We recently sat down with Erin Galloway, Academic Intervention Specialist and Instructional Coach with Seneca Family of Agencies. Erin, a Seattle native and nine-year public school teaching veteran who specializes in low incidence disabilities, opened up about what inspires her and motivates her as a teacher and a leader in special education in our state’s growing charter public school sector.
When did you know that education was your calling?
I always knew that I wanted to help people. When I was in high school I had an amazing teacher, Ms. Hanson. She ended up leaving to teach at the alternative high school my senior year. That same year, my younger brother was struggling in the traditional public school setting. Ms. Hanson interviewed him and he ended up graduating from the school where she was teaching. This began the process of shifting my paradigm about what education should – and could – look like. Eventually, I found my way to the teacher education program at Western Washington University. The first day I stepped foot in a classroom I immediately knew I was in the right place. It took me a little bit of trial and error to find my true passion for special education, but I have honestly enjoyed every role I’ve held as an educator, whether it was teaching AP American Government or sixth grade English.
Tell us a bit about your own personal, educational and professional history.
I was born and raised in Ballard, when Ballard was still a small, sleepy neighborhood in Seattle. I am a first generation college student. I went to college in Bellingham at Western Washington University, where I earned a Bachelors in History with a minor in Social Studies. I also completed teaching endorsements in Special Education K-12 and Social Studies 6-12 at WWU.
My first job at the age of 16 was at Red Mill Burgers, and I worked in food service all through college as a burrito roller, barista, and crepe maker to pay the bills. Currently, in addition to working full-time for Seneca, I am also back in school working on a Masters in Counseling degree.
How did you get involved with Seneca Family of Agencies?
I first got connected with Seneca through a friend at the WA Charters annual conference in 2015. Seneca’s philosophy of “unconditional education” caught my attention. I had been working in the district public school system for five years and was feeling frustrated with our inability to provide students with significant disabilities the opportunity to thrive in an inclusive general education setting.
Seneca’s mission of doing whatever it takes to serve each and every student really appealed to me. All students deserve to be successful within their home and school community. By working together as an educational team and creating partnerships between the family, school, and community, student success is possible for all learners, including those with some of the most significant disabilities who are systemically underserved and underrepresented.
Tell us a bit about Seneca’s philosophy and the impact your team is making in Washington.
In the nearly two years that I have been working for Seneca, we have partnered with multiple schools – including every one of the state’s charter public schools – in order to build inclusive school settings. This has taken students out of self-contained settings and placed them in general education classrooms with their same aged peers. The social and academic growth of these students has been groundbreaking. When I see a student who formerly was barely talked to by his classmates playing basketball with his peers during recess and being voted Student of the Week, I know that we are doing incredible work.
Tell us about your most challenging teaching moment. What did you learn from it and how has it shaped you as a teacher?
My first year teaching, I had a student in my ninth grade World History class who I felt I just couldn’t reach. He never turned in work, refused to write on worksheets in class, and would blurt out all the time. A few weeks into school, a special education case manager came to talk to me. I had no idea that this student was receiving special education services. I learned what I needed to do in order to make the class more accessible for him. With some coaching from his case manager, I was able to reach him. After that year, I became determined to pursue my special education endorsement.
Is there anything that you would you like to share with families who are considering high-quality charter public school options for their kids?
Our state’s charter public schools have the unique ability to create programs to serve the students that come through the door. Students do not all fit into a cookie-cutter model, and our state’s charter schools recognize that.
Through a sector-wide special education collaborative, Seneca has a presence in every charter school in the state. Each and every one of Washington’s charter public schools is aligned with our organization’s “unconditional education” philosophy. If I were a parent, especially of a student with special needs, I would not hesitate to explore charter school options in my area.
Charter schools have the ability to flex and personalize instruction to meet every learner’s unique needs. Staff partners with families, and colleagues share best practices within and across schools, to ensure that every student served is receiving what he or she needs to succeed.
What would you share with other educators who are considering teaching at a charter public school?
As a professional, I’ve experienced that working in the charter school setting encourages creativity and a growth mindset. While each of our state’s charter schools is unique, they all are characterized by flexibility, innovation, and are staffed by compassionate and talented educators looking to take their career to the next level.
Teaching at a charter school in Washington allows you to be part of a community of educators who are all striving to be innovators – whether through STEAM-based teaching, a social justice curriculum, computational learning, or other forms. Developing out-of-the-box lessons and projects, and encouraging curiosity in both teachers and learners are common themes across our state’s charter school sector.
What fuels your passion to be a change-maker in public education?
All students deserve to be included in the general education classroom. I believe deeply that making learning accessible to the most impacted students is a critical ingredient in a successful school.
The true mark of a society is how we treat the most underrepresented and vulnerable populations. I hope that I can make a difference in the education system by helping educators expand their ideas of what success looks like within and beyond the academic setting.
My greatest hope is that that one day we will not need laws to remind us that every student deserves a free and appropriate education. If we are all doing what is best for everyone, everything will be alright.