Karen Tharrington is a Lecturer of Spanish and current Program Coordinator for the French and Spanish Teacher Education program at the Department of Foreign Languages and LIteratures. She is a native Ohioan and longtime Wolfpacker who — after a long and distinguished career in K-12 education — joined the FLL department in 2007. Currently, Karen is pursuing a PhD in Education at NC State.
Karen’s program offers NC State students not only a pathway to a teaching career as a licensed K-12 educator but also a doorway to other careers in lifetime learning and leadership.
In the following interview, Karen shares her insights with Samuel Sotillo about what brought her to teaching, her experiences as a passionate educator, and why she thinks that a FLL Concentration in Teacher Education can help future FLL graduates to influence their pupils’ attitudes and beliefs about languages and cultures.
Samuel Sotillo: First, could you tell us a little bit about your background? Where are you from? Where did you go to undergrad and graduate school?
Karen Tharrington: I am originally from Cincinnati, Ohio. I am a Wolfpack alumna, having attended NCSU for both undergraduate and graduate school. I am currently pursuing a PhD here in Curriculum and Instruction.
SS: Can you tell us a little bit about the intellectual trajectory that brought you to teaching? What did you do before coming to NC State?
KTh: I never planned to be a teacher but after observing in a local middle school as part of my undergraduate requirements, I fell in love with teaching and it has driven my life since then. I am passionate about the Spanish language and culture and wanted to cultivate that desire in my students. I spent 11 years teaching in Wake County Public Schools at both the middle and high school levels. I love pedagogy and second language acquisition, so coming back to work with the Teacher Education program seemed like a natural fit for me.
SS: Now, let’s talk a little bit about your program, the Concentration in Teacher Education. What’s about? Who should consider joining this program? Is it only for teachers?
KTh: We are in dire need of good teachers in our schools. Although our state has not made languages as much of a priority as other states have, teachers can influence attitudes and beliefs about languages and cultures. The concentration in Teacher Education is ideal for any student who wants to explore curriculum and instructional methods as a future career. Students leave the program with a content degree (French or Spanish) along with the skills and knowledge about how to transfer that information to someone else, be it a kindergartener or an adult. Although graduates finish with a K-12 teaching certificate, their prospects for careers are broad.
SS: What career opportunities there are for graduates with a Concentration in Teacher Education?
KTh: Learning how to teach is as important as knowing your content area, and graduates of our program have numerous opportunities. The most obvious is teaching K-12, but other career areas could include designing and implementing training programs for adults in an industry, working with the educational department at a museum, or designing curriculum for a company like SAS. Many graduates choose to teach abroad for a while, teaching English in South Korea, Chile, or Spain. With a language degree and the pedagogy, the opportunities are endless!
SS: What makes this program special? What is unique about it?
KTh: Our program is unique in that students are getting 30 hours of language content classes in addition to classes that explore pedagogical, curricular, and educational theory. Our program also includes a teaching practicum during the final semester. For those who are interested in teaching abroad, we have international student teaching programs in China, Brazil, and Russia that complement their domestic internship. Another great aspect of our program is that students are able to complete the program within four years and leave CHASS with a BA in their language area and a teaching certificate k-12 in North Carolina. Since our state has reciprocity with many other states, their certification is good if students desire to move around the country.
SS: Let’s talk a little bit more about you, what do you enjoy and find most challenging about teaching?
KTh: I love interacting with students the most. My mantra has always been to teach the student first, then the subject. Students make the class interesting and bring different perspectives to the discussion. Those “a-ha” moments make me so happy and I truly love when my Spanish students use the language spontaneously and communicatively. The most challenging aspect of teaching in k-12 is dealing with the policy-makers, who often times have never taught. At all levels, having students who do not see their own potential can be very frustrating. Teachers, I believe, are altruistic by nature so it is difficult to watch students sabotage their success.
SS: Thinking about your students, in what major ways do you want most to influence their lives?
KTh: Since I have two very different types of classes, I’ll give you two examples. For my Spanish students, I want them to love the language and be able to actually use it in real-life situations. I also want to inspire them to travel! For my Teacher-Education students, I want them to go out and be amazing teachers who never accept the status quo for teaching. I want them to know that teaching is tough but rewarding, if it is done right.
SS: Anything you are reading right now?
KTh: I am currently reading El mañana by Mirta Ojito. It is about a woman who came to the States as part of the Mariel Boat lifts from Cuba. Professionally, I read lots of journals in the foreign language and educational fields.
SS: Anything else we should know about you?
KTh: I love photography and traveling. I always wanted to be a professional photographer for National Geographic. I also dance competitive ballroom with my husband, although we aren’t really that good; it’s mostly for fun.
SS: What do you look forward to most?
KTh: I look forward to beautiful days where I can sit on my porch and enjoy the nature that surrounds me.
SS: Do you have any advice for our students and alumni who are on the job market?
KTh: Travel first, work later 🙂