Improving Students’ Lives

Carey Andrzejewski’s passion for teaching leads to the Gerald and Emily Leischuck Endowed Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching

Published: December 03, 2019
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For Associate Professor Carey Andrzejewski, successful teaching starts with building relationships. Andrzejewski, a faculty member in the Department of Educational Foundations, Leadership, and Technology in Auburn University’s College of Education, is a 2019 recipient of the Gerald and Emily Leischuck Endowed Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching.

“I talk to my undergraduate students, who are preparing to be teachers, about the idea that teaching and learning happen in relationship, and so if you don’t put the relationship first, learning won’t happen,” she said.

It’s a cornerstone of her teaching philosophy. The other cornerstones are student autonomy and rigor—and the support and feedback needed to achieve that rigor.

“I think those are the things that students would say about my classes—that I care, I expect a lot and I help them deliver,” she said.

Another practice that seems simple but makes Andrzejewski stand out in the eyes of her students? She learns all of her students’ names the first day of class—and it’s something she’s always done, even when she was a K-12 teacher.

“How could I possibly say I know these people if I don’t even know their names? It’s something we talk about in my undergraduate classes—not just that I’m going to learn their names but they should learn each other’s names and in the future, their students’ names as well,” she said.

To make sure her students understand the significance of learning names, Andrzejewski has her students read an article about how international students and students from culturally diverse backgrounds often feel left out at school because nobody learns their name or how to say it properly.

“We talk about how important that is as a foundational relationship-building strategy,” she said.

She’s eager to prepare her students to be excellent educators because she knows the impact teachers can have on students in Alabama and beyond.

“This is my home state—I was born and raised in Birmingham—so it feels important to me to do this work that’s meant ultimately to improve the lives of K-12 students in the state,” she said.

Auburn affords her that opportunity while also allowing her to follow another passion—working at a land-grant university.

“The values that are wrapped up in land-grant mission are really important to me,” she said. “It feels important that I don’t just do all my work in my office and in classrooms on campus, but that my work extends into classrooms with public school partners and public school students.”

Her passion for teaching comes honestly. She was raised by a career teacher—her mother.

“Her area of expertise is emotional and behavioral disorders, and she has lots of skills and strategies that not everyone has,” Andrzejewski said. “She interacts with her students with dignity, she affirms their humanity and she treats them with care.”

Growing up, Andrzejewski watched as her mother’s students responded positively to that approach. She drew inspiration from her mother, whose work was targeted at those who are most likely to be underserved.

“That really contributed to the way I think about my work and the ethos I take into my diversity and equity class that works to prepare future teachers for their classrooms,” she said.

Andrzejewski also draws inspiration from former professors, mentors and her peers.

“I’ve been the beneficiary of a lot of really good teaching,” she said. “And, I have really wonderful colleagues. I think one of the reasons the College of Education is an exciting place to work is that my colleagues want to talk about teaching. At Auburn, we have a faculty that, by and large, really cares about teaching.”

Andrzejewski said the heart of her inspiration, though, is her students and the students they will impact.

“I never forget that when my students finish this degree, they’re going to go out into the world and work with hundreds of K-12 students. The ripple effects of what happens to them at are enormous if they stay in the profession,” she said. “Not all of them will, but I hope many of them will.”

On a more interpersonal level, Andrzejewski said she finds that Auburn’s students are eager to learn and to do the right things, and she enjoys seeing them get to the point where they are comfortable leading discussions, thinking about readings and holding conversations with their peers about the material they’re studying.

“Good teachers are collaborative, and they think much more about how these are our students, rather than just my students. I hope that my class helps future teachers to build that habit of talking with each other about their practice and their students,” she said.

Founded in 1915, the Auburn University College of Education enrolls 2800 undergraduate and graduate students. Four academic units offer 60 degree options in teaching, special education, educational leadership, kinesiology, counseling, adult education, educational technology, and educational psychology. The College is committed to diversity and inclusion and maintains a focus on outstanding teaching, consequential research, and solution-oriented outreach in order to fulfill its mission of making a better world for all, including those most in need.