Mazurkewitz: Teachers of Distinction

Eric Mazurkewitz. (Submitted photo)

Eric Mazurkewitz. (Submitted photo)

When you do what you’re born to do, it just has to be great.

For Eric Mazurkewitz that means teaching Biology at Immokalee High School. His students would certainly agree; and Eric himself is about as pleased as he can be. The Collier County Public School District think so, too.

Being chosen as a Teacher of Distinction by the Champions for Learning makes it unanimous.

It’s Eric’s fourth year teaching Biology to Immokalee students.

Eric says he was always drawn to science and teaching, but when it came time to choosing his career, teaching won out. He said he loved high school biology. It just always clicked with him. Maybe it was his “awesome” teacher that made the connection easy.

He was lucky. He learned early in his student years that, between teachers and other role models, adults really care and that he wanted to emulate the great experience he had for others.

He grew up in New York and earned his degree there. But there just weren’t any teaching positions there. His wife is an elementary school teacher and she found a job in Collier County first – at Parkside Elementary. He soon followed and was steered toward Immokalee.

That was a fortuitous day for Eric and for Immokalee students.

He said he soon fell in love with Immokalee and with his students.

Eric isn’t just all about biology. He sang in a high school jazz group and in an a capella group in college. So he helps out with Immokalee’s amazing BETA Club when needed.

Eric said the teaching experience is pretty much what he expected in a lot of ways. He already knew about the relationships from his own school days and wants to use them to inspire kids, fire them up about science.

But teaching is also different from what he expected, he said. He has been challenged a lot at I.H.S. In fact, he does not consider his first year teaching to be a great success.

“It was a big eye opener,” he remembers. “That first year I saw it wasn’t working” – kids slumped over in their chairs, not paying attention. “I failed,” he said.

Not satisfied with his performance, he researched teaching styles and found out about online videos focusing on ways to help students move at their own pace – individual education

He believes he needs to reach every student. There’s not just one way to teach, he realized. Too many times teachers get complacent – if kids don’t get it , too bad.

Eric feels a lot more accountability for helping the kids connect with their subject – not just listen to boring lectures.

“I want to make sure every kids gets it.”

He adapted this technique to one that he was comfortable with and that the kids could not just accept but really get into.

Now he records videos the kids can watch at home or school and then practice at school. It’s a kind of blended learning style with videos and labs that the kids are actually interested in.

He then elaborates on his subject with quizzes and questions.

His students get the lesson and also one-on-one attention.

He said the strategy may not be perfect, but the subject is more memorable if students work it out for themselves. Nothing is spoon fed to them, and the kids must work for selves.

His class is never dull, never routine.

After four years of teaching, Eric has learned the joy of having students return from college to see him – education full circle, he notes.

Of course, nothing is perfect, and Eric would like less testing and to be able to spend as much time as needed with each student. Such strict guidelines, he said, sometimes is a disservice to kids.

“We need great teachers,” Eric said, “especially in science.” Loving education as he does, he said encourages kids to become teachers but warns that it’s a tough job – they must do it for the right reasons. He does his best to tell them what teaching is really like.

Being named a Teacher of Distinction is a big honor, of course, and he said he was shocked and amazed when he got the news. It’s a validation of what he does, he feels, and is thrilled that other people get excited about what he does.

At the same time, he feels compelled to share the honor. “There are many Teachers of Distinction who never get the title,” he said, “even though we’re all challenged to do same thing.”

The Teachers of Distinction and the Golden Apple recipients will be honored at the Golden Apple Celebration of Teachers Dinner presented by Suncoast Credit Union Foundation on April 1, at the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club. Major sponsors include Arthrex, Centurylink, Conditioned Air, Mary Ingram Fund of the Columbus Foundation, Moorings Park, Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club, Naples Daily News, NBC-2 Waterman Broadcasting, and Publix Super Markets Charities.

Patty Brant, Publisher of the Immokalee Bulletin can be reached at pbrant@newszap.com

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