Pat Griffin: Lifelong Learner, Early-Childhood Professor
Her tenure at Hope College may have been short, but Dr. Pat Griffin’s impact on education students undoubtedly will be long lasting. Griffin has been the founding coordinator of college’s early childhood education program since her arrival at Hope in 2012. Now, after six years, early childhood education is the largest and fastest growing program in Hope’s Department of Education.
And Griffin’s lifelong passion for learning and teaching — and her strong contention that “early childhood education is the center of the universe” — are major parts of the reason why. As she looks toward retirement this spring, Griffin is convinced that every non-traditional route she took toward achieving her three degrees and every path that she chose on the way to a fulfilling career led her to the right place at the right time. And for Hope, she was the right person, too.
“All of the experiences that I had previously in early childhood education had conspired to make my role at Hope the absolute dream job for me,” says Griffin, assistant professor of education. “I have really enjoyed it immensely here. Without a doubt, it has been the pinnacle of my career in terms of having the opportunity to pull everything together.”
“Pat has proven herself to be visionary in imagining what our early childhood program could become and understanding what would be required to implement her vision,” adds John Yelding, the Susan M. and Glenn G. Cherup Associate Professor of Education and department chair. “She is passionate beyond words about the importance of early childhood education and the difference it can make in the lives of children.”
The Michigan native acquired her desire to be a teacher early. “I’m in third grade in Grand Rapids and I just knew then I wanted to teach,” she says. So she started her undergraduate journey in teacher education at Eastern Michigan University in 1970, initially intending to major in English composition and Shakespeare. But the early ’70s saw an excess of educators in the marketplace and a pragmatic Griffin left college to reconsider her life’s work.
“I was working nearly full time (to pay for college), I was commuting back and forth to Eastern (from Garden City, Michigan), and I was paying for my car and my books. It was just difficult,” she recalls. “So I decided at that point to drop out.”
Griffin went to work for the telephone company, back in the day when someone had to electronically monitor person-to-person and collect calls. Although it wasn’t her dream job, it paid the bills. She married her husband, Randy, soon after, and when son Ryan was born, “I realized there has never been a calling like this. This child changed my entire life. That’s when I decided on early childhood education. I just thought there’s nothing more important going on in the entire universe than teaching young children. And I’ve never changed my mind on that.”
The couple’s second child, Keriann, solidified that opinion, and Griffin returned to Eastern Michigan after a 17-year leave from exams and research papers to become a non-traditional college student with renewed passion and determination. More perseverance led to a master’s degree from EMU in 1997 and a doctorate from Oakland University in 2008 in early childhood education. “I loved everything about being in college and grad school,” she says. “I always felt like, and I still feel like, there’s always more to know.”
“And at this point, I just have to say that if I wouldn’t have been blessed with the husband I’ve been blessed with, there would have been absolutely no way I could have ever accomplished what I have. He was always there to fill in when I was unavailable. He cleaned, picked up the kids, did the grocery shopping and provided the encouragement that kept me going.”
Which was necessitated by the fact that Griffin taught all while completing her graduate degrees, first part-time for two years at a preschool in Birmingham and then as kindergarten teacher for 15 years in the Livonia public schools. “When they offered me the job in Livonia, I sobbed. It was embarrassing,” she laughs. “But it was my first, real, full-time teaching job and I was 43.”
Griffin loved everything about kindergarten teaching; it was her happy spot. Yet, she felt strongly called to teach others to love teaching young children, too. She left Livonia for a two-year stint as the coordinator of early childhood education at Marygrove College in Detroit, the college-level precursor of experience toward starting such a program at Hope. And the way in which she learned of the Hope position was as serendipitous as her previous pathways were persistent.
“I was printing out an article for my Marygrove students and on this particular page was the Hope posting for the early childhood position,” she says. “I wasn’t even looking for a new job.” But, the ad had an end date for applying, and Griffin saw she’d missed the deadline by about two weeks.
“Randy encouraged me to call, though, to see if they’d still accept applications anyway. By now, we had a summer home in South Haven so I saw I could commute to Holland,” she explains. “It seemed like an amazing opportunity.”
So she called. After hearing that, yes, she had her doctorate, yes, she had college teaching experience and, yes, she was once an early childhood teacher, the department strongly encouraged Griffin to send in her materials ASAP. The rest, as they say, is history — early childhood education Hope history.
“Departmentally, it is accurate to say that Pat is the early childhood program,” Yelding affirms. “She has taught all of the early childhood classes and done all of the advising for students in the program. She has been an amazing team member in doing departmental work and has provided leadership in multiple areas in our program. She has truly made a name for both our department and Hope College throughout the Greater Holland area as her work has touched the lives of many preschoolers in our community.”
Griffin is quick to add that the college has been supportive with both financial and physical resources to get the program up, running and reputably established. With the help of a generous grant from the PNC Foundation, Griffin established an early childhood learning lab in the Anderson-Werkman building for preschoolers in Holland. Under her direction and with school approval, early childhood education students have presented and implemented their lesson plans in area preschools. And during two summers while at Hope, Griffin guided, with the help of Hope students, “Kids College,” a program aimed specifically at supporting children who would not normally have the opportunity for summer enrichment.
With each accomplishment in her career, Griffin looks back on a “wonderful trajectory. I completely and fully understand that I am blessed beyond compare… The things I’ve been able to accomplish, in terms of my career, I would never have believed.”