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The Westfield Voice

The Westfield Voice

Andrew Kozikowski: His 38 Year Career is Just the Beginning


By: Aimee Funk

The clock’s minute hand inches slowly forward as noon arrives, and Andrew Kozikowski sits behind the desk, alone. He stretches out his legs and leans his back against the seat. His arms, sleeved in a navy and white button-up, cross tightly over his chest. He gazes attentively at the ancient blackboard at the front of the classroom, and runs a hand slowly over his thin, white hair.

Dozens of identical desks surround Kozikowski on all sides, and he looks out of place among the clusters of empty chairs. He checks his shiny gold watch and looks around the room. He picks up a black pen laying in front of him and begins to scribble illegibly on a yellow notepad. He stops, puts the pen back down, and stares at the blackboard again. He closes his eyes, and listens to the industrial heater chug and grunt as his brown loafers tap to their own beat. It’s as though he hears his own music in the humming silence.

Professor Kozikowski has come to class thirty minutes early, as he often does. He makes sure to set aside time each day to remember what it was like to be a student. As he sits alone in the empty room, he takes notes about new ways to teach and improve his instruction; his goal is to always be perfecting his craft as a teacher. “I try to sit in empty classrooms, in the seats, and envision […] how I would best like this material presented to me.”

He constantly sharpens his skills by practicing what he preaches, and by staying connected with the experiences of his students. “The students have to come first,” he said. “They always have to come first. It doesn’t matter how much I know at the end of the semester, it matters how much you know.” His students have been his highest priority since he began teaching 38 years ago.

The Munson native has been teaching at Westfield State University for over 10 years. Kozikowski has held a crucial role on the English department staff since he began, and he teaches both British and American literature courses. Among the English department staff, Kozikowski is known for his charisma and effective teaching style, and students say he fits their definition of a good professor.

Kozikowski knew he wanted to be teacher since he was a student at Munson high school. He enjoyed learning, and was certain that schools would be the focus of his career. “When I was in high school,” he said, “I knew I wanted to be a teacher because I loved school.” His passion for education sparked early, but his passion for English came a little later.

“Now, lemme tell ya… I didn’t passively dislike English, I hated it,” Kozikowski said. As a young adult, his love was solely dedicated to athletics, “I didn’t want to be an English teacher because I hated English, but I loved sports so I wanted to be a Phys Ed. teacher.” As a driven ice hockey, baseball, and soccer player, he was certain that his occupation would be in physical education.

The Munson high school graduate, then attended Springfield college for its prestigious athletic science programs. Kozikowski’s intention was to pursue a career in an exercise field, but his experience didn’t go quite as planned. “When I got to Springfield,” he explained,  “I had this professor my freshman year who just said, ‘Hey there it is’. And I said ‘Oh my God, Doctor Edwards Simms,’ and he just showed me the beauty of English.”

The positive influence of his first year professor pushed Kozikowski to reconsider his college career, and quickly make a significant decision; “…I became an English major as well.  And [Simms] became my adviser.”  He graduated as double major in Physical Education and English.

After graduating college, like most recent grads, Kozikowski needed to find work. “Now, this is 1980,” he said, “There were no teaching jobs anywhere. It was a brutal market, but I got a job right away.” Kozikowski was lucky to find a job as a physical education teacher at Munson high school, but after only a few years, he knew it wasn’t the right fit.

Kozikowski went to the principal of the school, who happened to be a personal friend of his, and pleaded for a change of positions. “You’ve got to get me out of the gym,” he said to the high school principal, “I am banging my head against a wall. It’s mind-numbing.” He was then given a position as an English teacher, and began his English teaching journey.

He enjoyed teaching at the high school level, but felt an itch to move on to something different. Kozikowski started to feel antsy, and he compared his sense of antsiness to the ideas of Henry David Thoreau in his chapter Conclusions: “It’s time to move on, it’s time to do the next thing,” Kozikowski said. “Do the thing that’s calling you somewhere else. And everything else just came together after that.” There was something in his gut that told Kozikowski he belonged somewhere outside of high school, and when the opportunity presented itself, he listened to the voice that told him there was more to come.

