Alex R. '24
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the term ‘essential workers’ was sparsely used. Essential workers, or employees considered to provide an indispensable service, such as health care personnel, first responders, and educators, have always played a role, but until the pandemic, the unmitigated vitality of these workers was not recognized. As the death toll decreases, and COVID’s domination over our lives slowly wanes, it’s important to remember and continue valuing the work and sacrifices made by these individuals. Teachers faced distinct challenges compared to other essential workers; having to navigate the constant fluctuations of in-person versus remote learning; adapting classroom curriculums to online platforms, managing student access to technology, and accommodating the emotional and mental health of their students. Their contribution to our collective progress was distinctly apparent.
In the spirit of not forgetting, this series of articles will attempt to recognize and highlight some of the staff here at BASIS Independent Brooklyn. This interview features Ms. Csilla Korbl, one of our English teachers. One piece of advice offered during class was to be critical of the information you receive, regardless of its source and to try to find something enlightening about the material being covered every day. In addition to great life advice, the interview helped inform about her road to teaching, the pursuit of leaving a positive imprint on society, unconventional career ideas, and teaching in Hungary.
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
Laila: “What was your first day teaching at BASIS Independent Brooklyn like?”
Ms. Korbl: “My first day was interesting and exciting. I had the opportunity to meet several students that are incredibly bright and full of energy – they are definitely people who I believe can make change in the future.”
Laila: “When/why did you decide to become a teacher?”
Ms. Korbl: “I never really thought about becoming a teacher, until I spent a year abroad in Hungary. I was helping a lot of my friends translate and they asked me to teach them English. When I came back from Europe, I asked a former professor, ‘What job can I get that can use my brains?’ By coincidence, he had just received a call from someone needing a tutor. He said ‘well I got you a tutor right here’ and I was looking around the room thinking ‘he can’t possibly mean me?’ From that day on, I started tutoring and very shortly started giving workshops on how to pass the college placement tests. After that first summer, we had better results than the professors. At the time, I was getting paid $11 an hour and learned that professors were getting paid $65 an hour. That fall, I signed up at Hunter College and pursued a master’s degree in teaching English to students of other languages.”
Laila: “Is teaching at BASIS Independent Brooklyn different from what you thought it was going to be like?”
Ms. Korbl: “I myself attended a private international school, so I’m very familiar with the ‘rigor’ of a private school and the stressful expectations that are put upon us teachers.”
Laila: “Can you tell me about your approach to teaching?”
Ms. Korbl: “My approach to teaching has always been to minimize the stress in the classroom to maximize the learning. Students should have the time and space to think about ideas, not just wait to be told what to say or write. This might seem a little frustrating to some, but I think that the skills they learn stay with them for a lifetime, so I bear with it and just hope for the best.”
Laila: “How would you like your students to remember you?”
Ms. Korbl: “I would hope that students would remember me as an advocate for their thinking and their rights to explore ideas in a safe, judgement-free environment. And, hopefully they’ll emulate that as adults and make the world a little bit better.”
Laila: “If you could talk to a younger version of yourself, what would you say?”
Ms. Korbl: “Be nicer to your teachers because karma’s real.”
Laila: “Any teachers or professors that had a particularly strong influence on your life?”
Ms. Korbl: “One particular professor that had a huge impact on my life was Professor Robert Cohen – he saw something in me that other people didn’t. At that time of my life I wasn’t really sure about my own identity – I needed to find something positive in the world. So, in short, getting that tutoring job led me to a life where I can share, learn, and become a better human being every day.”
Laila: “What are your hobbies?”
Ms. Korbl: “Driving, painting, sculpture, drawing, and anything creative.”
Laila: “Any particular experiences here that have made you hopeful for the new generations?”
Ms. Korbl: “I’m very hopeful – every day I come to BASIS Independent, I see new reasons why tomorrow will be better.”
Laila: “What did you think you were going to be growing up?”
Ms. Korbl: “When I was 6, I wanted to be a pediatrician. By the time I was 10, I wanted to be an architect. At 15, I thought about entering politics. By the time I was 20, I just wanted to travel the world and by 30, I realized that I wanted something that is positive everyday and has some kind of meaningful purpose; I didn’t just want a regular desk job, I wanted to actually make the world a better place without becoming a fireman (which I took a test for – if I had passed the physical, I would have been the 26th fire-woman in NYC). I also took the police-officers exam, but decided that by the time we get to students or kids in the legal system, it’s too late – so education seemed to be the best route.”
It was exciting to interview Ms. Korbl because of the deep conversations that ensue in her AP Language class. Her path to teaching serves as a reminder to be open to unforeseen opportunities. Thank you, Ms. Korbl, for participating in this interview.