KCC Faculty on Teaching
KCC Faculty on Teaching
How did you get into teaching?
I always considered myself too shy to be able to actually practice teaching. When I was in college I would often skip - out of fear - classes taught by professors known to require their students to speak up! For a while this seemed like a serious impasse: On the one hand, my background made teaching the only viable career choice but, on the other, my fear of public speaking made it impossible. This all changed when I was a teaching assistant during my master’s program at Stony Brook University, and was told I would have to teach ESL. (At the time I had been in the USA for a very short while and I had no idea what ESL even stood for!) I don’t know how I finally found the courage to open that door and go inside, but it was nothing short of magical: 25 pairs of hopeful eyes looking up at me kindly, respectfully and somehow appearing even more scared than I was! I realized then what appears just as true 19 years later: Teaching is the only career that enables me to combine my interests, skills, motivation, and the different aspects of my personality which I believe are crucial to my self-actualization. A very happy ending indeed!
What career did you imagine for yourself when you were in college?
The career I had dreamt of since childhood was that of veterinarian because I have always loved animals and felt a strong desire to make a positive difference to their lives. I did not become a veterinarian because I was too afraid of the admissions exam. The educational system in Romania, where I grew up, required students to choose their career straight out of high school, and admission to all university programs was based solely on the results of a single strenuous exam or series of exams. In the end, I do not regret this, as I have found many ways of staying connected with animals (starting with having my own pets) and helping the ones in need through volunteering, donations, and advocacy.
What do you love about teaching?
If I had to pick just one thing I love it’s that teaching is always a two-way street in a way that other careers are not. I love that it enables me to make as much of a difference to students’ lives as they make to mine. I help students learn to think as scientists and, in turn, they stimulate my own professional development. My Facebook ‘motto’ describes that quite well: “I teach, but I mostly learn.”
What’s your favorite teaching experience?It is very difficult to choose just one! Generally speaking, I have experienced the deepest fulfillment from situations such as the following: encouraging shy students to be more responsive and assertive, and seeing them overcome their fears; making time to help a student who was in his 70s with a dictionary project he had been working on for the past 17 years; witnessing a student’s change from visible distress (resulting from his social anxiety disorder) to raising his hand to speak up in class and enjoying his class presentations; receiving a letter from a student I often saw during office hours, who had being going through difficult times (to the point where she had to stay in a rehabilitation clinic) thanking me for having helped make that hard time in her life a bit easier. And not least, seeing so many of my students become drawn to research under my guidance, develop their first research projects and present their work at professional conferences, including international conferences held abroad. These outcomes, and many others, are the reason I always tell people that I had the incredible luck of landing my ideal job!
In what ways do you bring your professional experience into the classroom?
Other than refining and redesigning parts of my courses constantly to reflect my newly-acquired knowledge, I like to think that by being outspoken about my training and daily practices as a scientist I am inspiring students to make good choices and incorporate the scientific method to their own lives and their assessment of the world that surrounds them. Above all, I constantly encourage students, especially my mentees as part of CRSP (the CUNY Research Scholars Program) and K-CORE (Kingsborough Collaborative Research & Conference Bootcamp), the undergraduate research program I founded at Kingsborough, to work on topics stemming from my research projects. A fundamental priority in my teaching and my K-CORE initiative is to enhance our students’ success by providing technical skills and arming them with knowledge about the basics of scientific research, leading to a potential career in various STEM disciplines. With the support of the CRSP program, we recently acquired an ultrasound system for speech research, which both my mentees and my regular students will be able to use. The ability to visualize and measure the movements of articulators during everyday activities, such as speaking or swallowing, can really bring research to life in a way that is inspiring for the students.
What advice do you have for current students?
I advise current students to value their education and the doors that it can open for them in the future. No matter where you start in college, it will bring you a step closer to where you want to be. Any course you pursue will provide a great environment for you to develop the critical competencies you need to succeed, such as problem solving, discipline, time management, accountability and self-direction. The community of peers that you can practice these competencies with, and the safe space to do so provided by your institution, are two of the most valuable things about college life. Above all, remember that you will get out what you put in – there really is no excuse for not giving your best to your future self!