He remembers talking to WSU English professor, Glen Brewster about finding a way to teach at the college level. “As a matter of fact, I said to Glen Brewster years ago that I want to be teaching where you are,” Kozikowski said. “Not your job, but I want to be where you are. I gotta figure out a way to get there.”

Kozikowski continued to teach at the high school level for almost 20 years, and was the school’s athletic director for 17 years. When Marilyn Sandidge, the English department’s Graduate Administrator at WSU, reached out to him 11 years ago about teaching a British Literature class at the university, he quickly accepted.

Having never taught at such an elevated level before, Kozikowski was “nervous as heck.” He worked through his fears by facing his insecurities head on. Once he had a foot in the door, “that led to another thing which led to another thing which led to another thing, and I ended up teaching a lot of late day school classes.” He had solidified his position as a staff member of WSU, and discovered what he had always known was left to come.

Now, Kozikowski teaches three classes every semester, switching between different eras of British and American literature. “I’ve been here eleven years, and I can’t think of anything better than to be teaching English, a subject that I hated in high school, and to be teaching it at this level,” he said. “I feel like this is home, now.”

A wide smile spread across Kozikowski’s face as he expressed his gratitude for, “…the most gracious and giving and helpful people that I have come across in my professional career.” He shared just as much, if not more, about his colleagues and students as he did about himself.

Kozikowski stands out as a teacher because of his teaching philosophy; “I work really hard to make sure that the next class is going to be better than the last one.” For him, teaching involves a consistent dedication to becoming better at what you do, and he embodies this idea in his classroom.

Embedded in his positive philosophy, however, is a persistent insecurity. Although the professor believes that his efforts to improve his teaching pedagogy are a strength, he says that he never feels good enough. “I don’t feel like I ever know enough,” he said. “And that’s probably gonna be something I go to the grave with. I always feel like there’s more to know.” Part of what makes him such an attentive teacher is a ceaseless sense of never quite getting there. “Sometimes I feel like I haven’t really found the best way to present this stuff yet….I’m always worried that I’m just not good enough.” His pursuit to perfect his craft acts as both a blessing and a curse.

Professor Kozikowski has made a lasting impression on the student body of WSU, and he uses a unique, innovative teaching style to engage students as they learn. “A good professor is […] someone who has patience and cares and explains things well,” said Nick Barry, a student in Kozikowski’s American Literature course. Kozikowski’s teaching method reminds him “of an old history teacher I had in high school,” Barry said. For Barry, there was something about Kozikowski that mirrored his favorite parts of his former teachers. In Barry’s experience, not only did he feel that “[Kozikowski] has a lot of charisma,” but, “he asks what other students think, and it was a very discussion based class, which I really liked.” His experience with the class and the teaching style were overwhelmingly positive.

Isabella Valadas, another WSU student, shared the same sentiment when asked about her experience in Kozikowski’s class. “Definitely a good teacher,” she said. “He has a passion that you just don’t see in other professors.” Valadas also said that Kozikowski reminded her of a favorite highschool teacher because of his ability to get her actively involved in the material. “He values our side of the learning environment, even if our ideas are outlandish and out of the box,” she said. “He values me as a person and as a scholar.”

The experiences of students in his class reflect his constant effort to improve his skills, and his dedication to the student above all else. His years as a teacher have given him a fulfilling career and a lot to be thankful for. After 38 years of teaching English at multiple levels, he only sees bigger and better things ahead.

Kozikowski’s cousin Stan, a professor of English at Bryant University, who he holds as one of his role models, shared an idea that became one of the core principles of Kozikowski’s teaching philosophy: “Stan said, ‘I still think my best work is ahead of me.’ And that’s the way I feel too. At, least I hope.”

Kozikowski’s passion for teaching has yet to fade, and he plans on continuing his career for as long as possible. “I’ve been doin’ this for a damn long time, I mean 38 years. And I don’t know when the end is coming.”

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    Ariana ChiarenzaJan 10, 2019 at 4:16 pm

    Such a good feature piece for such a great professor.