This is part of a monthly “Why I Chose Education” series in which NC State College of Education alumni, students, faculty and staff share why they chose education.
Around the time the NC State men’s basketball team won the 1983 NCAA Basketball Tournament, Kelly Fitzgerald ‘89 had a sister who attended NC State. It took one visit to the university soon after for Fitzgerald to fall in love with NC State.
With a passion for mathematics, Fitzgerald enrolled in NC State with the hope of becoming an engineer. He quickly discovered a year later that he had more of a “love for pure mathematics than the application.” At the time, his roommate, whose father was a principal at a North Carolina high school, was in the education department and influenced him to try the field.
After taking some education courses, Fitzgerald realized his passion was in the classroom. He combined those two loves and earned bachelor’s degrees in both mathematics and education.
“I was not one of those students who as a little kid wanted to be a teacher. [What inspired me to become a teacher] was the passion when I met with the other students in the College of Education and when I got a chance to get into the classroom and saw the way the students responded to my ability,” Fitzgerald said.
And now he’s been in the education field for 30 years, working as a classroom teacher. Currently, he is a math teacher at Bay Port High School in his home state of Wisconsin, where he teaches Advanced Placement Calculus AB and BC and Advanced Placement Statistics. Sometimes he picks up an extra section of algebra or pre-algebra, if needed. But in his 30 years of teaching, he has taught various levels of classes from an Introduction to Pre-Algebra, all the way up to Calculus II.
“The thing I enjoy about the education field the most is the chance to see kids develop and examine what they may want to do when they get older. Many students come into these high-level classes with tremendous math ability and I’m allowing them to see whether or not this is a major they want to continue in or if they find their passion someplace else,” he said.
When he’s not working, Fitzgerald enjoys spending time with his family — wife of 26 years and two daughters who are off in college. He considers himself a sports junkie with allegiance to Pack Athletics and all Wisconsin sports teams, especially the Packers. Fitzgerald also finds enjoyment in running, playing golf and any other activities that allow him to get outdoors and enjoy the Wisconsin weather.
He also supports the college by contributing every year to the annual fund. Being in Wisconsin, Fitzgerald is unable to get involved with the college as he would like. He wishes he could do more, whether it’s being involved in one of the college’s programs for summer school and the teachers in North Carolina, giving back as a peer teacher or talking to new students who are joining the College of Education.
Fitzgerald shares about his experience in the NC State College of Education, lessons he’s learned during his 30 years in education, what keeps him motivated to continue teaching and advice for beginning teachers.
What I Enjoyed Most About the NC State College of Education: The two things that I really enjoyed were the communal atmosphere with all the other future teachers when I was at the College of Education, and I really respected the professors I had at NC State. There are a few who will remain with me for the rest of my teaching career because they made such a mark in my life as a student.
An NC State College of Education Experience That Changed Me: The best experience from the College of Education in my time there was the program called Sophomore Block, where you would spend one or two days a week with a teacher in the educational classroom based upon your future teaching profession. I was matched with the department head and math teacher at Enloe High School in Raleigh. It wasn’t more than two weeks into this program that she said to me, “All right, next week you’re going to teach a lesson.” I remember saying to her, “Uh, aren’t we just supposed to help students?” I’ll never forget what she said to me, “Look, if you really want to be a teacher, you better figure out now whether or not you’re good at this.” So over the next couple of weeks she allowed me to teach a lesson and at that point I realized that with all the training that the College of Education gave me at NC State and my passion for the classroom, I knew that this was exactly what I wanted to do.
Lessons I’ve Learned from Teaching for 30 Years: There’s an old quote out there that I use often: “Every day, things get better or things get worse, they never stay the same.” And that’s the way I think education has been for me. Some days are great, some days are tough, but every day is different and the difference is what makes teaching so great. Every day I am required to use the best of the abilities that I received when I was at NC State, along with the vast knowledge I’ve gained over these past 30 years, to make sure I can attack the situation in the proper protocol needed. Sometimes I don’t have all the answers, so even after 30 years I’m still learning.
What Keeps Me Motivated and in the Classroom: The motivation is that I get to mold a new class each year. I get to try new teaching techniques that are out there each year. I get to work with wonderful colleagues who inspire me and make me work harder in my profession. I get to work with students who are our future and who inspire me to work harder each day. I once heard that it’s too presumptuous to believe that a teacher can motivate a class. I believe that’s true because I think a class feeds off the teacher. Every day my job is to motivate myself. Every day my job is to get in that classroom and do the best I can that day, and if the students see that then that excitement will feed through them.
My Advice to Beginning Teachers: I’m going to use a person whom I admired when I was at NC State and that is Jim Valvano. He said, “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.” You have it inside you to be the best teacher for the students. But understand you’re not always going to have the answers, but if you have a heart and if your soul believes in these students, the students will learn.