Professor Mary Pat Garr
“I’ve taught every grade from Kindergarten to 11th, with many years in the middle school grades,” explains veteran educator Mary Pat Garr. “I’ve taught in Michigan, Illinois, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic...I’ve taught in urban environments, suburban environments, in private and public schools…I’ve pretty much run the gamut!” The diversity of Garr’s teaching experience is intentional: “It has given me so many perspectives.”
The diversity of Garr’s teaching experience is intentional: “It has given me so many perspectives.”
Along with additional coursework in education, Garr has completed courses in business, journalism and psychology among other disciplines. “Although essential, I don’t believe that a teacher should only have a background in pedagogy,” she explains, “the more experience and the more varied your background, the more of the world you can represent to students as you guide them in their exploration of that world.”
Garr took on another new challenge when she started teaching graduate students at Columbia in the mid-nineties. With a B.A. in Spanish and Latin American Studies, an M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction, and extensive experience in educational professional development, Garr was a perfect candidate for the College’s bilingual teaching program. “I started here as a part-time thesis advisor,” she says, “Then they found out that I had several years of experience teaching English Language Learners (ELL) and could speak Spanish. At the time there was a bilingual teaching program, so I got involved as a field experience supervisor. One thing led to another—the bilingual program is now gone—but I’m still here!”
Fifteen years later Garr is Associate Professor and Director of Student Teaching for the Elementary Education MAT program. She confidently asserts, “I can’t see myself teaching in an educational program at any other college. I love Columbia’s creative environment and the kind of teacher candidates that are attracted to it.”
The primary goal of Columbia’s Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) programs is to create leaders who foster collaboration, critical thinking and reflection, consciousness of self and of cultural diversity in the classroom. That is a mission that Garr can relate to—“My passion is putting good teachers into urban communities,” she says, “That’s really what I love.” She also appreciates the intimate size of her department and its innovative approach to education. “This is a small department, and we know all of the students personally,” she says. “But in addition to offering a personal connection, we’re forward thinking—we’re up on the research. We infuse the arts into our content and we celebrate our student’s artistic abilities.” At Columbia, the arts are integrated into all teaching methods classes—an approach which draws many creative people to the program. “That’s what sets this program at Columbia apart from others,” says Garr.
The primary goal of Columbia’s Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) programs is to create leaders who foster collaboration, critical thinking and reflection, consciousness of self and of cultural diversity in the classroom.
Of her students she notes, “They have sparkle, they have energy… and they’re going to be amazing teachers—not easily bogged down by administrative challenges, not easily intimidated.”
In addition to teaching literacy and middle school teaching methods courses and directing student teacher placement, Garr is constantly developing her own skills as an educator and increasing the diversity of her experience. “Last summer I wrote an online course for the first time, and taught it this past spring. I learned what works and what doesn’t. I’m interested in looking at the advantages and disadvantages to the online teaching of certain teacher preparation courses.” Even after teaching for more than 30 years, Garr remarks, “I still have much to learn.”