Roberta Hunter Patten came out of retirement to teach sixth graders at San Carlos middle school because she didn’t like the turn education had taken toward standardized testing.
“Not for our kids at San Carlos,” she says. “Their learning styles are different than the rest of the world.”
Rather than teaching to the test, or teaching from the book, Roberta says you must “teach to the student.” She focuses on making learning meaningful to students.
“Speaking. Creativity. Challenging interactions. These are things significant in educating the kids,” she stresses, waving hands smeared with tempera paint from a creative day’s work.
Roberta Patten began her career as a first grade teacher at the San Carlos Unified School District in 1977. She has taught students at all levels — from elementary grades to community college. For all her students, she aims to bring the learning home, to make it relevant. Again and again, she asks her students,
“How does it apply to your life in San Carlos?”
Roberta retired from teaching in 2007 to become a career counselor for the San Carlos Wellness Center. She carried her values of hard work and no excuses into that profession. Roberta remembers an adult student that was “pity-partying” about her circumstances.
“When are you going to suck it up and accept the challenge?” Roberta asked. “How easy do you want your life? Your life is nothing if you don’t have challenges. Turn it into a positive. It’s there to be a catalyst to wherever it is you’re going.“
The woman went on to earn her degree, and in 2017, Roberta returned to teaching, where she continually finds new challenges.
Teaching in San Carlos Schools
“I’m not a sweet teacher,” she says. “I am a strict teacher.”
Too often, according to Roberta, students are coddled.
“I never got treated like that,” she says. “Not as a child. Not as an adult. My parents’ motto was ‘work hard.’ Make mistakes but pick yourself up.”
Roberta teaches six classes a day, 24 students per class. The needs of the students in San Carlos, she says, are different than anywhere else.
“Social life, home life, the models that they are exposed to, which are not good models, create unique challenges.”
Social promotion, the practice of promoting a student to the next grade without the required skill set, is common. The result is that kids graduate without adequate reading and writing skills.
“I don’t think it is encouraged,” Roberta says, “it just occurs.”
Grade retention, the practice of having a child repeat a grade due to poor performance, is also problematic, and rarely advisable past the third grade.
“The dynamic of a 13 or 14 year-old being in a class of 11 year-olds is very difficult,” she explains.
Families decide whether their children attend San Carlos or Globe schools. According to Roberta, most consider Globe High to have a better environment for learning, although some complain that prejudice against Apache students persists. Students from San Carlos are bussed to Globe High early in the morning, allowing too much free time before school.
“San Carlos, is a do-or-die environment,” says Roberta, “You either keep your head above water or you go under, as a student.”
It doesn’t, she emphasizes, eliminate the fact that students can succeed. Her own children attended San Carlos schools.
Her Education and Extra-Curricular
The sixth of eight children, Roberta is the only one in her family to earn a college degree. Her mother’s schooling ended with fourth grade. Her father graduated from eighth grade and worked as a laborer. According to Roberta, her parents not impressed by Roberta’s advanced education. She, however, was impressed by the strong values they instilled in her: Don’t make excuses. Do your best.
“Values you learn in life,” she says, “can take you anywhere you want to go.”
Roberta graduated from Globe high school in 1972 and attended Northern Arizona University. She earned her B.A. in Elementary Education, with a minor in business.
She completed her master’s degree in Special Education in 2003, already in her 40s and the mother of four children.
During the summers, Roberta teaches Pathways into Health, a program that prepares and encourages select students to obtain a degree and become health professionals. She also serves on the Eastern Arizona Health Education Council (EAHEC) and the advisory board for Indians into Medicine at the University of Arizona (INMED).
Five years ago, Roberta served on the Globe school board, with intent to provide perspective on the concerns of Apache students, and currently holds a position on the Apache College Board of Regents. Although the current focus of the college is on vocational and cultural programs, her goal is to get a teaching program started to better serve San Carlos schools in the future.
A traveler, Patti Daley came to Globe in 2016 to face the heat, follow love, and find desert treasure. She writes in many formats and records travel scraps and other musings at daleywriting.com.