When Kitty Deal was a little girl in Tennessee, her parents gave her a chalkboard for Christmas and she’d line her dolls in rows to make a classroom. She always knew she wanted to be a teacher.
“What has been surprising,” Kitty says, “is that I never dreamed I would continually keep taking classes. Had you asked me, back when I was 18, if I saw myself being a college professor and having a PhD, no, probably not.”
Dr. Kitty Deal, CRC, Professor of Education, is a full time faculty member at Kodiak College and has a joint appointment with the University of Alaska Anchorage, and the University of Alaska Southeast. Along with teaching and creating online courses to best practice, she mentors student teachers, is a Quality Matters Master Reviewer, and facilitates KOC’s partnership in the Munartet Project Grant.
She is certified birth through grade 12 in special education, and often draws from her experiences in that field. For instance, Kitty sees a parallel between teaching online and teaching special ed, “in that you can find a way to teach something in a different way so the learner understands it. As a special ed teacher you’re doing that all the time, right? You know the child can learn and it’s up to you to figure it out. When you get to an online setting, you’re teaching in a different modality so ‘how can I figure out how to make it just as interesting and exciting and to still align with my philosophy of education?’”
“I have my system down but it still takes an enormous amount of time.”
She’s passionate about making sure that all the components of a course are aligned, ensuring that learning objectives are clear and are being met, that all course level learning outcomes are mapped and measured.
“When all of those pieces align,” Kitty says, “you get effective learning, or an effective grant proposal.”
“I tell my students all the time, ‘If you learn to write a really good learning objective, you’re halfway there to learning to write a really good grant.’” She drew from her knowledge of writing special education IEPs with “smart goals,” (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) when she worked with community partners to apply for the Munartet Project Grant. Kodiak College works in partnership with KIBSD, the Alutiiq Museum and the Kodiak Arts Council, with support from the Alaska State Council on the Arts.
This grant partnership, with Kitty Deal at the helm at KoC, has been invited to write for the final two years of funding through the Munartet Project Grant, an initiative currently in its seventh year in Kodiak, that aims to increase the number and tenure of confident, competent K-12 teachers to teach in and through the arts and cultures on Kodiak Island. It supports arts integration and culturally relevant arts teaching methodologies. “It promotes rich relationships within the profession, knowledge of community resources, and opportunities to practice arts integration and culturally relevant teaching strategies for pre-service teachers while in their teacher education program.”
“The funding stream has been remarkable,” Kitty says. “We’ve really focused on good training, and collaboration with other college students and inservice teachers, and getting to know administration.”
“We’ve created a pipeline, with dual credit classrooms over at the high school that hopefully feeds into becoming a preservice teacher, then they can earn their AA here and seamlessly go on to Southeast for elementary, special ed, or secondary.” UAA’s Bachelor’s in Early Childhood is another option. “We have a 100% hire rate from people going through the education programs on-island. If they apply to the school district, they’re hired.”
“We are working together to be sure that teachers in the community, and preservice teachers—teachers in training—understand the importance of, and know how, to teach in and through the arts and cultures of Kodiak. So we work on building confidence and competence in those two areas. It’s been exciting work,” she says.
“Grow your own, is a mantra,” she says. Her PhD in Indigenous Studies: Education and Pedagogy dissertation focused on “growing our own teachers for Kodiak Island, and being sure we work to recruit and retain teachers…who represent the students in their classrooms too. How can we grow more Alaska Native teachers, how can we grow more Filipino teachers to really be able to be that example for the children in their classroom?”
Kitty’s advice for those considering a teaching degree?
“First of all, recognize that having summers off is not a reason to be a teacher. It’s a challenging job! If you’re only in it for June, July and August, you’re going to be very challenged. But if you want to give back, if you want to serve your community, if you want to make a difference in the life of a child, if you’re passionate about that, it’s the field for you.”
She is speaking from experience when she points out the benefits of career portability to prospective teachers. When her husband joined the Coast Guard a few years after they married, she found herself in a new job in a different setting every two to four years. Between ten moves, she taught in Florida, California, Indiana, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Kodiak.
When they first learned about their upcoming transfer to Kodiak Island, Kitty wasn’t sure.
“I actually started crying when Bill told me we had orders to a remote island in Alaska. I’d been in a fabulous job for two years. And then we got here and thought we’d do a short tour. Two years, you can do anything for two years. Then we got here and people were great. Then we extended to four years, and then fought to get back here.”
After 17 years here, “Kodiak is home.”
Kitty’s husband Bill retired from the Coast Guard in 2012 and is now a pilot for Atlas Air. Although her son and daughter have moved out of Alaska, she frequently Facetimes with her granddaughter, Marlow. Her son, Matt, 35, is an aeronautical and astronautical engineer working in California. Her daughter, Jackie, 33, is a school psychologist who resides in Ohio.
Eventually, retirement for Kitty may mean more time for her many hobbies–quilting, needlework, photography, hiking, berry picking, and reading (she’s a Malcolm Gladwell fan). Taking their boat out for fishing trips always reminds her that Kodiak is the perfect place to be. Currently, there isn’t quite enough time in the day to keep up with the dog hair from their two labs, Kodi and Rocky, so Kitty finds it satisfying to check the map on her vacuum app showing everywhere their smart vacuum has cleaned while she’s at work.
It’s rewarding to know that Kitty Deal could probably walk into any one of Kodiak’s schools and say of its teachers, “He’s one of mine. She’s one of mine.”
“I really like giving back to the next generation,” she says. After 23 years in education, she’s proud “to be able to turn around and have that next generation of teachers.”