Patricia Alvarez McHatton
Associate Professor, College of Education
Department of Special Education
Try to focus the spotlight on Patricia Alvarez McHatton and she’ll do her best to redirect that attention toward her students – her graduate and undergraduate students at USF, as well as the middle schoolers she works with in the community.
Alvarez McHatton is an associate professor in the Department of Special Education in USF’s College of Education. But like a proud parent, she’s eager to show you her students’ work and to boast of their accomplishments. She peppers a conversation with stories about the wisdom and compassion of sixth graders and the insight and enthusiasm of special education majors. And her office is a virtual museum of artwork created by USF students as culminating projects for her classes.
You could chalk it up to the fact that Alvarez McHatton is a born educator. Quite surprisingly, however, the road to academia was not the first she travelled in her life. While she now holds a doctoral degree in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in urban special education, she was once a teenager who left high school in her junior year.
“I was born in Cuba, but my family and I left when I was 6 years old,” she says. “Those first years in the United States were traumatic. Then in high school, I saw a lot of social and racial inequities, and in my adolescent mind, I thought that the ‘real world’ would be more just, so I dropped out.”
Alvarez McHatton started working in electrical contracting. She earned her GED and certification as a licensed master electrician and began moving up the career ladder to vice president. After 20 years in the business, however, things changed.
“It was the early 1990s, and I heard yet another story on the radio about problems with youth. It occurred to me that I had the disposition to work with these types of kids. That I wanted to be a teacher.” So she went back to school attending USF and became a middle school teacher of exceptional education. “It was the best job I could ever have had,” she says. That is until she realized that if she became a teacher educator, she could help prepare quality teachers who, in turn, “could make a difference with many more children than I could alone.”
Today, Alvarez McHatton’s work is grounded in school-university-community partnerships. Her research interests include teacher preparation with an emphasis on secondary special education, experiential learning, and participatory action research focused on youth empowerment. She focuses on issues of marginalization, stigma and discrimination of youth of color, specifically Latina/Latino students. And her latest project in cooperation with the nonprofit literacy organization, I CAN! Community Education Coalition, Inc. earned her a cover story in Diverse Issues in Education.
Some of the most valuable lessons she shares with her USF students, however, are not based on her research or found in a textbook. Rather, they’re insights gleaned from years of life experience.
“I tell my students to remember that teaching is not like being in sales where if you meet your quota, you know you’ve been successful. Sometimes you don’t know if you’ve been successful until years later. So you have to remain hopeful that you are making a difference.”
She also tells them that as educators they can look forward to poignant moments in the classroom and with students that will touch their hearts in exceptional ways and “will live in their hearts forever.”
Moments that light up their lives.
Story by Mary Beth Erskine