By Don Lowe

Although Seneca Early Childhood School Teacher of the Year Kristi Tate originally pursued a degree in social work, she veered another direction and says, “Most of my classes were in the same building as the education classes. I would see the education majors with their projects. I soon realized that is where my heart was leading me.” 

   A specific event clearly impacted Tate, and she says, “The first time I realized I wanted to become a special education teacher was during my junior year in college. I was in a first-grade class doing an observation. It was right before Halloween and the teacher was carving a pumpkin. 

   “Sitting at the back of the group was a little boy who was blind. When the lesson was over, all the kids went back to their desks. They had all finished, but he had missed the whole lesson.” 

   Tate reflects further: “As his para-professional was leading him back to his desk, it made me sad to think of all the things he was missing out on. He had no idea what that jack-o-lantern looked like. 

   “I took him to the pumpkin and had him feel all the parts they had cut out and talked to him about what they had done. I knew after that class, that’s what I was supposed to do.” 

   Tate recognizes the significance of this work and she says, “Early childhood education is very important. It gives the children a firm foundation on which to build. 

   “Many children come into our program without any structure in their lives. We try to teach them how to play and interact with others, follow directions and build relationships that last.” 

   Tate thoroughly enjoys her career. “My favorite part of teaching is the children. I love their bright smiling faces and watching them grow. It is so much fun when they realize they can do something they couldn’t do before. 

   “I feel like my job starts with making each one of the children feel loved and a part of our class family. We cheer each other on when they are doing good and console each other when we are sad. We try to teach them how to handle problems using words.” 

   Tate is quick to credit others for the success of this program. “I could not do my job without the help of our para-educators and therapists. Our district is blessed with the ability to give our children so much of the help they need. 

   “We have ‘paras’ and therapists that go above and beyond to help our children. They are always coming up with new things to try and new ways to solve old problems.” 

   Ultimately, to Tate, it’s all about helping these young children. “With early intervention, there’s a higher chance they will succeed.”  

Seneca Teacher of the Year Kristi Tate Fast Facts

Years Teaching: 21

Spouse: Ted Tate, married for 24 years

Children: Dakota (22 years old) is a junior at Ozark Christian College; Jakob (19 years old) is a freshman at Northeast Oklahoma A&M College; Josiah (8 years old) will be in second grade

Profession: Early Childhood Special Education Teacher

College: Missouri Southern State University     

Degree: Bachelor of Science in elementary education with an area of concentration in special education and a minor in psychology, as well as a certification in early childhood special education     

What is Early Childhood Special Education: A program for children ages 3-5 with developmental delays. It benefits children with delays in speech, language, social, motor, adaptive and/or cognitive skills.

Away from the Classroom: I attend Racine Christian Church. I live on a farm with cows and goats (and more chickens shortly). I love gardening and playing with our two new puppies.