By: Erik Pedersen, Senior Communications Manager
BALTIMORE – Michael McGarrity M’24 majored in finance as an undergraduate, with plans to begin a career in risk management or actuarial science after graduation. Late in his junior year, however, he began to realize that this path towards the corporate world, which he had focused his studies on for several years, was not for him.
A deep personal reflection followed. McGarrity, who had previously spent two years moving around the country as a traveling missionary, first considered joining a seminary before ultimately deciding that he wanted to become a teacher. His next step was finding a program which would provide the support needed to begin this journey with no previous experience in education.
Enter Notre Dame of Maryland University’s Operation TEACH program, a two-year, post-graduate service opportunity in which participants earn a Master of Arts in Education while beginning their careers at a local Catholic school. Operation TEACH students receive a yearly stipend for their work, and they support each other in their personal and professional journeys while living together in Baltimore area community housing.
McGarrity recently began his second year in Operation TEACH, working as a math and social studies teacher at St. Joseph School Fullerton in the daytime and completing his NDMU master’s courses at night. Learn more about McGarrity’s decision to become an educator, how he discovered Notre Dame, and his experience thus far in the Operation TEACH program:
Once you decided to change career paths, what led you towards your ultimate decision to become a teacher? What was it that drew you towards the profession?
I initially considered a calling into the priesthood early in my senior year as an undergraduate. That was something that just kind of arose out of my own practice of prayer and spirituality. I had a conversation with my home archdiocese in San Antonio, and I joined a pre-pedagogical community, where I was living with a bunch of folks who were considering seminary as well. It was a very good experience, but through it I recognized that I wasn’t being called to become a priest.
Teaching had always lurked in the back of my mind, even when I was focusing on math and finance. I had previously worked as a missionary for several years. I worked nearly exclusively with young students during that time, and I really loved that experience. There are a lot of things that, in reflection, kind of pointed towards teaching.
How did you discover NDMU, and what was it that drew you to the Operation TEACH program?
I have done more than a typical amount of traveling. As a traveling missionary, I explored most of the eastern half of the United States. Every day I was leading a retreat at a new school or parish. I traveled across 26 different states and became familiar with a bunch of them.
What first led me to NDMU was that I needed a program where my lack of a background in education as a profession would not inhibit me. As much as I had anecdotal or amateur experience, I didn’t have any education in how to become an educator. NDMU, unlike a lot of other programs out there, was not going to hold that against me. They were happy to support me, so that I could get my MAT while still working as a teacher. The other thing that drew me up here is that I really wanted to attend a Catholic university. My faith is central to who I am and how I approach the world, so I wanted a university where that could be understood and supported.
Talk about your experience so far at St. Joseph. What were some highlights from your first year in Operation TEACH?
It was challenging but rewarding. Jumping into teaching full time without a background in education was very difficult. There was a lot of learning on the job – learning best practices, learning how the school works, grading, making sure everything is in compliance, sending in lesson plans, etc.
I absolutely love teaching, though. I think it is such an incredible gift that my job is to show up and help people become better people. Trying to promote human flourishing and help these kids become the best versions of themselves. There are a lot of highlights from my first year.
There’s this one eighth grade student in particular that comes to mind. Seeing her journey going from wanting to be good at math because she wants to do well in school, to her paradigm shifting a little bit and recognizing that math is actually kind of fun, and having an appreciation for it. Seeing that small shift in her perspective was really great to see. I work with third through eighth grade, so I have a wide spectrum of ages, and I love them all.
Is there a strong sense of community within your Operation TEACH cohort? Was it helpful to have that support system in place as you adjusted to becoming a teacher?
Definitely. It’s been super important. Having people who understand what you’re going through, and are living through a very similar experience, is immeasurably helpful. We come from a bunch of different backgrounds and are here for a lot of different reasons. Some of us have prior experience in education, some of us are already certified when they come in, and then there are folks like me who came in with nothing, but being able to complement and support one another is so valuable.
I remember coming home after 7:30 one day last year after staying late at work trying to catch up on things, and I was just exhausted. One of my housemates noticed, and, in a stern but loving way, helped set me straight. She goes, ‘I need you to take care of yourself, so that you don’t burn yourself out. If it gets done later it’s not going to be the end of the world.’
Teaching is a profession where it’s very easy to push yourself too hard and get sucked into that void of all the things you desire to work on for your students. You want to give them the best lesson plans, you want to give them as much of your time possible with reviewing assignments and providing corrections and feedback. But you’re also still a human being, and having members of my cohort around who can course correct when I start narrowing in and getting tunnel vision has been really helpful.
Are you pleased with your decision to join Operation TEACH, and would you recommend the program to others?
I’m very grateful. It’s giving me the opportunity to pursue my chosen career at little to no financial cost. For folks who want to get into teaching, obtain an advanced degree in education, and gain work experience with a ton of support from others throughout, Operation TEACH is an incredible opportunity.
Established in 1895, Notre Dame of Maryland University (NDMU) is a private, Catholic institution in Baltimore, Maryland, with the mission to educate leaders to transform the world. Notre Dame has been named one of the best "Regional Universities North" by U.S. News & World Report.