Beth Hatcher
Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education
Chair, Division of Early Childhood and Elementary Education

Ph.D., Texas Woman’s University
M.S., Texas Woman’s University
B.A., Texas Tech University

Everyone is a Mathematician

One of University of Maine at Farmington Associate Professor Beth Hatcher’s favorite early education courses focuses on how to help young children learn math without simply memorizing facts. Learning math can be intimidating for pre-service teachers and that can make them unsure how to instruct young children about math, she added.

“It’s exciting to show my students that if you are a human being, you are a mathematician. It’s just the way your brain is wired. You can’t organize your life without math. You use it all day long from the minute you get up until the minute you go to bed, but we don’t think about ourselves as mathematicians,” Hatcher said.

Hatcher teaches her students to re-think their perspective on math use by keeping a math log and noting every time they use numbers whether its setting an alarm clock, calculating how long their commute will take, paying for their morning coffee, or following a dinner recipe.

“Math isn’t just sitting down and solving quadratic equations.” Hatcher said. Numbers are not meant to be mysterious and frightening, but rather practical tools that help organize daily life. It is that approach that Hatcher hopes her future teachers can share with children.

Playful Learning

Hatcher’s research focuses on the youngest children, five-years-old and younger. Her specific area of research is the study of play and how playing is the way children learn social rules and abstract concepts.

Dramatic play, the art of pretend, emerges at age two and is tied to the development of symbolic or abstract thinking, a quality that is uniquely human, she explained. Children engaged in playful learning are figuring out how to settle disputes and negotiate with others, organizing and categorizing their ideas and developing a rich vocabulary. “Learning is not separate from play for young children,” Hatcher said.

A teacher’s role is recognizing a young child’s emerging interests and providing opportunities to enrich and deepen those interests, Hatcher said. Teachers do this by selecting a variety of materials, arranging spaces and times for individual, small group and whole group play.

“Children are naturally going to play with others. Early education teachers facilitate play — they set the stage for play and know what concepts children can learn during play and how to maximize their learning,” Hatcher explained.

“What we really want young children to learn is how to learn, how to interact, to be curious and motivated to learn,” Hatcher said.

Practical Experience in Campus Children’s Programs

UMF has three early education programs on campus, the Infant and Toddler Playgroup, UMF Preschool and the Sweatt-Winter Daycare Program, Hatcher explained. UMF also collaborates with a local school district to provide a public prekindergarten program located at a nearby school across the street from campus. In these settings, students can observe child development first-hand and can get experience in the classroom before they graduate.

“We have real-life experiences for students. They can work in our campus student programs. Not all universities offer those experiences anymore,” Hatcher said.

Many early education students complete their practicum at the nearby Mallet School, Hatcher said. She added that early education majors may also complete an internship during their senior year by spending a semester working in a classroom or child care program.

“I think it’s a real strength in our department for all our education students,” Hatcher said, “We share that same model. We believe it’s important for students to get out in the real world: to see practices in action, make contacts and really get experience.”

Classes for Working Professionals

In recent years, Hatcher and her fellow faculty members developed and launched UMF Masters in Education program designed to meet the needs of working professionals. Current UMF graduate students include elementary teachers, self-employed child care providers, Head Start teachers, and directors of private child care programs.

The graduate program combines online courses and live classes often held on weekends and evenings on campus. This year-round curriculum allows a working teacher to earn a masters degree in two to four years.

“We feel that the face-to-face component is very important. It fits in with our philosophy of relation-based learning, that you need to establish relationships with students for learning to really happen,” Hatcher explained.

The combination of live and online classes has proved to be a good mix for the UMF graduate program. Online forums allow students who might not otherwise participate to join in discussions and online work also keeps students accountable for their work, Hatcher said.

A Teacher is a Life Long Learner

The UMF Education department’s commitment to the importance of early childhood education is unique among universities, Hatcher said.

“Here at UMF, I like the smaller campus and the small classes. You can develop relationships with your students because you advise them for three years, so you get to know the students,” Hatcher said.

Another feature unique to UMF is the senior research project most undergraduates will complete, according to Hatcher. Undergraduate research helps students become critical thinkers who can stay current and informed in the field of education. Becoming a critical consumer of information allows teachers to better address student needs; answer parent questions and keep teaching methods relevant. “Teachers can never stop learning. I want my students to be the kind of teachers who teach for 30 years and are still excited about teaching,” said Hatcher.

Hatcher began her career as an early education teacher working with her favorite age group: four-year olds. She began teaching at the college level in 2005.

“I like teaching young children and I like teaching adults. It’s different but each is very satisfying in its own way,” Hatcher said, “UMF was a good fit for me because of the on campus children’s programs. I get to see the young children every day and work directly with the staff, and at the same time, I get to work with college students.”