CEHHS grad Maya Gallo is exactly the kind of teacher kids need right now

April 19, 2021

A future educator talks about why she is super ready to lead a classroom, and mostly ready for adulthood.

A colorful graphic featuring a black and white headshot of student Maya Gallo
A colorful graphic featuring a black and white headshot of student Maya Gallo
Graphic by Violet Dashi

Maya Gallo has a history of educators in her family that runs several generations deep. So it surprised her a little when a few close relatives balked at her dreams of becoming a teacher. ‘I know you like this, Maya, but will you be able to make any money?’ was the thing Gallo remembers hearing a lot. The notable exception was her grandmother, a former elementary paraeducator whom Gallo moved in with the year she graduated from high school and started community college. She remembers the excitement of those early college days — taking her first classes, having her grandmother’s warmth to keep her motivated and insulate her from any skepticism. But in the fall of 2015, their family was dealt a significant blow: Grandma was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and Gallo’s household was thrown off kilter.

Her own role in the home flipped. Gallo became one of her grandmother’s caregivers, often taking the “night shift” to make sure Grandma took her evening medication, while she stayed up late studying. But the gravity of the situation was leaving its mark on her life. She started feeling like teaching just wasn’t going to work out and made an abrupt switch to accounting. “I thought maybe then I could contribute more financially. That’s just where my head was at.” After a semester though, it was clear accounting was not her thing, and she again drew on her grandmother’s encouragement. “She had told me if I wanted to do education, I should do it,” Gallo remembers. "She reminded me of the history of educators that we have in our family. I even remember her saying once to the family, 'Look, Maya is going to do teaching and that’s that. It’s going to be great. Positivity, people!'"

After a few more semesters of soul searching, and with some encouragement from a friend who had attended UM-Ann Arbor and who, like her grandmother, championed her passion for teaching, Gallo decided to recommit to education. She transferred to UM-Dearborn and soon found herself at home in the elementary education program, where she chose social studies as her main subject area. She says she loves the challenge of winning over the kids who “think history is boring,” just as she remembers her own first grade teacher doing with reading. Deeper down, she’s driven by a sincere appreciation of childhood. “My experience of elementary students is that they’re very caring individuals,” Gallo says. “They are at this stage where they’re just learning how to be kind to others and have positive relationships. I love seeing that. And I just want to be part of their becoming amazing human beings who can contribute to their communities.”

That sensitivity will serve her well as teachers and students hope to emerge next fall from an exhausting school year. Gallo says she’s learned all kinds of lessons from her own pandemic-altered student teaching experience, including familiarity with many technologies that are likely to find a place in education post-COVID. For example, at her school, she’s noticed how virtual options for parent-teacher meetings can make it much easier for busy parents to stay connected with what’s going on in the classroom. And she sees potential in students starting digital literacy curriculum very early on, right alongside essentials like reading and math.

Gallo will likely get a chance to try out some of those new skills soon. She’s currently applying for teaching jobs within commuting distance of her home base in Farmington Hills, with the hopes of landing a full-time appointment for the fall. She expects to have some butterflies on her first day, but overall is just excited to be in front of a classroom. The real nerves these days come from the looming reality of adulthood — which she says is closing in faster than she expected. “If I could just fast forward to the afternoon of that first day with the kids, I’d be great,” she says, laughing. “It’s the applications and the resumes and the health insurance forms that have me stressed out.” That and planning a wedding. She’s now engaged to that UM-Ann Arbor alum who encouraged her to go back to teaching.

Sadly, her grandmother won’t see Gallo achieve the graduation milestone she pushed so hard for. She passed away in late 2016, but Gallo says she knows how proud her grandma would be and will no doubt be thinking of her when they call her name at the commencement ceremony. Her mom, now one of her biggest supporters, has also stepped in to finish a little tradition her grandma started. “When things were really hard and I wanted to quit, my grandma made me this little framed picture of a road, and she put little stickers on it for every semester I finished on my ‘journey.’ I really can’t believe it’s time to put on that last sticker. I can be hard on myself, but I admit it feels really rewarding to close this chapter, having gone through everything I’ve gone through. It’s what Grandma wanted for me. And now, I just have to keep going and keep growing, because I know that’s what she’d want me to do.”

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