The COMMITTED EDUCATOR
BY WENDY DWYER
Poet William B. Yeats once said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”
If this is true, then Laura Crago Kauffmann, an Indian River State College assistant professor, is guilty of lighting tens of thousands of fires on the Treasure and Space coasts. Nearly a half century of the Vero Beach resident’s life has been devoted to teaching and inspiring young minds at the high school and college levels.
Kauffmann was born in Mississippi, but when she was 5, the family moved to Florida where Kauffmann’s parents had been raised. Having come from a long line of educators, teaching is practically in Kauffmann’s DNA.
“My grandfather was a professor of child psychology at University of Florida,” she says. “My husband, Alan, taught for 37 years. My son-in-law just made a career change to be a teacher. My daughter, Ainsley, has been in education in so many areas.”
Kaufmann believes that teachers fill a vital and challenging role in society.
“We desperately need those who are committed to educating future generations,” she says. “It was always hard and it has become so much harder. The eyes must be wide open and we must remember that it is for students that we are entering the field.”
Though she started out teaching high school English, Kauffmann transitioned to Indian River State College, where she teaches Student Success, a course for students just entering higher education.
Kauffmann enjoys the diversity of her students who come from all backgrounds and have ranged in age from 14 to 89. Reaching students who are on so many different levels and have such a wide difference in experiences requires creativity, empathy and a wide range of tools and knowledge – especially during a global pandemic.
“My class is often the first college credit class they take,” Kauffmann says. “The course is all about helping them know and use the strategies to be successful both in college and in life situations … students now have so many pressures and so much instability. For school, they need reliable Wi-Fi and a person whom they can contact for troubleshooting. Often the professor is the first line in that case.”
In addition to helping students overcome academic and pandemic obstacles, Kaufmann says one rewarding part of her job is being part of the changes in her students’ lives.
“At IRSC, we serve many adult learners,” she explains. “They maybe be seeking to improve their skills or to transition to a new career entirely. They come to us because they want to be here. They are enthusiastic about the opportunities and choices that they realize are before them and are grateful to IRSC for supporting them: emotionally and generally, financially.
“For so many, IRSC is the gateway to personal improvement, to their growth and eventual success. It is a pretty heady thing, as a professor, to be a part of that type of transformation.”
One challenge many may not realize is how much educators’ workloads have increased, Kauffmann says.
“Due to COVID, I am much more at work and available to students,” she says. “At home, I often sit with my laptop right in front of me. If I hear a ding, I answer. Students have my school phone, where messages automatically go to email for me to receive when not in the office, typical college email, Blackboard messaging, and they know my office hours when I am at work and on duty to be available to them.
“At IRSC, we welcome their contacts and are eager to help them.”
Nearly five decades of teaching has only fueled Kauffmann’s passion for education.
“After almost 50 years, I recognize the deep and wide value of education,” she says, “not just in the world of work but in personal development. How to be resilient, how to think critically, to evaluate all sides of a situation, how and when to persevere, knowing your values and how they influence priorities, self-management and how to create balance and instill joy.”
When students come to her to ask about becoming teachers, her advice is simple.
“Do it,” she says. “I often tell students there is no perfect job, except mine, and I am not giving it up yet. After this many years of the pure exuberance of teaching, I encourage students to become teachers.”
Kauffman says the most important item in her teaching toolbox is her respect for students as individuals.
“I am intensely interested in them and helping provide them the tools and strategies to become successful,” she says.
Kauffmann not only teaches but is committed to supporting her colleagues. IRSC presents the annual Harriet Kirk Crago Professor of the Year Award in her mother’s name and in honor of the value of teaching.
“The work of education is to empower others,” Kauffmann says. “It is a calling to serve others. For many of our IRSC students, it takes such courage to even walk in our door. Often, they do not know what they want from us, but they know their path to their brighter future begins at our front door. I am honored to be the one to meet them at the front door.”
LAURA CRAGO KAUFFMANN
Lives in: Vero Beach
School: Indian River State College
Family: Husband, Alan Kauffmann; daughters, Ainsley Kauffmann Seeley and Kiera Kauffmann Black.
Education: Vero Beach High School; bachelor’s degree from Mercer University; master’s and Educational Specialist degrees from Nova Southeastern University
How I got into teaching: “My mother was my inspiration. She was so committed to her students and to the community. What a leader. There are those in Vero who still remember her as one of their best teachers.”
What I like best about teaching: “Both the continuity and the change. I have taught many parents, then their children. I have taught all the children in an extended family! I love seeing what my students have gone on to do and become.”
Something my students probably don’t know about me: “I am an avid fan of General Hospital. My mom in law, Elsie Kauffmann, introduced me to that escapist TV decades ago.”