Teaching: 'It's in our blood'

Five women follow in academic footsteps of their mother, aunt

Thursday | August 30, 2001

By LEIF B. STRICKLAND / The Dallas Morning News


Some kids play cops and robbers. Some play with dolls. The Tate girls played school.

Several times a week, Lori, Keari, Sheri, Tami and Kamara Tate would transform their bedrooms into classrooms, complete with desks, chalkboards and rows of stuffed-animal students. They would teach with worksheets their mom, a teacher, brought home from school. When it was time for recess, they would head outside, whistles in hand.

"We're not just talking about kids' play," said Lori Jackson, oldest of the five. "We would really, seriously pretend."

The sisters grew up, and the pretending ended. But the teaching hasn't.

All five have become elementary-school teachers, just like their mom. Three are kindergarten teachers, and two teach first grade.

The youngest of the bunch ˆ twins Tami and Kamara, who graduated from Abilene Christian University in December ˆ started teaching two weeks ago.

"It's in our blood," said Kamara Tate. "We couldn't deny it."

Betty Tate, reticent matriarch of the teaching dynasty, has taught kindergarten for 31 years. She said she never actively encouraged her daughters to pursue careers in education. In fact, Ms. Jackson said, "I was actually afraid to tell my mom that I wanted to go into teaching because I thought she might want me to do something that makes more money."

Ms. Jackson said the women's decision to be teachers "is a tribute to our mom."

"Obviously she made it look fun when we were growing up, or we wouldn't have wanted to do it," Ms. Jackson said.

But the sisters said family tradition wasn't the only reason they chose teaching.

"Many jobs, you just sit at your desk every day, and no one really notices that you're there, to really care," said Tami Tate. "But with teaching, you have so much influence. People never forget their teachers."

William D. Tate ˆ the sisters' father, longtime mayor of Grapevine and, as of this month, the only member of the Tate family whose job doesn't involve crayons and safety scissors ˆ says he wasn't surprised that his daughters decided to teach. "It had been building for some time," he said.

The full implications of having a family full of schoolteachers have only recently hit him, he said. For one, family gatherings are dominated by what he calls "teacher talk."

"I end up just blocking it out," he said. "I don't speak that language."

The Tates say education has always been a significant part of family life. Along with Betty Tate, William D. Tate's sister Sandra also was a teacher until she retired in 1994.

"We were always surrounded by teaching growing up," said Keari Tate.

Over the years, Betty Tate had all five daughters in her own kindergarten class. That wasn't always a blessing, especially in the case of the twins, she said.

"It was hard having Tami and Kamara in the classroom," Betty Tate said. "Their whole life, they've been really competitive with each other, in terms of them wanting things to be the equal. And when I had them in the same class, I made sure to call on one the same number of times I called on the other. Things like that."

At Abilene Christian University, which all five sisters attended, Tami and Kamara shared a dorm room, a car, a major and friends. Now they share an apartment and work at elementary schools in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch district. Their sisters and mother work for the Grapevine-Colleyville district.

"If anyone rebelled, it was the twins, because they went to the outskirts," Ms. Jackson joked.

"I wanted to get out of my comfort zone," Kamara explained.

Tami and Kamara said they're fortunate to have the counsel of five relatives who have been first-year instructors.

Sheri Tate Thompson warned "that this is going to be one of the hardest years of their life."

"And I told them that when they were completely overwhelmed and crying in their rooms thinking that they couldn't handle it, that we'd all been there," Ms. Thompson said.

But she said they'll eventually discover, as all the Tates have, that it's worth the challenge.

"In a society where everyone's telling you what you can get more of, we have found the blessing in giving," she said. "It's very life-fulfilling, and I can't imagine doing anything else."


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