Immaculata Magazine Summer 2014 - page 34

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I MMA C U L ATA MA G A Z I N E * S UMM E R 2 0 1 4
PROFILES
When Mary Beth Gallagher ’00 teaches a
literature or composition class at Immaculata,
her students love hearing that she went there
herself. “You did??” they ask, surprised.
“Yeah,” she says. “And I didn’t do so well in
comp. But I got my act together.’”
She did indeed. She went on to earn
a master’s at Hofstra and is now finishing
her Ph.D. at Morgan State, working on a
dissertation titled “Hemingway’s use of luck
as a religious discourse.” In it, she explores
Hemingway’s attraction to Catholic ritual
and his simultaneous resistance to organized
religion. Gallagher argues that he substituted the concept of luck for a
belief in grace.
As she has continued her education, Gallagher says she often
referred back to the binder with her notes from the American Literature
class she took with Jim Mooney, associate professor of English. The
helpful resources and summaries in the notes “got me through grad
school,” she said.
But even more than the notes, Gallagher gained an enthusiasm
for literature during her time at Immaculata. “I never thought of those
classes as classes, because I loved the teachers, and I loved what we
were reading,” she said. Studying English didn’t feel like work; it was
something to enjoy.
With Sister Elaine Glanz, IHM, Ph.D., “we were doing lofty
literature, but she brought it down to earth,” Gallagher remembers.
Sister Elaine knew how to discuss complex ethical issues in a way that
was accessible so that her students could relate. “That’s the way I always
wanted to teach my classes,” Gallagher said. She wants her students to
think, “Oh, wow, I can actually tie this to my life. Literature does have
value—what do you know?”
Gallagher is thrilled to be back at Immaculata as an adjunct
professor, and she’s happy to see what it’s like now. “I love the growth,”
she said, mentioning the larger undergraduate population, the bursting
residence halls and the Draper Walsh Stadium that was constructed
after she graduated. But some things haven’t changed. “It’s funny—
when I walk in the gym, it smells the same,” she said. “When I walk in
the basement of Lourdes, it’s like I’m doing laundry again. It’s home.”
When asked what teaching strategies she picked up from her
professors, Gallagher immediately says, “Making the class laugh! They
genuinely enjoyed what they were teaching … And they all had great
personalities, so they were free to joke with us and tease us, and kind of
keep it light but at the same time informative. That’s what I love about
being in the classroom—I can joke with kids, and I guess it just makes
them feel more at ease … They’re all adults, so you can mess with them to
their faces!”
Is it weird for her to teach alongside some of the same professors she
had? “Oh my goodness, yes!” she said. She remembers protesting when
Mooney told her, “You can call me Jim.”
“It’s been good though, because they were mentors when I was a
student, but they’re still mentors, and I’m so thankful that they’re still
here.” Gallagher asks for teaching advice and gets their input on what to
include in a syllabus and what to leave out. “I love to pick Mr. Mooney’s
brain and hear him talk about literature. Except now we can do it over a
beer.” And she encourages her students to take classes with her favorite
professors, especially Mooney, and “just enjoy his enjoyment of the
literature.”
Gallagher particularly enjoys modern American literature, the
specialty she is focusing on in her doctoral studies. “It’s not the florid
language of the Victorians; it’s very stark, matter-of-fact,” she said.
“There’s a lot more subtlety to it, which I appreciate.” She points to
Hemingway’s famously spare style and simple language. She loved his
writing in high school because of how easy it was to understand—at least
at first glance. “But then the older I got, the more I realized there is so
much happening. The more life experience I got, the more I was able to
appreciate everything that was going on under the surface.
“And so I love teaching kids to look for that. I love teaching kids to
look a little deeper.” She often reminds them that they do it all the time
in everyday life when they try to figure out why people act a certain way.
Why don’t your roommates do laundry? “Maybe they prefer not to—like
Bartleby,” she joked. “You already have the skills; you just have to take
that and apply it to literature,” she tells her students. “Once they get that,
they say, ‘Oh, I’m no longer afraid of poetry.’”
After reassuring her students that they can, in fact, interpret
literature, Gallagher’s next goal is “getting them to understand that what
they’re saying is valuable, that they’re contributing to a conversation, to
a discussion. Because they just think that they’re nobody,” she said. “You
don’t have to be an expert,” she tells them.
But Gallagher’s overarching goal is simply to help her students take
pleasure in what they’re reading. “I just enjoy the literature for literature’s
sake, and I try to get the kids to appreciate that, too.”
Mary Beth Gallagher ’00
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