Finding a love for writing … eventually

An English teacher is expected to, well, like English. However, new teacher Kristen Gengaro didn’t at first, only coming to her love the subject later in her academic career. It’s a fact Gengaro keeps in mind as she aims to structure her classes so that her students will like and appreciate the subject on their own terms, using methods she herself appreciated as a student. 

When she was younger, Gengaro said, she felt English class was too rigid and did not allow her to unleash her creativity. Instead of being allowed to come up with her own ideas, she was forced to regurgitate the teacher’s thoughts onto the page. Because of that, she would never have imagined herself in those teacher’s shoes today. 

“If you told me when I was all of your age that I’d be an English teacher,” Gengaro said, “I would have laughed at you.”

However, her mindset was transformed later on by a teacher who had a unique strategy: Instead of requiring his students to complete the class reading, he gave them the choice. This allowed Gengaro to move away from the rigid English class structure she had always known (and hated) and toward a class she realized she could enjoy. 

“It shifted my whole perspective,” Gengaro said. “I discovered a love for reading and a love for writing.”

Because having the opportunity to use her own creativity is what made Gengaro fall in love with English, she builds her teaching style around this concept. She tries to include all of her students’ ideas in class discussions, and wants to know what they think about the pieces they read.

“I told the students in my class already, ‘Share your ideas, your ideas are valuable, even if you don’t like what we’re reading,’ ” Gengaro said. “I want them to know that even if in the past they didn’t like it, like I didn’t at first. It doesn’t mean [they] can’t do well in the future.”

Her goal is for her students to leave her classroom feeling confident and comfortable, knowing that Gengaro cares about what they have to say — something she herself did not have in high school. 

  “I have made it a point to emphasize how much each of my student’s perspectives matters,” Gengaro said. 

Prior to West Essex, Gengaro was poised to graduate as an undergrad from Gettysburg College in spring 2020, but the global COVID-19 pandemic interrupted her own student life — a particular experience that she said can help her relate to her current students on a personal level, and something that’s made her value being a teacher even more. 

As she comes into West Essex teaching freshman classes and sophomore English classes, she holds onto the loss of learning she felt during COVID and keeps it in the back of her mind, driving her to always bring energy and enthusiasm to her lessons. At the moment, Gengaro is just trying to make the most of new experiences that keep coming her way, and trying to keep a smile on her face throughout the school year. 

While Gengaro may be new, she is ready to make the year meaningful and enjoyable for her students. Maybe English isn’t so bad after all. 

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