Teachers of New Jersey: Rick Carr, Adjunct Professor at Brookdale Community College; Recipient of Ocean County College Lecturer of the Year, 2021

What I am most passionate about as a teacher is communication, empathy, and helping students overcome ignorance. It’s interesting because, as a teacher, what I often hear is, “Well, your job is just to teach.” It’s like, I don’t think a lot of people know what that means. I used to think when I was much younger, “Okay, I’m teaching you how to write an essay.” But something changed over time, and I came to realize that it is so much more than just teaching somebody how to write a sentence properly. This is about somebody decoding something about their reality that they’re not entirely in tune with. And you see it a lot in students because when they have the opportunity to write to somebody who is open to hearing from them, that’s when they tell you all the darkest stuff that they don’t know how to deal with, and they don’t know how to cope with. And if you can get people to understand that about themselves, whether something was or was not their fault, it fosters a better understanding of the self and a better understanding of the people in the world around you.

Whatever a student may be struggling with, I want to help them overcome that struggle. I don’t think it’s my job to turn you into a worker bee. So, if your work is late, and you come to me and tell me why, nine times out of 10, I’ll tell you to make it even later. I’ve had students come to me with all the apologies in the world. “I’m sorry, I’m depressed. I’m sorry, my parents are getting divorced. I’m sorry, I’m working a lot.” And I’ll say to them, “Okay, let’s talk. Let’s find out what’s going on here.”

I had a student who was doing well. Suddenly, the student was gone for four weeks. I had the student’s phone number, so I called the student, and the student was like, “I can’t believe you called me. I’ve been living in my car because my parents kicked me out.” And he’s like, “No, I don’t want to leave your class. I just didn’t want to come back because I know I’ve missed a lot.” And I was like, “Listen, here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to do these assignments that need to be done. You have all the time you need to get them done. If we get to the end of the semester and you need any more time, I can buy you an extra month. You do whatever you need to do, but I don’t want you living in your car. If you need help, you call me. I will call somebody, and somebody will come and help you.”

Many years ago, I had a student who was one of the best writers in my class. She was missing every other class, and I couldn’t figure out why. One day, she comes in and she sits down. And it was a chaotic moment where everybody was all talking in class. And I walked straight up to her and quietly said, “You’re really good at this. Why do you keep missing so much class?” And she goes, “Well, I have to take a public bus to get here, and the bus runs late sometimes. I don’t want to walk into your class late, so I just don’t come.” And I’m like, “I don’t know what kind of experiences you’ve had with teachers or professors in your life, but you come to my class late. I understand what you’re doing. It’s more important for you to be here. I will catch you up.” And she aced the course.

So again, you take all those experiences, and you put them together. And there’s just a huge misconception about school and our job to get them ready for the workforce that irritates me. No, it isn’t about that. Our job is to enrich our students. Enriching students is our number one job as a teacher.


Interview by Gregory Andrus 

Portraits of the Jersey Shore 


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