Seizing Opportunity: Graduating Student Took a Chance and Turned it into a Career

By Tom McLaughlin

As Galina Graulau tells it, it actually all began on a fluke.

In 2000, shortly after arriving in New Jersey from her native Puerto Rico, Graulau attempted to enroll in college courses to pursue a bachelor’s degree in microbiology. As luck would have it, it was too late for transfer students to enter the program. So her advisor suggested a temporary solution – since she was fluent in Spanish and English, why not take classes in the teacher-education program?

galina-copyAs the Runnemede resident quickly found out, her timing actually couldn’t have been better.

“I fell in love with it,” recalls Graulau, a Spanish teacher at Penns Grove High School and a graduating student in the master of arts in teaching Spanish (MAT) program at Rutgers University–Camden.

Fast forward to the present day, as Graulau has enjoyed unmitigated success over the past decade teaching Spanish and English as a Second Language (ESL) on the collegiate and high-school levels. On May 21, she will earn distinction as one of the elite, specialized K-12 teachers in her field, as she and counterpart Aurora Boyette become the first two graduates of Rutgers–Camden’s innovative MAT program.

While it might seem that Graulau took the roundabout route to her career, her preparations actually began early in her childhood. Looking back, teaching and languages have always been passions of hers. As a young girl, she often pretended to be a teacher – leading lessons and grading papers – and admired her favorite teachers as great role models and sources of inspiration.

“I would tell everyone that I wanted to be a teacher,” she says. “For some reason, I just had that connection with it.”

Years later, Graulau’s admiration and respect for the profession – and those who had influenced her – would come to the fore while pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Spanish with a concentration in International Studies at Rowan University.

“I remember an assignment where I was asked to define my teaching philosophy,” she recalls. “For me, it has always been simple – I want to help others.”

Over the course of her studies, Graulau began to gain invaluable, one-on-one experience serving as a Spanish tutor on campus. When her students failed to grasp the material presented in class, she did what great teachers do – she went beyond the prescribed measures, and researched useful resources and techniques in order to clarify the lessons.

“I was eager to help them learn,” she recalls. “It was very gratifying to see how enthusiastic and appreciative they were to receive the support needed to learn Spanish and explore the Hispanic culture.”

Upon graduating in 2005, Graulau spent the following nine years teaching elementary, intermediate, and advanced Spanish courses at several area, higher-education institutions – much of that time at Temple University, in addition to Camden County College, Community College of Philadelphia, and Rowan University. She also taught ESL courses at Camden County College and served as a supplementary teacher for non-English speakers in the Educational Opportunity Fund program at Rutgers–Camden.

“I never got tired of seeing students learn and grow,” says Graulau, who added a master’s degree in education curriculum and instruction specialization in language arts from the University of Phoenix in 2009.

Graulau soon began to realize the high demand for Spanish educators on the K-12 level and knew that it could be a great opportunity to teach in a new setting. However, she was hesitant to make a sudden change and was unfamiliar with the methodologies and practices used to teach these grade levels.

galina1“I was eager to find a program that would provide the proper preparation needed to teach effectively in a K-12 classroom setting,” she says.

Enrolling at Rutgers–Camden in January 2013, Graulau discovered that the “challenging, but rewarding” MAT program enhanced her pedagogical skills and helped her to understand the K-12 requirements mandated by the New Jersey Core Curriculum Standards.

Graulau explains that it is imperative for students to utilize the target language through interaction or collaboration with their peers – ideally through activities that are significant and related to their daily lives. To that end, she regularly applies the innovative strategies and approaches that she has learned in the MAT program – much to the benefit of her students.

“They really display a positive attitude with the activities,” says Graulau. “They enjoy being able to complete the assigned tasks, and to collaborate and interact with their peers through the constant use of Spanish.”

In addition to enhancing her classroom teaching, Graulau is currently working with colleagues in the Penns Grove Carneys Point School District to revise the Spanish curriculum, making improvements to practices and textbooks, as well as helping to conduct pre- and post-assessments of students’ growth.

In the process, Graulau notes that she is able to lean on her college-level experience, as well as concepts learned in Rutgers–Camden’s MAT program, to determine where improvements can be made in order to help students progress to the next level.

“I understand better now why students whom I was teaching in college had some of the difficulties that they were having,” says Graulau. “I look forward to continuing to offer my insight and expertise into how they can receive more effective preparation.”

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