By Sean Savage
One day, he’s hopping up and down from chairs preaching the virtues of Gothic Literature. The next class, he reads a ghost story and asks: “Are you scared?” He even brings his guitar into work and serenades students with the opening riff of “Enter Sandman” by Metallica.
English professor Andrew Kozikowski’s classroom brims with an unmatched spirit; you would never know he is 64 years old and has been teaching for 43 years.
“He brings so much energy. It is clear he is beyond passionate,” first-year Sebastian Perez-Jimenez said. “He always stands up and waves his arms around; he definitely knows what he is doing. He is so detail-oriented, and that is what makes him great.”
English professor Andrew Kozikowski returned “home” to Springfield College after graduating more than 40 years prior (1980) and has enlightened Alden Street ever since.
“It is so admirable that he is still taking time out of his life for the college community,” Perez-Jimenez said.
The list goes on about how Kozikowski has the ability to light up a room, but he shared one of many favorite examples.
In his Gothic Literature class, Kozikowski wanted to show how Gothicness influenced music.
“And it does, heavily, with this thing called the tritone, but you had to hear it. For me to talk about it abstractly just would not sink in,” he said.
In order for students to fully understand, he brought in his guitar, which he has been playing since he was 14, to have the lesson hit home.
“I showed them what the tritone is, how you get to it, and what it sounds like,” Kozikowski said. “I think it is important to do that because it will stick with them a heck of a lot longer.”
Professor of English Mike Spry sat in the class, and was blown away by his colleague’s energy.
“What amazed me is I could tell how prepared he was, but at no point was it rehearsed – it was all conversational and organic,” Spry said. “I was amazed at how quickly the students were focused on him. It was so humbling.”
Spry also praised Kozikowski’s ability to connect right out of college in 1980.
“He is a completely different generation than his students, but he has such a good way of identifying with them,” Spry said.
Outside of the classroom, Kozikowski carried on the legacy of being a tri-sport athlete at Monson High School.
“As a kid, I always wanted to be a professional hockey player,” he said.
Today, he participates in two hockey leagues. Every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, he plays in a leisurely game for two hours in the morning.
After play at the rink wraps up, Kozikowski heads to Alden Street to teach.
“Man, I do not know how he does it,” Spry said.”I finish teaching one class, and I am ready for a nap,” he joked.
Spry continued, “I mean, dude, if I could have that much energy at his age, I would be blessed. I do not know how he does it.”
The second league is a group of players who compete in tournaments without practice.
“These are all guys who at least played in high school, and some have played professionally,” he said.
Kozikowski is one of four defensemen on the team.
“It gets really exciting and nasty, but that is the thrill of it,” he said.
As if teaching and hockey were not enough, he also bikes three times a week. “If it is a climbing day, it is 25-30 miles. If it is on the flat, it is 35-55 miles,” Kozikowski said. “My younger self would be proud; I found happiness and peace in what I am doing.”
In the classroom, Kozikowski carries a stack of yellow pages. He uses this to critique his own work, as he still finds that his potential as a teacher has not been reached.
“I always feel like my best work is in front of me,” he said. “I tend to think as I get older where you can sit and think, ‘I am doing pretty good,’ but I am just not there yet.”
As each class ends, Kozikowski kicks his feet up on the desk, takes a deep breath and reflects on the day’s lesson.
“After each class, I am taking notes: this worked, this did not work, I need to change this. I try never to teach quite the same class again,” Kozikowski said.
Through years of experience, Kozikowski found the most effective way to teach a class was to take a tactical approach as a coach would to its team.
“I want to make sure I am a person who is encouraging them,” Kozikowski said. “The students are the most important person in the classroom, hands down, no question.”
He drew an analogy to baseball to describe his goal of teaching: “I am kind of like a pitching coach. There is a mechanically perfect way to pitch, but nobody pitches that way. So, I am taking this pitcher who may show potential and to help that pitcher get better whatever way they throw the ball. Rather than say, ‘stop that and do this.’”
Perez-Jimenez also noticed how Kozikowski tries to hone his craft, just as much as each one of the students in the room.
“Not to sound cliche or anything, but [Kozikowski] definitely has that ‘Mamba Mentality.’ He just keeps going and tries to perfect his class,” he said.
Spry also realizes the uphill battle Kozikowski has at a health science-based school as an English professor.
“Andy [Kozikowski] has that challenge of teaching students who do not see literature as an exciting part of their life. And he turns that around, quickly,” Spry said.
If you take a class with Kozikowski, you will realize the connection he builds with those he is teaching.
“I am not a teacher of 25 students. I am a teacher of 25 individual students,” Kozikowski said.
Perez-Jimenez also highlighted Kozikowski’s genuine nature in the classroom.
“It does not feel like a class. We are just convening; he brings out the human experience,” he said.
Kozikowski sticks to the age-old Confucius motto: “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
His goal is to catalyze his students to find that same passion.
“I hope my students will find a job or profession that they absolutely love,” Kozikowski said.
If you stay for a while in his class, you will notice it is not only about learning material. But instead, there is more meaning to the class.
“There is not anything I would not do to help the students I have become better at whatever it is I can help them with, whether it is helping them write a sentence or listening to their terrible weekend,” Kozikowski said.
As Perez-Jimenez is going through his first year, he has quickly picked up on just how much Kozikowski cares for his students.
“I think he is just the most whole person on this campus. He will give you the best advice, and he will also follow it – he does not just preach it,” Perez-Jimenez said. “He exemplifies all that he preaches, and he is just so open-minded. He just does everything. It is insane to think about.”
A former student and now teacher, Kozikowski still relishes the genuineness of the campus community.
“Coming back here was like coming home. I mean, I loved going here. I find the students to be bright, engaging, and thoughtful. I love working with them,” he said.
Spry added to how Kozikowski has steadily helped build the college community due to his heartfelt persona.
“He is not just an automated personality-less professor in the front of the room,” he said. “Building community is so important in the classroom, and Andy builds community better than anyone I have ever met.”
Through all of this, there is one more factor that has kept him going through all these years.
“My wife [Carrie] is so supportive of me, and she hates English. But she is my best friend. I would regret it if I did not mention my lovely, beautiful wife,” Kozikowski said.
Photo Courtesy Andrew Kozikowski