"How Do You Do It?"  Doina Oncel
What I love about being an educator is that teaching can happen anywhere, not just in a school classroom. I was really happy when my friend Doina applied because she is a bad mama jama when it comes to STEM. Her life revolves around her daughters and helping young women become leaders in a male dominated field. Every time I see Doina, she's either asking a question to feed her curiosity or has her arms open wide to embrace someone. She's a beautiful soul and I hope her honesty and passion resonates with you!
Name: Doina Oncel
Who are you? How long have you been working in the education field?
My name is Doina Oncel. I grew up in Romania, a country with no possibility for dreaming a career back then. I always wanted to be a teacher or a lawyer and never thought possible that I would grow up to be both, kind of. I have been a childcare worker in the past for about three years. It was here where I knew that I still wanted to work with kids and youth but at different level. So, I became a social worker because child behaviour was a big interest of mine. From here I moved on to women’s rights because it made perfect sense to me that I knew what women go through since I am one and I have two daughters. I wanted to incorporate law and teaching to create change for women. I thought it was too late to go to law school and I never felt that the school system would offer this type of teaching so I created an organization that would incorporate both. I now teach young women how to become independent through entrepreneurship while navigating the male dominated fields of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) at hEr VOLUTION Innovative Education and Employment Services.
Who was your favourite teacher when you were a student? What made them stand out from the rest?
My first ever favourite teacher was my kindergarten teacher. She was magical. She made me feel that I was her special student. I remember during choir practice I was bad at singing and everyone in class was giving me “the look” except for her. She made me feel that there wasn’t anything in this world that I couldn’t do and, even if I wasn’t good at it, I felt that I should at least give it a try. Later, I learned that she made everyone feel the same way.
The other teacher that made me feel special was my room teacher in middle school. She was also our gym teacher. She used to push us to the limit and there was no gender favouritism. Girls were expected to put in as much effort as boys. In fact, she may have pushed girls more than she did boys at times, and not only in gym class but in other subjects too.
When I was in college, I had this English teacher that was my favourite. I felt very insecure with my English being a second language. She was very patient with me and she thought me to love English like never before. I already had been in Canada for almost 15 years however, during her class I learned to love to write like I used to back in highschool.
What was learning like growing up for you? Easy, challenging?
I was always a fast learner and I loved learning new things, depending on who was teaching me, whether they loved teaching or not. Some teachers were more exciting than others and they made a boring topic sound exciting. There were also some teachers who were intimidating and learning was never fun around them. When I was grade 8, I think, I had this chemistry teacher who was very firm and always treated us in class as if we were in the army. I was very scared of her and I never learned chemistry to understand it. I was happy to just pass the class. I also had a French teacher in grade 7 who I learned good enough to go to Paris and order my own food. When I moved on to grade 8 French, I had a different teacher who never cared about the class. By the end of the school year I forgot all that wonderful French I learned the year before. It is because of experiences like these that I appreciate a good teacher.
Who or what inspired you to become an educator?
I think that it was back when I was in kindergarten that I wanted to be a teacher because I wanted to be like my teacher then. She made an impact on me and I wanted to do the same with others. Although I am not a teacher in a traditional sense, I do enjoy teaching young women about life, their careers and everything else in between.
Describe what your dream classroom would look like.
I dream that one day I will have classrooms filled with eager young women who want to learn more about navigating the STEM fields. I want the young women to have more questions that I have answers to and for them to go out in the world and change the status quo. We all learn from each other and, if students never ask questions I will never learn either.
What gets you pumped up before entering the classroom? (ex. music, car dance party, coffee?)
The thing that excites me the most before entering the classroom is the thought of the new questions that would be asked. Also, coffee! I believe that coffee was the best discovery ever made not just for teachers, but for every day life.
What makes you a great educator? (Come on, toot your horn!)
My passion for learning. I put myself in the shoe of the students and if I sound boring to myself I am sure that they find me boring as well. I also feel that their success is my success and I love the notion of success.
If your students could describe you, what would they say?
So far, I heard that I have treated them as family. I was also told that I care, and it is true, I do care about my young women as if they were may daughters or family members. I have been in their shoes and I know what it is like to be treated like a number. I want to stand out and to make them feel as though they can come to me and talk about anything. This is my calling and I am here to serve them.
What was your best teaching moment?
My best teaching moment…I have plenty however, one in particular stands out when, as a learning component of my last program, I took the young women to a networking event to learn more about public speaking. They made me proud when they conducted themselves in such professional manner. I was impressed. I know I can’t take all the credit however, I do want to say that I am proud of the influence I had on them.
What do you do to enhance your personal learning?
I read. I listen to podcasts and I ask questions, a lot of them.
How do you balance your personal life from your teaching life?
Sorry, what? I am not sure what that is, actually. I have yet to learn to balance my work and life. Everyday I live, breathe, sleep and eat work. I think about my work every day all day. When I see something around me I immediately think of how to apply that to my work, and vice versa.
Do you do enough to maintain your personal wellbeing?
I am working on it. I listen to my body and when I am burned out I stop. I take a day off to do nothing, eat everything I lay my eyes on and watch Netflix all day. Some may call that Netflix and Chill.
Have you ever experienced burnout? What/who helped you cope?
Yes, I experience that all the time. As I said above, I take a day off and Netflix and Chill. I also like to go for a mani and pedi, somehow that makes life better.
What do you love most about teaching?
I love the effect it has on the next generation. To know that I changed a life is what makes my work meaningful.
If you could talk to your younger self (ex. elementary student, high school student, post-secondary) what would you say?
The world is your oyster. Don’t be afraid of mistakes. You got this, Believe in yourself more because others believe in themselves just as much.
There may be teachers reading this who are in need of a reminder why they’re great educators.
What would you say to help lift their spirits?
Remember why you started. You change lives and you are amazing! I appreciate you!
Jam Gamble - Connector of People, Ideas and Energy