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Looking back, there was never a time when Tiffany Gallagher (BA ’91, BEd ’91, MEd ’96, PhD ’05) wanted to do anything other than teach.
As a child, she would line up her toys and lead her very own classroom, offering a glimpse into her future.
“I would play pretend and educate my stuffed animals — and everybody would listen,” Gallagher, a Professor in Brock University’s Department of Educational Studies, says with a laugh. “I was one of those kids who just always knew they wanted to be a teacher.”
With many cousins in her family, Gallagher took every opportunity to lead arts and crafts lessons and help her younger relatives learn to read.
When she reached high school, she began tutoring other students in math, but knew her heart belonged to literacy.
The Pelham native continued to tutor while enrolled in what was then the Child Studies program at Brock, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education in 1991. Following graduation, she moved to Thunder Bay to teach.
Gallagher’s time working as a kindergarten teacher and private school educator only affirmed her interest in literacy instruction, particularly for children who found themselves struggling.
“It was always in the back of my mind that that is what I wanted to do and where I could see myself making an impact,” she says.
Following that passion, Gallagher returned to Brock for her graduate studies, finding her niche in courses on reading assessments and learners with exceptionalities, such as learning disabilities.
After gaining her master’s degree, she owned private tutoring franchises in the GTA, which she ran for about eight years while also working on her PhD and teaching part time at Brock.
Her doctoral studies, which she completed in 2005, focused on creating a literacy program for students with learning disabilities and tracking the experience of their volunteer tutors. Shortly after her graduation, Gallagher joined Brock’s Faculty of Education full time.
“Being an educator, that’s really just who I’ve always been,” she says. “I just feel like it’s in my blood. It’s in my family, it’s in my career and it has always been my interest.”
Although the Faculty of Education’s programming has evolved since her time as a student, Gallagher says a “period of exponential change” began with the introduction of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So much has changed in the past two years,” she says, “and that change has been accelerated in what I’m teaching and how, and even in what I’m researching and how that’s being done as well.
“I tell my teacher candidates, ‘You are going to be amazing teachers because you understand what it’s like to learn in traditional settings with traditional pedagogies, but also know what online learning looks like as both a teacher and a student,’” Gallagher says.
Teacher candidates are learning how to adapt lessons for online, and how to work with behaviours and engage with students despite not physically being in the same classroom, she says.
“Virtually, that’s totally different than when a child is sitting beside you.”
Through her tutoring experiences, Gallagher worked with many students over the years who had exceptionalities.
“I just feel connected to them,” she says, adding it has always been the area she has hoped to make a difference in.
Gallagher’s own daughter, now in her 20s, also has learning exceptionalities.
“Because that was my area of focus, it just made me think that maybe I was always meant to be the parent of a child with learning needs,” Gallagher says.
She worked with her daughter to find fitting learning strategies, which ultimately impacted them both.
“It made me a better educator,” Gallagher says, adding it improved her connection to the courses she teaches that focus on assessing students and creating intervention plans.
Despite having had to “work through a lot,” Gallagher’s daughter has gone on to thrive having earned a college advanced diploma and will soon graduate with an undergraduate degree this spring.
“I’m so very proud of her,” Gallagher says.
In addition to her time in the classroom, Gallagher is also the Director of the Brock Learning Lab (BLL), which provides tutoring for children in the community.
Tutors, many of whom are Brock Concurrent Education students, work with learners in the evening either online or in person (when it is safe to do so), with some also going into schools during the day to work on site as part of their coursework.
Th BLL, which has been at the University for nearly 30 years, is the only program of its kind in Canada.
“We’re constantly upgrading our programming at the lab,” Gallagher says, adding she’s always reading about new resources and gets excited when finding new strategies that can be implemented.
“I feel like I’m always learning.”
She believes the need for tutoring, which is already high as some students struggle with online learning, will grow in the coming years, in addition to the demand for extra supports and interventions.
“I think our services are needed now more than ever,” Gallagher says, while crediting the lab’s staff of eight for keeping the initiative running. “The program is a win-win because we’re creating better teachers and also helping kids in our community.”
The Brock Learning Lab is still looking for tutors in elementary math and literacy for this winter and moving forward to next spring and fall.
For more information, visit the Brock Learning Lab website.