2009 Mentor Teacher Award: Kevin G. Gallagher
Kevin G. Gallagher was awarded the 2009 Mentor Teacher Award, which recognizes Kevin’s outstanding service as a mentor to the students of the College of Education.
We caught up with Kevin and asked him to tell us about his passion for teaching. His answers give readers a glimpse into the enthusiasm, wit, and humor of this honoree. Read on!
Hi Kevin. Thanks for talking with us today. You have a long history with the UW College of Education. Let's begin by discussing your work as a mentor.
I classroom-mentored six teaching interns, hosted 12 practicum students and supported another 12 as site coordinator in the past seven years. In addition, I am a charter member of the Ackerley Partner School Network with the UW. The Network’s mission is to create and support the collaboration of P-12 and university educators and to improve teaching and learning in public schools and universities in ways that respond to the needs of students who face the greatest challenges.
In 2007, I was fortunate to be among the first teachers in the U.S. to participate in a professional teaching exchange with teachers from Jordan. Five teachers from each nation met for three weeks in Seattle, hosted at the UW, and then in Jordan. In each nation we shared workshops, communal living, site visits and professional dialogues to advance our educational service models and rethink our media-influenced perspectives. This joint UW College of Education partnership with the Jordan Education Trust commenced in 2007 when I was selected. I was honored to return in 2008 as the program manager for the 10 new teachers.
Honestly, I credit Karen Harris and Cap Peck for finding me out in the ranks. They inspired and encouraged me to be the best example I can be to developing teachers. I’d like to thank Karen and Cap for all that they’ve done on my behalf.
And what about your current work? What do you enjoy most about teaching?
Okay, I’ll be honest, I am addicted to teaching. There, I said it aloud for the first time ever! I love what I do. I left the field three times – modeling, warehousing, software training – thinking perhaps that I should be elsewhere. By the third bounce back, I accepted that ‘teaching is my destiny, pure and simple.’
So now I capitalize on my ‘opportunistic’ behavior pattern and seek to change my life by serving others in the advancement of the profession. My career goal is to help develop responsible citizens. I have taught grades K-12, literally. And in the back of my brain it is always about citizenship — accepting responsibility, voting with an informed conscience, deciding on what is best for everybody not only the self, and more. I aspire to bring that to my daily work through quality academic and effective social and behavioral instruction.
Currently, my plate is full of heaping helpings of teaching public school kindergarten, undergraduate and graduate classes at Heritage University in Methods in Language Arts K-2 and Methods in 3-5, staff development in Seattle Public Schools for new teachers in current L.A. practices and a course in literacy centers for K-3 teachers.
In my kindergarten work, my newest passions are micro-financing through Kiva in which I teach issues in equity via gender disparity, financial inequalities, as well as first world and third world nations. My kinderkids vote to whom we collectively should donate my personal money. Then I post the progress that person makes in repayment. I could go on and on about that!
On Inauguration Day 2009, President Obama inspired me to do more. So this year my new excellent colleague and friend, Alex Jones—a teacher education program 2008 graduate and my former teaching intern—and I developed a course of study on U.S. history and government. Our kinderkids can matter-of-factly identify the preamble to the Constitution, the three branches of government, and all nine Supreme Court Justices and more.
What is your definition of leadership? How do you try to embody these qualities?
For me, leadership is being honest, with oneself and circumstances, and then respectfully communicating thereafter. I have seen exceptional, mediocre and poor leadership. I aspire to the exceptional category. For me that involves understanding the players, the issues and the consequences as best I can and being willing to step forward to use ‘voice’ to help in whatever the journey is. That ‘voice’ can take the form of research, thoughtful discourse, action or listening—which is often the over-looked art.
I try to let people complete their thoughts before I speak; it’s surprising how often that skill is under-utilized today. I attempt to find the hole in a project and take on that task or perspective to help complete the puzzle.
A new frame for my thinking is to think ‘puzzle’ when I look at work or projects. It helps me to take action if I envision connections. What pieces are in place and connected? Which pieces are side by side that haven’t touched yet? What is the missing piece that I could try to find?
Have you had any particularly strong mentors in your life?
Professionally I want to name and credit Kathy Helfrich, who works in special education, Jean Singleton, who works in K-5, and Maxine Marks, who is a speech and language pathologist. These were my three cooperating teachers. I received three professional certifications through three student teaching semesters. They were clear, strong and taught me how to begin my career.
Although there are too many to name, I want to credit everyone else in my career and life who simply took the time to explain, talk, correct, direct, inspire me to understand more deeply and be better at teaching. Everyone was a mentor in some way.
Although they were just my parents, Mary and Neil did something extraordinary. They instilled in their three Bronx kids the belief that education simply mattered—honestly don’t know how. And they allowed me to attend the Bronx High School of Science and leave parochial school; that profoundly changed my life. And they made it clear that service was respectable. None of us had or have high paying jobs but they raised a cop, a teacher and a medical assistant. Jeesh, can we be any more classic Bronx Irish than that?
Anything else you'd like to share?
I have a thoughtful and loving supportive network of friends and family who put up with my overpowering devotion to the job. I also am a theatrical sign language interpreter who works with the Seattle Men’s Chorus which has afforded me remarkable artistic opportunities and career highlights. For example, I was the first interpreter in the renovated Carnegie Hall and the first interpreter to work on Hairspray. I also held hands with Maya Angelou as we sang ‘We Shall overcome.' I’ll stop there. Come see a show!
My partner Norbert, our two sons, Joe and Sam, and sister Eileen need to know their love and faith are my soul food.
Thanks for talking with us today Kevin. Congratulations on your award!
Thanks for asking.