Elementary Education: Cohort Interview of Todd Gervase

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Why did you decide to go back to school for teaching?

I originally went to school to learn about art, but I always had an interest in teaching. I worked in a couple sculpture houses after I graduated, but inevitably I realized that I couldn’t support a family working as an artist. I knew I needed to get a normal job that would help me provide for my family, so I started working with my family’s auto shop.  Along the way, though, I found myself observing and assessing how people would work with my kids. I found that I’d notice what worked well and what didn’t work well in their approaches. That was one of the inspirations for me to go back to school to get my masters in education.

Tell me about raising children and being in school.

It’s a tough balance. You have to get used to sleeping five hours a night. Working full time as the second generation owner of the auto shop on top of that can be tough. I like to think that it’s good training for becoming a teacher, because I’ll have to give up a lot of myself to my future students. If I’m going to do it right, I have to put a lot of love and effort into it, into everything I do.

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What led you specifically to elementary education?

Over the years I’ve heard a lot about the arts being cut out of the curriculum at public schools. I want to teach elementary education because I’ll have the unique ability to incorporate the arts into all subjects. If a student wouldn’t have access or an education in art because of funding, then I will be able to give them that connection and make sure that an understanding of the arts is given to all of my students.

Why did you choose Columbia?

I got my undergrad at Columbia. I loved the culture and the overall psyche of the students, just the aura of the school. It’s a very inspiring place. There is a huge community of artists, musicians, filmmakers, actors, and dancers creating work all around the campus. There is a real creative energy here and it’s infectious.

Tell me about the grade level you imagine yourself teaching.

I prefer the earlier grades. I hear stories of sixth and eighth graders who are barely able to read and it upsets me. I want to make a difference early on in those student’s education. I’m interested in helping those students build a foundation. I want to instill confidence in their abilities right from the onset, rather than trying to intervene in middle school and having to focus on teaching them skills that should have already been built.

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Tell me about a teaching or coaching experience that you have had that inspired you.

I was coaching volleyball, which is a foreign sport to most kids. I felt very passionate about teaching it because I was an ex-player. In my first year, I wanted to focus on the fundamentals of teamwork. My goal was that these kids would develop into the kinds of players who you really want on your team, regardless of ability. Maybe they’re not the best player, but they’re a great teammate. It was a lot of lessons being selfless, being supportive, and being a champion. And not just the achievements of yourself, but also of your teammates. In that season I had a student confide in me that he was upset about missing his serves. I talked to him about practicing outside of the gym to help himself build up his skills. He was one of our least gifted players, but over time he became one of our most consistent servers. It was really rewarding to see that light bulb go off in him, and with that his confidence grew. Later on in the season he made a lot of game winning serves. He was able to make those serves because he  wasn’t nervous. He had confidence in his ability because he was well prepared. And that was just awesome. Usually kids are scared in situations like that, but I really wanted my students to know that being prepared will give you confidence and confidence will improve your ability.

At the end of the year, the kids on my team were all asked to rate all of the sports programs they had ever taken either inside or outside of school. And all of the boys on my team selected volleyball as their favorite moments and proudest moments. That season we just really created an atmosphere where kids got along and wanted to improve. I’m really proud of their achievements.

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