Carolyn Keeler 

Some people dream of warm, tropical isles. Some prefer regal cosmopolitan cities. But for University of Idaho professor Carolyn Keeler, it's all about Romania. After 17 years teaching in the educational leadership program at the Boise campus of the university, Keeler is off to the former Soviet republic to study and teach as a recipient of a Fulbright award.

Her educational career has taken her from teaching kindergarten to being the state director of migrant education. Along the way, she's maintained her passion for teaching—even as it takes her to the distant shores of the Black Sea.

What drew you to teaching?

That's a hard question. I love it, obviously, because I've stayed in it. But initially, I really fought against it. Both my parents were teachers, so I had that typical reaction of "I won't be a teacher." I went to UCLA and graduated in political science and English, and then what?

What was your favorite grade to teach?

I think that's why I'm teaching college with adults. I started in kindergarten, and I've taught all the way up through 9th grade. It was hard. It was really, really hard to teach young students. And the challenge in my 7th-, 8th-, 9th-grade experience was, I was in Texas teaching kids who really didn't speak English. So that's what got me interested in migrant education, because I saw the way that public education didn't take the needs of those second-language students into account, and how they struggled, and I just learned a huge amount teaching those kids.

Why did migrant education become your focus while in Teton Valley, Idaho?

I was in Teton Valley from '73 to '83, and in those 10 years, there was a huge change in agricultural work from local family doing all of the different tasks year-round.

They brought lots of migrant workers into the valley, mostly Spanish speakers, and a lot of those families from Mexico didn't have a tradition of their kids going to school. I started to actually recruit those students to come to school.

How is Idaho doing now?

I think that we're doing a fairly good job in educating the kids that have second languages, but it's more and more challenging in Idaho all the time. I think the Boise District now has 63 primary language groups. So it's no longer a question of bilingual education or immersion, it's a more complex situation where we don't have teachers that speak the language.

You teach people how to research. How do you learn something like that?

Research has to be very ethical and moral, and so we do a lot of talking about the complications that arise when you're studying something in-depth with people, and how we have to consider the research perspective—the people being studied and how they react and perceive the research itself.

What will you be doing in Romania?

I've just been communicating with the dean. I've been assigned to the College of Letters at Ovidius University in Constanta, which is on the Black Sea, so I'm really excited.

My appointment is half research and half teaching. And I just found out from the dean that I'm probably going to be teaching four courses, which is twice as many as we teach here, even though I'm only half-time teaching. So they have heavy course loads, but I am going to be teaching research methods. And the interesting perspective that I've gotten is that they became part of the [European Union] in January, and there's been a recommendation that their universities need to really enlarge the research aspect of what they cover. So they have a need right now to teach more research courses, both undergraduate and graduate.

What will you be researching?

My research is going to be in leadership, so I'm going to go into the public schools and look at the leaders and see how they do leadership in public schools in contrast to how we currently do it.

Why Romania?

I was looking in Eastern Europe because I really wanted to experience Eastern Europe. So I looked at the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria for positions that I met the qualifications for. And one in Romania, was educational leadership. I was drawn to that because when I was a high school senior—that was 1964—I wrote a term paper on Romania and I've always remembered that. I was always just amazed—you know how you are as an 18-year-old, you're always so naive.

Who knew something from high school could last so long?

I just think that's how life goes in circles. You just never know what the influence is going to be.

Any more travel plans in the future?

I'm going to teach in Mexico next fall. The Studies Abroad Program at the University of Idaho is an exchange program for students, but it's also an exchange program for faculty.

Why apply for the Fulbright now?

I've been with the university 17 years, and you earn a sabbatical—a leave with pay to do research—every seven years, and I hadn't ever taken one. So that was the first thing—I'm not going to get through my whole career there and never have taken this. It's really kind of a privilege as well as a right.

Are you going to check out any of the Dracula sites while you're in Romania?

I'm more interested in where garlic comes from than where Dracula.

Do you speak Romanian?

I've been studying it.

Are you confident with it?

Here's the good news: it's the fifth romance language. The fact that I took Spanish in high school and Italian in college helps me because there's a lot of similarities, rather than if it were something like a Russian alphabet. There's no way.

I'm hoping that it will help me with my Spanish when I go to Mexico afterwards. I realized, though, that when I try to translate in Romanian, that I think in Spanish. So I know a lot more Spanish than I do Romanian. I may be just confused and not be able to communicate anywhere.

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