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Faculty Focus: November 2020

November 1, 2020

Well-read English Teacher Laura (Dixon) Gallinari is a published poet celebrating her 20th year in secondary education -- half of them at Fenwick!

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Moby-Dick aficionado, Ms. Gallinari sported a Hartford Whalers hockey jersey during Spirit Week in October.

1. What is your educational background?

I have a B.A. in literature (a Great Books type of program) from the University of Chicago. I have an M.A.T. with middle and secondary certification in English and Spanish from Dominican University. I have an M.F.A. in poetry (with fiction minor) from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin (UT). 

2. What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?

After college, I taught and coached high school for four years at Tempe Preparatory Academy in Tempe, AZ -- Humane Letters (two-hour seminar on literature, philosophy and history), Spanish (all levels), Poetry, Latin, basketball, and volleyball. Then I spent six years at Morgan Park Academy in Chicago, where I taught Spanish language, AP Spanish Literature, Creative Writing and summer school English, and coached basketball and volleyball. Between the two schools, I was the Varsity volleyball coach for eight years, culminating in a 30-2 season and Sectional victory. 

3. What are you currently reading for enjoyment?

It probably won't surprise those who know me that I read a lot. I'm currently engaged in Jack by Marilynne Robinson, Last One Out Shut Off the Lights by Stephanie Soileau (my dear friend who visited my Creative Writing class last year and who will visit again via Zoom this year), and Citizen by Claudia Rankine. I recently finished The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War by Ben Macintyre and Another Country by James Baldwin. My Moby-Dick Reading Group is underway, so I am rereading Melville's masterwork with my students, and I am currently reading Fablehaven with my daughter and Prisoner B-3087 with my son. 

4. What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

These days, I spend my spare time with my family. We have Family Movie Night and Family Game Night, and we read together every night at bedtime. When I have more time to myself (read: not during the pandemic), I read and write, mostly poetry, in my attic office. I like to walk my dog, watch basketball and travel. We just installed a new basketball hoop in the yard, which has been fun. We generally head to the U.P. in the summertime. Once in a great while I get on my unicycle or juggle with my brothers. 

5. To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student?

I played basketball, worked for the newspaper (Editor-in-Chief senior year [at OPRF]), competed on Math Team and JETS (since renamed either WYSE or TEAMS, I think?), performed in poetry slams, contributed to the literary magazine, played piano, served as a peer tutor, and unicycled and juggled with the Triton Troupers Circus. In college I played with the National University of Costa Rica basketball team while studying abroad, taught in an after-school enrichment program at Hyde Park grade schools, and acted in a couple of plays. 

6. Which clubs/sports/activities do you run at Fenwick?

I am moderator of Touchstone, the student literary magazine, and I run a weekly Moby-Dick Reading Group (which sponsored Moby-Con, a 24-hour marathon reading of the novel, in 2019). I chaperone Kairos. For my first eight years at Fenwick I moderated HOLA [club for Hispanic Outreach & Latino Awareness), but I passed that baton to Ms. Carraher last year.

7. What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?

Fenwick students demonstrate commitment. Just by choosing to attend Fenwick, students and their families are taking on extra academic challenges, tuition payments and often longer commutes. Our students' commitment shines through as they rise to challenges in the classroom, on the court or the field, on the stage, and in myriad other activities. Our students also show compassion both within our community and in their service beyond our community, and this dedication to helping others reflects our identity as a Dominican institution. 

8. When did you decide to become a teacher, and why did you choose this field?

When I was growing up, I always related to my teachers, sometimes even more than my peers (shocking, I know). I admired how they could create opportunities, spark students' interest and act as mentors. I also thought that having summers off would allow me some time to focus on my writing, which was a priority for me as far back as second or third grade. When I graduated college, I ended up heading out to Arizona to teach with no formal training, and so I learned a lot on the job before later going back for my Master's in Teaching. In that first job, I was tasked with creating a Spanish curriculum by moving up each year with the students, along with teaching many of the same students in additional classes and coaching many of them in basketball and volleyball. It was a tiny school of 40 students per graduating class, and I got to know those kids incredibly well over their four years. That experience was so rewarding that it cemented my desire to continue on in teaching. 

9. What personal strengths do you find especially helpful in your teaching?

I think students appreciate my sense of humor and ability to be engaging in class. I hope my love of literature also comes across and inspires students. Finally, I am caring and empathetic, and students can tell that they matter to me as human beings.

10. What are your favorite classes to teach?

Fortunately for me, I am currently teaching some of my favorite subjects -- American literature (currently Honors and AP) and creative writing. I also used to love teaching AP Spanish Literature. 

11. What is the greatest success you have had in teaching?

I feel successful when students let me know that I inspired them or, more importantly, that I helped them through a hard time. Whenever I push my students to accomplish something that they thought was out of their reach, I count that as a success.

One thing I am especially proud of is my Moby-Dick Reading Group. Who would have thought that I could annually recruit a crew to read this lengthy and difficult novel, outside of school, for no credit at all? Who would have thought that dozens of our students and many of my colleagues would commit to a 24-hour marathon reading of the entire book straight through? I love that we took our admittedly crazy idea for Moby-Con and made it reality, and that we had a blast doing it. I love that I have been able to immerse students in Melville's adept prose, share with them his sense of humor, and engage them in his profound philosophical dilemmas.

12. What challenges face students today?

Right now, our students are managing exceptionally well in extremely difficult circumstances due to the pandemic. They have had to take even more initiative and adapt flexibly to all the changes. I am so impressed by how our students have risen to the occasion of making the most of class time, working collaboratively and independently in new ways, and managing the strain of unusual schedules and outside stresses. 

Over my 20 years of teaching, I have also seen an increase in student anxiety levels, even before the pandemic. Young people often feel compelled to take on too many activities or to overload their academic schedules, and while I admire their ambition, it is important to also maintain a healthy balance, get some rest and breaks, and not be too hard on yourself.

Finally, our young people will have to shoulder much of the struggle for needed change in our world, especially with respect to social justice and the environment. I hope we can assist them with this work and prepare them to take over and lead. 

READ MORE FENWICK "FACULTY FOCUS" Q&A's

 

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