[ Teaching & Learning ]

Remembering your ‘Why’

Adrian N. Smalls in turtleneck and wool blazer

Adrian N. Smalls, a member of the Monroe Community College Faculty Association, is an associate professor and chair of the Law/Criminal Justice Department at Monroe Community College.

A 16-year teaching veteran, Smalls retired from a career in law enforcement before entering the classroom.

As a young kid growing up in the Bronx, I dreamed of playing in the NBA. My favorite basketball player was Julius “Dr. J” Erving. He inspired me to go to college because that was how to get into the NBA.

During my junior high school years, I noticed how my teachers kept me engaged in class with their various teaching styles. This was the beginning of my curiosity about teaching.

I did well in high school and was offered several scholarships to be a student-athlete. I chose to attend the University of Rochester, where I had the wonderful experience of being around people my age with similar dreams and aspirations, something that I did not see much of from my friends in the Bronx. I graduated with a B.A. in History.

Thereafter, I began a successful career in law enforcement as an officer with the Rochester Police Department. This was also where my teaching career began. I became a firearms and field training instructor and taught police ethics. I only realized my effectiveness as a teacher once I received feedback from the officers. It was then that I believed education was a viable path for me to embrace and pursue. While still a police officer, I had an opportunity to teach as an adjunct professor at Monroe Community College. I realized I was exactly where I needed to be at that moment in my life. Many of my students expressed how surprised they were to have a Black professor. My Black and Hispanic students drew closer to me as I provided a sense of belonging. I also discovered that underrepresented and underserved students did not avail themselves of many college resources. I was well-positioned to present these educational tools to my students and offer them the guidance they needed to succeed. I found that my impact increased student persistence.

When I retired from law enforcement, I accepted a position as an instructor at Monroe Community College. This has undoubtedly been one of the best decisions I have ever made.

My instruction extended beyond the classroom. In my presence, countless students found a safe space during their two- to three-year journey at Monroe CC. Teaching them about the law and crime patterns was only half of what they needed. The students needed people in their lives whom they trusted to give them meaningful direction yet in a fun and relevant way.

Teaching at Monroe CC is my way of giving back to my community and investing my talents in those who need mentorship and support.

My passion for teaching is driven by the empowerment students experience as they learn about themselves, their potential and their place in the world. Contributing to their success gives me gratification and a sense of purpose.

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What’s your why?

Countless talking heads outside the classroom have a lot to say. We want to hear from you. Why did you choose the teaching profession — and why do you stay? Send submissions up to 450 words, along with a photo, to united@nysut.org.