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Talking with Inspirational Teacher Andrew Gardner

At the age of 29, Andrew Gardner has already been a first-grade teacher for seven years. With passion and dedication to the field, Gardner has developed a teaching style that is creative and innovative, fostering an enjoyment of learning for his six-year-old students.

Gardner ascribes his motivation to pursue a career in education as part social mission and part family influence. As a major in American Studies, he came to the conclusion that “the promises of America have been overridden by systemic problems and education is a way to help eradicate them.” His mother was a special education teacher involved with research in Fragile X syndrome; his father is a renowned professor at Harvard.

Gardner feels that young children present a unique window of opportunity; that teaching them to read is a “mind-blowing process.”

An internship at Yale presented a starting point for Gardner to watch the greats in action—developmental educators of young children such as Edward Zigler and James Comer—while working 30 hours a week at the Child Study Center.

At the Children’s Store Front in East Harlem, where Gardner taught immediately following his internship, he became an advocate of the Orton Gillingham method which provided a guideline to follow, but he also felt that he wanted to understand the underlying theory behind teaching reading and that he should “get more education in the field of education.”

While working on his master’s degree at Bank Street College of Education, Gardner found Professor Madeline Ray who was inspiring in the field of social studies while Professor Harold Melnick was instrumental in clarifying the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) standards, facilitating Gardner’s understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of various curricula such as Trailblazer. While a student at Bank Street, Gardner also continued working in the classroom, interning at Children’s Workshop and the Manhattan Country Day School, both of which had alternative tuition policies, with a diverse socioeconomic population of students.

After completing his master’s degree, Gardner began working at The School at Columbia—which also has a socio-economically diverse population—during its very initial phases, witnessing the development and evolution of the school. It was there that his creative and innovative approaches to teaching led to the linkage of the modalities of art and music to learning. With a strong musical background, Gardner began to integrate songs, movement, and instruments into the classroom. Eventually, he began using music on a daily basis in the classroom, incorporating it into lesson plans as well as for fun. Gardner made music an integral part of the learning process. During a lesson at Manhattan Country School students in his class learned about Martin Luther King by creating lyrics such as: “All day, all night Martin Luther King fought for our rights.”

As part of the end of the year project at The School of Columbia, Gardner had students create individual photo journals on their computers, thus fusing the learning of technology, art, photography, and communication. Another end of the year project was the creation of a circus. Performances were given for parents and Gardner recalled with laughter, the excitement of the children.

Gardner has devoted time outside of school hours to help children in need. Sensitive to the loss of a parent (his mother died when he was 18 years old), he helped one of his former students through the crisis of his mother’s death.

After seven years of teaching the first grade, Gardner is about to embark on a journey that will include the mission of becoming fluent in Spanish. Beginning with an exploration of his roots in Nuremberg, Germany, he plans to spend time in Madrid, studying Spanish at a language immersion institute. Enhancing his music skills in Seville is also on his agenda, learning flamenco guitar. Following ten weeks of immersion in Spanish, Gardner hopes to be fluent enough to fulfill his goal of doing volunteer work in Costa Rica and Guatemala.

When asked about his future goals, Gardner’s eyes twinkled as he spoke of possibly teaching adolescents, a group where he feels he can make a positive contribution. His passion for education, his sensitivity to students’ needs, his dedication to young people will undeniably make for a continued successful and rewarding career.