It came as no surprise when I learned that English Language Center (ELC) teaching professor Stephanie Gallop was selected to receive the Dean’s Award at the Georgetown School of Continuing Studies Tropaia ceremony. She exemplifies Georgetown University’s commitment to both “cura personalis” (care for the entire person) and “community in diversity.” Always willing to go the extra mile, Gallop uses her work as an English as a Second language practitioner as a means to not only increase her students’ fluency in a new language, but also build their confidence, cultural awareness, and preparedness to make a difference in the world. In doing so, learning English becomes a catalyst to help shy students on their way to becoming global citizens. Her sense of educational vocation leads Gallop to spend late hours preparing lessons, drives her enthusiasm while delivering classroom lessons, and is manifest when she mentors students during office hours. Further, she believes that well-rounded students desire opportunities outside of the classroom to experience the diversity of culture in the United States, and find their own place within it as global citizens. Whether chaperoning students in community service outings, encouraging students to explore and speak about issues of justice and equality, coordinating social events and speaker panels, or leading student clubs, Gallop’s service provides an example for us all.
Stephanie received her B.A. in Linguistics from the University of Florida and M.Ed. in TESL from the University of North Florida, where she also taught before coming to Washington, DC and Georgetown.
Interviewer Regan Carver is a Program Coordinator in the English Language Center.
RC: How did you get into teaching?
SG: After I completed my B.A. in Linguistics from the University of Florida, I unexpectedly landed an internship teaching at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, my hometown. I will never forget my first day of work. On that day, I nervously walked in and found empty offices and classrooms, but excited voices and laughter drew me to a large room down the hall. I found all the students, faculty, and staff gathered together in teams, competing to replicate the best traditional costume out of newspaper and tape. I started to smile, seeing everyone having such a great time, when the director suddenly noticed me and shouted into her microphone that I should come in and stand in the middle of the room for an introduction! Since I am an introvert by nature, my heart started pounding and I froze, not used to so many eyes on me at once. However, these smiling faces greeted me with choruses of “Welcome, teacher!” and “Nice to meet you!”, and I was taken by the warmth and openness that could come from a crowd of, until that day, complete strangers to me. I had never before felt such a strong sense of instant belonging as I did in that moment. Throughout the term, walking into a room with all eyes on me began to feel natural and easy as I had more and more opportunities to teach. As I got to know students personally and started helping them achieve their learning goals, I felt an energy and trust between us that confirmed I had stumbled down the right path that day I walked into a room full of strangers.
RC: How do you stay passionate about the work and what is your philosophy of teaching?
SG: Throughout my life, I have been fortunate to have teachers and mentors who inspired me with their own passion for learning and teaching, their personal humility, and their care for others, all qualities I strive to embody in my own work. I also know how important it is to feel welcomed and valued in a space that is new and unfamiliar, just as I was on that first day on the job. Every class I begin teaching instantly recognizes something that is important to our classroom: positive attitude. I will write it in the syllabus, write it on the board, smile and say it out loud – any way possible I can make it known that we all have a part to play in creating this space for one another. When I was a junior in high school, my English teacher began each day with this same reminder. Her class was the one where I learned to love language and where I developed a creative voice, and if I can cultivate this type of fertile ground for my own students to thrive in, then I know learning will easily follow. By incorporating laughter, smiles, and opportunities to share for all, fears and uncertainty can be reduced, and each student can feel that someone believes in their ability and wants to hear their voice.
It is a joy and a gift to be a teacher, especially in a field where I am fortunate to meet so many unique people from around the world, hear their stories and lived experiences, and learn from their diverse perspectives. My students have changed my life and broadened my worldview many times over, and it is a privilege to dedicate my work to them.
RC: I know you have made many presentations about your teaching at academic conferences. Why is that important to your work?
SG: The classroom is not a one-way street of information delivery from professor to student. It is a dynamic environment in which students shape their own learning by contributing and reflecting on personal experiences and their own subject-matter expertise in group discussions, presentations, and written work. However, it is also an environment in which students challenge their existing assumptions by listening to and reflecting on the knowledge and experience of their fellow classmates, and also to new voices that are brought into the classroom through the readings and recordings for language study. In turn, students critically examine their own ideas and those of others, and then carry new perspectives and strengthened voices into the world outside the classroom. This process mirrors my responsibility in the field of education to listen to the voices of other educators and use what I learn to challenge any desire to maintain the status quo and actively incorporate new ideas into my own work. Before giving a presentation at a teaching conference, I must consider the inspiration and sources I have drawn on to inform my practice, reflect on the teaching I have done, and identify lessons and strategies I can improve in the future by inviting others to join me in that work. I am not only sharing my own work with other educators at a conference, but I am acknowledging the social responsibility to allow my teaching to be fundamentally transformed by learning from and collaborating with fellow educators and our students themselves.
RC: You are famous in our department for your commitment to holistic education: in-classroom learning combined with out-of-classroom experiences. How do they connect with one another?
SG: Every fall, Professor Nancy Overman takes students to participate in the AARP Meal Pack Challenge on the National Mall, a volunteer event to pack and distribute meals for senior citizens experiencing food insecurity and poverty in the Washington, DC region. I had the opportunity this past year to partner with her in incorporating this event into our Language & Culture and Professional English classes. Prior to the event, we studied vocabulary and grammar to reflect on and discuss the issues of food insecurity and poverty, the value of community service, and the responsibility and structure of organizations that work to address social inequalities. However, by participating in the volunteer event, students were welcomed as part of a community coming together to care for the social issues we discussed in class. In conversations and reflections with students following the event, there was interest in studying more about nonprofit organizations, excitement to volunteer with Georgetown students clubs and other organizations, and a deep encouragement from meeting and working alongside others in Washington, DC who shared their values and were moved to action because of them.
RC: How were you able to adapt your teaching to virtual delivery at the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic?
SG: The most important part of adapting to the online space was maintaining the Jesuit value of “cura personalis”, specifically “care and individualized attention to the needs of each person, distinct respect for his or her circumstances and concerns, and an appropriate appreciation for his or her particular gifts and insights.” Since we suddenly were no longer meeting in person and needed to quickly adapt to a new classroom environment, I solicited feedback from students from the beginning about what tools were and were not working for them in this new environment. Fortunately, our class had already been using online tools in Canvas and Google Apps throughout the semester, so we were able to quickly adapt to a more immersive experience. However, I also increased the number of individual office hours I held in private Zoom sessions in order to really discern the personal needs and challenges each student was facing. Finally, I encouraged students to share openly with their classmates the ways in which they were both struggling and finding success, and invited them to explore in discussions, tasks, and final projects how both the global pandemic and shift to a virtual classroom intersected with their personal experiences and intended fields of study.