to
their profession,” said James. Under her leadership, the program has increased its
offerings and outreach, establishing close relationships with the Center for Latin
American Studies, the Asia Center, and the Better Days 2020 program, a non-profit
dedicated to popularizing Utah women’s history. Former Director of Education for Better
Days 2020, Naomi Watkins, is passionate about the workshop topics she’s been involved
in, saying, “we all benefit when the history we teach and know is representative of
all groups and people. Quality history teaching is a means to empowerment, civic engagement,
critical thinking, and civil dialogue.” The Gateway program has provided a safe and
constructive place to foster such conversations, and aims to always support Utah educators
in crafting and integrating new content for their students. Watkins continues, “Teachers
are professionals who benefit from continuing to be learners. One way to make radical,
lasting change is by empowering teachers to not only do their jobs, but to do them
well, providing them with support, resources, and tools.”
Professor Ginger Smoak is a favorite among workshop students, many of whom come back year after year to learn from her. She’s taught a variety of subjects, including Gender in the Middle Ages, Teaching Medieval History, and British History. “Medieval history is so important and fascinating because it is so dynamic and varied. It allows us to see where many of our own institutions and ideas come from and we can find medieval roots in our politics, our religion, and our culture. Even our current pandemic situation has similarities to the Black Death of the late medieval period,” says Professor Smoak. She describes her workshop participants as being extremely engaged and interested, continually yearning for content. “They are really smart, accomplished teachers themselves, so they are great fun to teach, interact with, and to have conversations connecting their own expertise with mine.” Professor Smoak credits the program for finding a unique and valuable way to allow teachers to develop their skills, become better educators, and also have fun discussing topics that genuinely interest them. “There is nothing better, in my opinion, than finding this intellectual joy and this program is so valuable because it offers opportunities to do so in a setting that is expedient, as well as fulfilling.”
The students enjoy learning from the workshops just as much as faculty members enjoy teaching them, according to past reviews and feedback submitted to the THC. A student of a previous workshop entitled, Critical Issues in Urban Education, taught by Andrea Garavito Martinez, Associate Instructor at the U’s Urban Institute for Teacher Education, said, “I found this workshop extremely powerful to me. As a teacher of color I have been able to talk to my colleagues about things like racism, discrimination and equality while we are in the same ground.” Another student of the aforementioned workshop echoed that sentiment, saying, “I will continue to work at being aware of my students, their individual stories, and how these experiences shape them and their learning.”
Race and Religion in the Women’s Suffrage Movement, was taught by Dr. Anne Boylan, Professor Emerita of History and Women and Gender Studies at University of Delaware and Dr. Karen A. Johnson, Associate Professor of Education and Ethnic Studies at the University of Utah. "I felt right at home working with the workshop teacher participants," said Dr. Johnson. "They also showed great enthusiasm and appreciation for the information that I had shared. I felt that the information I’d shared would be a part of their own curricular. It was a worthwhile experience." One student said, “This class made me realize how important it is to weave discussions of race and gender into more of my curriculum. These issues should not be discussed in discreet lessons, but rather should be presented as fundamental to understanding U.S. History.” Another said, “this workshop created the opportunity to reflect on personal bias and classroom involvement. I struggled with finding my identity and opinion with topics that I had not encountered before which allowed for great personal growth.”
Although the 2020 Gateway workshops were cancelled due to the COVID-19 response, the Tanner Humanities Center is eager to plan alternate programming in the fall. Such programming will not only meet teachers’ needs, but also address pedagogical issues that have arisen with the transition to online instruction. The Center is proud to offer a program that promotes thoughtful discussion about issues of both the past and present, and is committed to continue fostering a community of lifelong learners.