Associate Professor Marla Mallette
The Graduate School of Education recently welcomed Associate Professor Marla Mallette to its faculty. Mallette is a literacy specialist who taught at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, from where she also received a bachelor's degree in elementary and early childhood education. She also has a master's of education degree in literacy and a doctorate in literacy education from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. To learn more about Professor Mallette, read on.
Why did you choose to join Binghamton University in general and the Graduate School of Education in particular?
As my daughter was applying to colleges in the east, I felt like it was a good time for me to make a career move—new opportunities and experiences. When I saw Binghamton's position announcement in literacy, it felt like a perfect match with my interests, experiences and expertise.
Did the school's graduate-only program affect your decision?
For the past five years, I taught only graduate classes at Southern Illinois University Carbondale [SIUC], so that felt familiar. Yet, unlike SIUC, Binghamton University has graduate programs that lead to certification. Thus, it seemed like a wonderful opportunity to work with pre-service and in-service teachers.
Did anything strike you about Binghamton University you when you first came here?
Yes! At the new faculty orientation it was so refreshing to hear about growth—plans for increasing enrollment and faculty—and to see the growth on campus with the new residence halls and buildings. I am just thrilled to be here!
What do you hope to accomplish at Binghamton?
I really value balance—I see my work as scholarship, teaching and service. I value all three and hope to excel in all three areas. I feel greatly supported here in these goals. That is, I feel that my teaching load allows me to truly focus on the courses I am teaching while affording me time to pursue my scholarship and service.
Speaking of teaching, what courses are you teaching this semester?
I am teaching two courses in literacy and language arts theory, research and pedagogy. I hope to continue with these courses, and I look forward to teaching doctoral courses. I am hoping to teach a doctoral seminar in mixed-methods research next year.
Mixed-methods is one of your research interests. Can you tell us a little more about that and the other research you're focusing on?
I am interested in mixed-methods research, which is the complimentary use of quantitative and qualitative methodologies, because I value both. The research is often grounded in pragmatism and when thoughtfully "mixed," this type of research enhances single methodologies. So I am interested in mixed methods both in my work and as an area of scholarship. I have always been interested in early literacy, for example, understanding the struggles of early literacy learners. I am also interested in literacy assessment.
In my most current work, I co-authored a book chapter that focused on the importance of the learner's perspective in literacy—children's perceptions of themselves and their instruction. I am collaborating with former grad students and colleagues on examining the relationship among various literacy assessments—ultimately questioning "what are we really assessing." I am also working on a collaborative research project in which we are investigating children's learning in a summer camp literacy program. In addition to my own research, I am also currently the co-editor (with Diane Barone from the University of Nevada, Reno) of The Reading Teacher, a publication of the International Reading Association.
Do you intend to continue that research at Binghamton?
Yes, I hope to continue to pursue all of my research interests. I value collaboration and look forward to collaborating with my colleagues and students here at Binghamton. I also look forward to working with schools in this area—continuing to conduct research in classrooms—research that is meaningful and beneficial to the participants.
Why did you choose teaching as a profession?
I have always wished that I could answer this question by saying, "I wanted to be a teacher since I was 7 years old." Honestly, when I was in college, I was taking various classes trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. It was an education class that captured my interest. I found myself to be an engaged and passionate learner. And I knew at that point I wanted to be an early childhood teacher. Prior to entering graduate studies, I taught first grade in Las Vegas.
What prompted the change from elementary education to college-level teaching?
Oddly enough, I left teaching for a few years to embark on a business opportunity—co-owning and operating a restaurant in Henderson, Nev. I returned to graduate school to renew my teaching certification and I knew I wanted to pursue a career in higher education.
What do think are the greatest challenges facing new teachers today?
Pressure from high-stakes testing leads to testing that drives instruction and results in disempowered teachers.
How do you address this with your students?
I hope to help them understand the importance of balance...that is, balancing the pressure of high-stakes testing with their knowledge and beliefs of evidence-based best practices. I think that it is fairly common for teacher-education courses to be characterized as lofty, unrealistic, theoretical and "ivory towerish," whereas fieldwork is characterized as "the real world." As much as there are things I would like to change about public schools, I am a pragmatist. I think it is essential that teacher education coursework reflects and prepares teachers for that real world—of course with realistic—and balanced—pedagogical approaches to improve literacy instruction.
Do you have any advice for students wishing to pursue the field of education?
Do it! Teachers can (and do) make a difference! There was an adolescent boy in Mount Prospect, Ill., who was having trouble in school—making bad choices and getting placed in an alternative high school. He had a teacher who stuck by him and inspired him to pursue his dream, which was music. That teacher has been my best friend since high school, and that student went on to win American Idol!
[Mallette is referring to American Idol season 9 winner Lee DeWyze and his former teacher, Amy Silverman. She appeared with DeWyze in a clip from the March 3, 2010, episode of the show. In that episode, DeWyze talks about his life and thanks his teacher.]
Now that we know about your best friend, Amy, who is also a teacher, is there anything you want to share about your family?
Yes, I have one daughter. She graduated high school in three years and is studying physics (plus hurricanes and nor'easters!) at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J.
Let's finish with this question: What is your proudest professional accomplishment?
At SIUC, I was director of the Saluki Kids' Academy, a community-based summer program for children in grades 1-6. The Saluki Kids' Academy is an outreach program, funded by grants and gifts, which uses university resources to provide academic, recreational and enrichment experiences for children who have not otherwise had access to those opportunities. I would love to find a way to start something like that in this area.