Elementary Education: Professor Mary Pat Garr

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Please describe your role in the Elementary Education Department.

I have been the director of elementary student teaching. This year with the new chair, I have taken on coordinating the two graduate programs and am pretty much responsible for coordinating the elementary ed programs. I love working here. I really do. Columbia is just an exciting, high energy, and fun place to be. And the students who come here are passionate, and they see teaching not only as a science but as an art.

Can you describe your experience in the classroom?

I don’t have experience in Chicago Public Schools, but I have numerous years of experience everywhere else. I’ve taught in suburban, urban, private, and public schools in the United States, in Puerto Rico, and in the Dominican Republic. I was consulting in the Chicago Public Schools before I came to Columbia, however I have taught at a private school in Pilsen.

What would you say to a student who is concerned about finding a teaching job once they’ve completed the program?

I think it’s really important to have endorsements beyond elementary education. Areas where teachers are needed are always science, math, special education, and ESL. Those are very strong programs, but there are few teachers who have these critical areas. Even having additional course work especially in special education and ESL is really the ticket. People getting an elementary certificate, especially before 2015, should think about getting as many endorsements as they can, because after 2015 it will be a separate program to get middle school certification, or licensure.

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What sorts of attributes are you looking for in a prospective student?

I am not directly involved with the application process, although I am called in if there are questions. I would say that we are looking for students who have already gained some experience working with children, in any capacity. We are also looking for people who truly enjoy working with children. And an interest in not just “playing” with kids, but actually helping them develop as learners.

What is the biggest asset that our program has to offer a prospective student?

I think the biggest asset is the arts environment here. It’s not only that we try to infuse the arts into the content, but more importantly, many of the students that come are artists themselves. They’ve chosen to get a degree with Elementary Education certification, but their background often is either they are an artist or they have an interest in the arts. They bring that to the interaction in the classroom.

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