Magic in the Classroom Forever Remembered

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It is a cold and rainy Tuesday morning. Umbrellas are up and puddles are splashing. In a typical classroom the atmosphere would be one of aggravation and discomfort. Cellphones would be out and the student’s minds would begin to wonder in last night’s ball game or who got kicked off of Dancing with the Stars. However, on this Tuesday morning, in this classroom, the attitude is distinctly different. A sense of home is in this classroom and everyone knows it. All outside distractions are blocked out, and for once it looks like everyone truly wants to be there. What is it with this classroom? Is it just this Tuesday or could it be the magic that this professor brings to class everyday?

 

Well this particular professor is Gail Feinzig of the English Department, and as her students will tell you, she’s been bringing a certain kind of magic and sparkle to the otherwise deadly dull business of learning grammar and composition for 32 years. Sadly, the show is coming to an end. In December, Professor Feinzig-certainly one of the most honored and beloved adjuncts in the history of NYIT will retire.

 

Professor Feinzig has been teaching for 45 years, 31 of which have been at NYIT. “One of the best teachers that I have ever had” says Matt Fitz, a former student (2012 graduate, criminal justice). “She is a real sweet women who looks to help out in anyway that she can. Not only is she a great teacher, but she becomes someone who you can turn to for advice.” This seemed to be the trend when asking current and former students of how they felt about the retirement. Endless stories of how she’s helped each and every student. How many students gained an appreciation for a course that at times could get boring. “I never had to dread or fear going to class. It was actually fun.” Fitz said.

 

Teaching has always been the dream of Professor Feinzig. “I have known since I was about five years old that I wanted to be a teacher just like my mom, she maid me realize that teaching was an honorable profession. She was my first professional role model/mentor. I guess it was in my blood!” says Professor Feinzig. After graduating with a BS in Childhood Education from the University of Connecticut, she followed it up by attending New York University to receive her MA. In 1964 she began her teaching career at the second grade level at the Nathan Hale Elementary School in New Haven, Connecticut. It was there that she stayed until taking the same position is New Rochelle at the Stevenson School.

 

After a few years in the elementary level, she was offered a terrific position as a remedial reading specialist at NYU’s Reading Institute. This program was for students who were underprivileged and needed the proper attention they might not have received in a normal classroom setting. It was there, in a very challenging situation that Feinzig believes she matured into the teacher she always hoped she would be. “The students were tough, uncooperative, and intimidating,” she said. “This was their last hope for academic success.” Unlike most classrooms, these students were grouped not by age, but by skill level. “I had 8 year olds mixed with 17 year olds. This was not a good environment for learning. In order for me to survive this challenge, I had to give them tough love and win their trust.” Feinzig said, after her experience in the Reading Institute, she taught at Brooklyn College in their Open Admissions/Seek program. This program was not like the one she had done at the Reading Institute. It was teaching at-risk college level students basic study and reading/ writing skills.

 

In 1981, after a seven-year hiatus from teaching to raise her son Aaron with her husband Mike, Professor Feinzig returned to teaching. While catching up with an old college friend, they had spoke of job opportunities at both New York Institute of Technology and CW Post. She applied to both school and got the positions. After five years the heavy workload became too much. She left CW Post and kept NYIT as her home ever since. Her expertise was not just limited to teaching the basic rewarding and writing course, composition 1 and 2, and technical writing, she also taught in the Higher Educational Opportunity (HEOP) summer institute for ten years, tutored learning disabled students in the Greater Opportunities for the Learning Disabled (GOLD) program and in the EDU-plus (which was a spinoff of the GOLD Program), became a Bear mentor for athletes as well as a tutor for the writing center.

 

Her work with NYIT student-athletes was where she had some of her greatest impact. Clyde Doughty has known Professor Feinzig for close to 30 years. He is no stranger to the relationship that she has had with the student-athletes over the years. “Professor Feinzig has dedicated her time and effort to the development of our student athletes,” he said. “The student-athletes simply adore her dedication and devotion to their overall welfare.” Many as a motherly figure who not only can you learn from, but also can learn on when times get rough viewed her. “Being away from home and trying to mature on your own gets stressful, having someone like Mrs. Feinzig in your corner is huge,” says Stefanie Russotto a former student-athlete from the Women’s soccer team and soon to be teacher herself. “She’s an inspirational teacher with a huge heart, dedicated to her job and even more her students. If I am lucky one day I could be half the teacher she is.”

 

After 45 years in the education field, how could a teacher continue to keep the motivation, love and passion that she had from the start? “I think that the basic motivation force which has driven me is my love of the students and the relationships which have developed over all these years,” says Feinzig. Her keys to success were simple, she put less emphasis on grammar and correctness and encouraged them to dig deep into their hearts and write about their feelings and emotions. The fewer the corrections she left on their drafts, the more willing they were to revise, reflect and expand on their essays. Feinzig threw away her red pen and only made constructive comments/suggestions. “Eventually, they overcame the basic errors with a quick lesson once they knew that they had so much freedom to express themselves and not be penalized for errors. I stressed content not grammar. It worked!” she said. As time went on “work” was no longer considered “work” it began to become pleasure.

 

Over the years Professor Feinzig has gained some high honors in the teaching ranks. In September 2005 she became the recipient of the Presidential Excellence Award for Adjunct Teaching. In April 2008 the SGA Outstanding faculty Member of the year. In 2008 the NYIT Athletic Department awarded her with a Faculty Appreciation Award, and in May 2012 gained the ECC Faculty Appreciation Award.

 

As her days to retirement draw closer, Professor Feinzig looks back to a career where she has left so many lasting impressions on student’s lives. The magic that was in the classroom had nothing to do with card tricks or bunnies being pulled from a hat, it had to do with the way she made you feel. The mindset that she empowered you with to believe that you could accomplish the most challenging tasks. This is the true definition of a great teacher; not just one can conquer a student’s mind, but also win over their hearts.

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