As an undergraduate at Muhlenberg College, Garrett Gallinot studied English and political science, but his true love was theater.
As a student, he performed as Peter in Peter and the Wolf, Mowgli in The Jungle Book, and the Beast in Beauty and the Beast. He also wrote a play — part comedy, part Victorian murder mystery — that was performed at Manhattan Rep.
After college, Gallinot was fortunate to find a steady acting gig. He toured with a national juggling company, FoodPlay Productions, performing more than 100 shows in elementary schools in 12 states. The show was designed to encourage healthy eating and physical fitness in low-income communities, with a goal of de-stigmatizing free and reduced-price school breakfasts and lunches through fun and exciting performances.
When that gig ended, Gallinot worked as a writer and performer for Saving Teens at Risk (S.T.A.R.), a program that educates K-12 students and at-risk youths about drugs, domestic violence, sexuality, HIV/AIDs, bullying and family life issues. Performances were followed by facilitated conversations, both in and out of character.
“After a couple of years in educational theater, I discovered I liked the educational aspect more than purely performing,” says Gallinot. “I thought I could be more effective having students in the classroom every day, rather than just in educational assemblies.
He turned to Rider University where his father, Gustave Gallinot ’76, a certified public accountant, had studied business. Gallinot’s father was pleased with the decision. “He was excited about my going into a noble profession,” Gallinot says.
At first, Gallinot thought he’d need to go through a two-year program, but then he spoke to Dr. Kathleen Pierce, a professor in the Department of Graduate Education, Leadership, and Counseling in Rider’s College of Education and Human Services. She told him about the TEACH first class residency program, the University’s 21-graduate credit, post-baccalaureate immersion program designed for college graduates of all academic backgrounds and experiences who are interested in earning teaching certification.
The phone call launched Gallinot into his most recent role as a star in the TEACH first program. In recognition of his outstanding performance during the program, Gallinot was named one of the state’s top student teachers.
The TEACH first class residency eliminates the gap between theory and practice. Participants immediately begin classroom experiences with children, mentored by Rider’s College of Education faculty. The accelerated nine-month residency program allows prospective teachers to gain credentials and hands-on classroom experiences while establishing professional relationships and a support network essential to success.
“I thrive in immersive programs like this,” says Gallinot, who is now a certified K-6 teacher. “Rider was the only place offering anything like that.”
“Our students who go through TEACH first class are sought after and have a high job placement rate,” says Dr. Sharon Sherman, dean of the College of Education. “Rarely a day goes by when we don’t get a call from a student who says they got a job offer. Our students get called for multiple interviews. One student who did eight demo lessons was called back to all eight districts.”
Participants in TEACH first class come from professional backgrounds — from business and industry to science, accounting and homemaking. An opera singer, a Broadway actor and a Marine have all participated.
“Our high-quality program offers small classes, mediated field placement and professional supervision. Students work one-on-one in small groups, and the program is nationally accredited with a very focused curriculum and highly developed assessment system with feedback loops,” says Sherman. “We use the data we gather to make programmatic changes to continue to improve.”
TEACH first class was conceived by Associate Professor of Mathematics Education Dr. Judith Fraivillig, who was inspired to establish a residential model in response to deficiencies she found in programs “that take great teaching candidates, put them in a classroom and expect them to pull up their bootstraps without having studied any theory.” Too many conventional approaches to residency models, Fraivillig believes, emphasize classroom management at the expense of truly immersive pre-service education. “Putting candidates in K-8 classrooms alongside Rider professors like myself combines immersive residency with foundational theory that is connected immediately to their experiences with children,” she says.
Fraivillig shared her dream with Sherman. The next step was making a connection with 100Kin10, the organization that formed in response to President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address that issued a call for adding 100,000 STEM teachers to the nation’s schools over the coming decade. 100Kin10 emerged as a network to unite the nation’s top academic institutions, nonprofits, foundations, companies and government agencies to address the nation’s STEM teacher shortage.
“100Kin10 affirmed our program was a great idea,” Fraivillig says. “It gave us access to 100Kin10 partners. Once you get in you can apply for grants from donors, who are funding educational reform around the country and all pooling money working toward the same goal. We became one of the earliest university partners with 100Kin10 and are now joined by prestigious universities like Harvard and the University of Michigan — it was a huge deal! We got broad exposure and were invited to the White House, along with a group of teachers, to meet with the top people in the Department of Education.”
Being a 100Kin10 partner allowed Fraivillig to submit a proposal to the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which funded the program: “They really valued our concept of developing a residency program that placed professors in an elementary school and working with change-of-career teacher candidates.” Time spent on university campuses, Fraivillig notes, isolates future teachers from children. “Re-thinking teacher education to release enthusiastic future teachers from the confines of a university campus can immerse talented teacher candidates with children in schools, to the collective benefit of teacher candidates, current practitioners and children,” she explains.
Through the Carnegie Corp., Fraivillig secured funding to bring in science and math specialists and professional development opportunities for elementary teachers.
Pierce — Gallinot’s professor and director of one of the TEACH first class cohorts — has been teaching in Rider’s graduate level teacher certification program since 2001. Last year, she says, there were twice the number of applicants to TEACH first class and the program has expanded. “Our candidates are career changers with bachelor’s degrees who want to work with mentors in schools to become certified teachers.
“The program also benefits the districts it serves,” Pierce continues. “These candidates bring real-world experience. They know themselves well, understand life and come to the classroom with empathy for all kinds of learners with varying advantages and disadvantages. They appreciate how learning can be integrated with life.”
But there’s much more to teaching than being on stage, she points out. The TEACH first class residency program shows these professionals how to plan curriculum and activities to engage students with learning.”
Gallinot took an English methods class with Pierce. “He is a talented person. He was good on paper when he started and grew to develop his own craft of teaching. I have seen him mentoring kids on writing, offering feedback and editing. He has become a masterful teacher.”
Commuting from his home in Providence, N.J., Gallinot was placed in a fourth-grade class in Freehold Borough. Mondays through Wednesdays were spent in schools with mentor teachers and Rider faculty, and the rest of the week was spent learning mathematics, literacy and educational fundamentals back on Rider’s Lawrenceville campus. “Everything we learned we had a chance to apply in the classroom,” says Gallinot. By the time his student teaching began, in the spring semester, Gallinot felt fully prepared. “I was already part of the classroom culture.”
It’s OK to make a mistake, he teaches his students, but you have to learn to make the correction. “It’s about them improving as learners. As a teacher, you have the ability to reach students who may be dealing with difficult home lives and push them to where they can go. You have to approach each learner as an individual.”
Gallinot’s theater experience has helped. “It enables me to be more charismatic and more of a presence in creating a culture of education. Students love when I incorporate elements of the theater. We write plays together about the material we’re covering, brainstorm characters and setting and embrace a collaborative atmosphere.”