Teacher Stories: Rick Carr, Lecturer, Ocean County College

What motivated me to go to college was waking up in a room with people who had partied for far too long, and thinking I didn’t want to live my life like that the rest of my life, or I am going to literally die. So I went to Brookdale Community College and when I went there I was totally convinced I was going to flunk out. I had barely made it out of high school, and I was unprepared to be a college student. But within the first week of my English class, my professor pulled me aside to say to me, ‘Do you realize that your writing is really excellent?’ And I was like, ‘Well, I like to write and all.’ And he said, ‘No, no, no. Your writing is really excellent. You need to join the writing club.’ I hadn’t joined a single club in high school. I almost thought the whole thing he was saying to me was a joke. Like, ‘I am in an academic setting and I am doing well? How is this possible?’ So I joined the Brookdale English Club and by the end of the semester I became the president of the club and brought their membership up from about 15 people to about 95.

So I really loved writing, but I discovered I wanted to be a teacher, because I fell in love with the academic setting at Brookdale. College was such a better experience for me that I wanted to stay there. And one of my mentors at the college told me that when I graduated I needed to come back so he could get me a job there. And he wasn’t the only one. There were a lot of people in that department from whom I had a lot of support. So I went directly from Brookdale to New School University and got my Bachelor’s Degree, came back, and was hired immediately. Now I work at Ocean County College and I am able to do things with my career that I never thought I would be able to do.

The term, ‘You can do anything you put your mind to,’ is not just a catch phrase. I can’t begin to stress enough how important it is to know what you are capable of. At this stage in my life I realize I could have been anything I wanted to be, but I just didn’t know it. I didn’t know how to learn. A lot of people don’t. It’s a strange concept, but you have to learn how to learn.

So I went from an environment in high school where I was being berated not just by the student body, but also by people who worked there. It is also important for me that I get my students to see how important critical thinking is. When you hear or read something, you have to be able to find out if it is actually true or not. I had a student come up to me at the end of the school year in my Literature class two years ago. He said to me, “There is something that I want to tell you, but I’m afraid I’m going to insult you.’ And I said, ‘There is nothing that you can say to me that can insult me.’ And he said verbatim, “When I started this class I thought it was going to be all BS.’ And I said, ‘OK, then what happened?’ He then said, ‘After a while in your class, I started looking at everything from different angles. And I started thinking about the way people felt when they did things, whether they are happy or hurt and where that comes from. And something changed. The entire way I think about things started to move and change.’ And that was the best compliment I could have asked for. And here’s the good news: he is going to have his entire life to pursue that, because that river for him has started to flow, and it’s going to continue to flow.

You can follow Rick Carr at The Punk Rock Professor: TikTok @PunkRockProfessorRick and FB: @PunkRockProfessorRick

  • Interview by Gregory Andrus

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