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PROFILES in Education: Linda Kruegel

Candace Braun

School: Princeton High School

Years Taught: 27 Years, 24 years at PHS

Subject/Grade Taught: chemistry, advanced placement chemistry, grades 10-12

Education: B.S. in chemistry, the University of Rhode Island; M.A.T. in science education, Fairleigh Dickinson University

Most Memorable Book: Deception Point, and other books by Dan Brown

Person You Admire: "The woman who got me into teaching, Audrey Gilligan...She was a consummate professional, she knew her subject material, and she made it interesting. She gave the tender loving care and encouragement we all needed to go into a science-related profession."

How can one tell if he or she is a good teacher? Through being nominated for an award? Through the thankful words of a former student? Or through the many ways he or she has been active over the years in the school district?

For Linda Kruegel, all of the above apply. The chemistry teacher has not only been nominated by her supervisor for teacher of the year and received a dedication in a high school yearbook from her students, she has also coached, counseled, and advised various school activities in the 24 years she has taught at Princeton High School.

Ms. Kruegel caught the teaching bug soon after her first child was born. She began substituting, and was asked to fill in for a chemistry teacher for a week in Bergen County, where she had grown up. Right away she knew it was what interested her, but she pursued another career at first to make sure her instincts were right.

After working as a chemist for a year, Ms. Kruegel was encouraged by a former teacher and friend to try out a teaching position again. Several months later, after getting a job offer from Princeton Regional Schools, Ms. Kruegel knew she had found her calling.

Finding the Right 'Chemistry'

When it came to choosing what subject she was most interested in teaching, Ms. Kruegel never had any doubt in her mind that it would be chemistry. Even in high school she was passionate about the subject.

"In high school my peers were always having such a hard time and I couldn't understand that. For me, chemistry was just awesome," she said.

The teacher said that taking on a career where she would help other students with chemistry was her way of challenging herself.

"I think I just want kids to love it as much as I do," Ms. Kruegel said.

Since chemistry is a complicated subject to teach and learn, particularly in an advanced placement class, Ms. Kruegel says she tries to find ways to get her students actively involved in the learning process whenever she can.

"I try to make it relevant to what they're doing, why they have to know it and learn it, not only to get into a good [college], but to point out the logic behind things," said Ms. Kruegel.

Understanding Students

By understanding the peer pressures that students are experiencing and how difficult the subject matter can be for some students, Ms. Kruegel is able to relate to them on an individual basis: "Kids are different; they have different problems, and they verbalize them in different ways."

One of the ways she reaches out to students is by giving them her home number so that they may call her if they have homework questions.

"I don't believe in having students go to sleep crying their eyes out over chemistry," she said.

Treating students as young adults, rather than children, also helps her build a better relationship with them.

"I listen to them, and we negotiate a lot of things, like test dates," said Ms. Kruegel. "They are active participants in their learning, and I think that's very important."

In addition she said she tries to be mindful of her students' needs, and the pressures they are under at home.

"Sometimes kids are put under a lot of stress to live up to what their parents expect of them, and they just can't do it," she said.

By helping prepare her students for the advanced placement chemistry test and giving advice on ways to prepare for the SATs, Ms. Kruegel finds a way to convey to them that she knows what they are going through. Involvement

Ms. Kruegel is not only very involved with her students during class, she also finds time to get involved in after-school activities, as well. Over the years she has been a student council advisor, a class advisor, a swim team coach, and a homeroom teacher.

Currently, she is a co-coach for Science Olympiad, a team of students that compete statewide and nationally in science-related competitions. Ms. Kruegel has been coaching for the team for six years, and says she hopes that after earning third place last year, she will take her students all the way to first this year.

In the rest of her spare time, Ms. Kruegel enjoys ballroom dancing with her husband, along with reading novels by her favorite authors, which include Dan Brown and Nora Roberts. She also makes time to be a mother to her two children, Michelle, 32, and Brian, 27. Although they lived in South Brunswick, she had the children attend Princeton schools when they were younger so that she was able to see them every day.

A Role Model

Besides encouraging students to get involved with her chemistry classes, Ms. Kruegel also tries to be a role model for them. The teacher said she remembered when she was going to school that most women were encouraged to become teachers or nurses.

While she did end up pursuing a career as a teacher, she also explored other options in the chemistry field, which is what she tries to encourage both her female and male students to do.

"There are so many opportunities for students to pursue in chemistry," said Ms. Kruegel.

Over the years Ms. Kruegel has seen the result of inspiring perseverance in her students, as one student returned to the high school to show her former chemistry teacher her Ph.D. thesis in chemistry. Another student sent her a thank you letter, telling her that she inspired her to become a teacher, as well.

She was also touched when the 1995 high school yearbook was dedicated to her by two students in her class that year.

However with or without the encouragement from her students, Ms. Kruegel continues to instill a desire to learn in her classroom.

"Learning chemistry can be both fun and rewarding," she said.

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