Retired UAS professor Marjorie Fields wins national award

Posted: Thursday, October 14, 2004

Marjorie Fields, a professor emeritus at the University of Alaska Southeast, is a national early childhood education group's teacher educator of the year.

Fields, who now lives in Seattle, won the National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators honor after a 30-year career at UAS.

Fields is the primary author of two widely used textbooks on literacy and discipline. And she helped create professional associations and degree programs in early childhood education in Alaska, educators said.

Early childhood education refers to preschool through grade three.

"We have a clearly defined set of standards now in early childhood and in elementary (education)," Fields said. "The field of early childhood did not, when I started, have the set of standards for each degree level."

Fields, who was on the board of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, helped found the Southeast and Alaska chapters, said Joy Lyon, executive director of the association in Southeast Alaska.

"Everyone who knows her agrees she's a real visionary, inspiring people," Lyon said.

Fields also was instrumental in creating an associate degree program delivered by distance and a master's degree program in early childhood education at the University of Alaska, said Eileen Hughes, an associate professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

"Margie has been a key person in getting the associate of early childhood to be distance, so that Head Start teachers in the villages can access that program," Hughes said.

"Our distance delivery model when I first came here was we would fly into a town on a Friday and weekend - because these (students) were teachers - and then fly out," Fields said.

Now professors and students use the Internet.

Fields said she wanted to be a journalist or a high school writing teacher. But her interest in education focused on early childhood when she saw that "the younger the student, the more significant the role of the teacher."

"My whole world changed. I realized the really young children are where you made a difference," she said.

In the competing educators' philosophies of the constructivists and behaviorists, Fields is the former. She compares the approaches to lighting a fire and filling a bucket. Teachers can't know everything that children will need to know in the future, but they can teach children how to be lifelong learners, she said.

"You get higher-level learning if you are not just telling people what to think. 'This is the answer. Give it back to me,' " she said.

Fields said her book on literacy, "Let's Begin Reading Right," was the first that looks at what happens when children begin to read. She later developed a course and wrote a book about discipline because teachers said they needed them.

Constructivists don't believe in rewards and punishments for learning or behavior, Fields said. Her book "Constructive Guidance and Discipline" emphasizes children's ability to make decisions about right and wrong regardless of punishments and rewards - what she calls moral autonomy.

"One of the things that I loved in taking classes from her is she taught in the way she wanted us to teach," said Jennifer Thompson, a kindergarten teacher at Gastineau Elementary. "She would bring in interesting things for adults. We might have a discussion and then go to doing different things and then have a discussion."

• Eric Fry can be reached at eric.fry@juneauempire.com.



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