In the community, Schools

Educator of the year’s own experience has allowed her to relate to students, parents

A desire to help students who struggle with learning as she once did herself was why Meg Galeener, a reading coach with the Ontario School District, got into teaching in 2007. 

Galeener, who until last year taught kindergarten and fourth grade at Alameda Elementary School, has been named Educator of the Year by the Ontario Area Chamber of Commerce. She was nominated by school district officials and will be among the honorees at the Chamber’s annual banquet on Friday, Jan. 13, at Four Rivers Cultural Center.

According to the nominating form, Galeener over the years has served on multiple committees and has helped the district explore resources, find professional development tools and design tutoring material for students. 

The 40-year-old educator, who began her teaching career at Alameda Elementary School, said she struggled with reading as a child and helping students overcome those difficulties inspired her to become an educator. 

Meg Galeener, Ontario School District reading coach was named the Ontario Area Chamber of Commerce Educator of the Year. (Contributed photo)

Galeener said she had initially wanted to become a nurse. However, when given her senior project in high school to research three different careers – nursing, forestry and teaching –  she changed her mind. 

“I found an interest in helping students be successful in school,” Galeener said.  “I had an understanding that learning does not come easy to everyone.” 

Galeener said that life experience has made it easier to have difficult conversations with parents of students who struggle to keep up.

Trained as a teacher of English as a second language at Eastern Oregon University, Galeener spent time as an adjunct professor at the college. 

Over the years, Galeener said she had seen a lot of change in education since becoming a teacher over a decade ago. While in college, Galeener said she remembers her professors foreseeing that technology would play a more significant role in teaching. She was taught that students’ brains would be very different because they were growing up using a computer and that the next crop of teachers needed to become tech savvy. 

She said she and her classmates shrugged off the prediction. However, she said today, nearly every student uses some technology to learn. 

For instance, she said, laptop computers are in Ontario School District classrooms and help enhance a teacher’s ability to educate students if they are used “purposefully.” 

“You can put kiddos on computers to just put them on computers and say, ‘oh, they’re practicing whatever,'” Galeener said. “Or you could be very intentional with what you’re doing and how you create that lesson, or what you’re asking them to do.”

She said during her 16 years in education, she has been through multiple curriculum changes. Galeener said she has seen teaching go from state standards to Common Core, which is a federal educational initiative from 2010 that lists what students in K–12 across the country must know in reading, writing and math at the end of each school year. 

Through it all, according to the Ontario School District nomination, Galeener has garnered a reputation as a teacher who can reach children from challenging home environments. 

Galeener said she has always held high standards for her students. 

“I realized that if you have 20 students in the classroom, they’re coming from 20 different home environments and maybe a lot of them are alike, but, again, perhaps all of them are different because we’re all different, unique people and family dynamics are different and unique,” she said. 

From there, Galeener said she has always looked at a child and asked herself how she can help and what she can do to help focus the child without hindering the student’s learning. Moreover, she said she had asked herself what she could do to be “communicative” with a kid’s parents. 

Ironically, she said going through the pandemic and the pivot to digital learning and communication made her a better communicator with families. 

She said a digital application designed to connect teachers, students and parents which she had not used much prior to Covid became an invaluable tool to instant message with parents. 

“It opened up that door of communication with parents and as we fell into the next school year, and the next one, I just felt like (communication) got better and better,” Galeener said. 

She said her comfort level with using technology increased and for the parents as well. 

Galeener’s experience struggling in school has been vital in broaching otherwise tricky conversations with students and parents. Whether it’s a speech impediment or a reading problem, she shares her own experience.

“I try to open up with parents and be real with them and even real with my students,” she said. “When I can see a child is shutting down. I always start with ‘do you want to know something about me?'” 

Galeener said as a child, she had a speech impediment and she struggled to read. 

“I try to just be very real with my students and let them know it’s okay that things are tough sometimes,” Galeener said. “But we have to persevere and try our best and we’ll get there when we’re ready.” 

When her mother pulled her out of public school, she worked with her daily on phonics – sounding out every word –  and helped her find her interest in reading. That helped her overcome her struggles with reading. 

Galeener said she was homeschooled from kindergarten until the eighth grade. 

Years later, when Galeener’s mother volunteered in her classroom when she first became a teacher, many of her mother’s methods had become commonplace for teachers. 

Galeener said she suggests families read together and that if parents notice that their child struggles with reading, math or anything else, to find time to work with their kid. 

“We do realize a lot of families have very busy schedules and so just finding those times that you can fit it in, even if it’s reading in the car on the way to soccer practice (if they don’t get car sick) or when you’re making dinner can be very beneficial.” 

In her new role as an instructional reading coach, the school district wrote that Galeener had “found her calling.” 

Galeener said she meets weekly with teachers throughout the district from all grade levels and discusses, among other things, lesson plans, weaknesses and strengths in test scores and what they can do to improve. 

“I think it’s my calling in the sense that I enjoy being able to help all kiddos at all levels, not just the level I’m teaching,” she said. “And I’m getting to teach with all teachers.” 

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