Updated: Feb 17
“When a teacher forgets what it means to be a student - they will lose the
sense of being a good teacher.” – Professor Alexandra Della Fera.
On the winter morning of February 12 at 10:00am, I interviewed one of the best professors I ever had in my life, Professor Alexandra Della Fera. She is an Associate Professor of English, Co-director for the Teaching Excellence Grant, and the Director of the National Endowment for the Humanities Grant Initiative. She was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, and her family is Italian.
Professor Della Fera, my Spring 2020 Introduction to Literature professor, took the time and
effort to introduce me into the world of literature. I could say in an easy way because most of the time as a student I put myself in a place where I see my classes before the beginning of the semester and say, “Uhg..Why do I have to take this?” but then I remember that I cannot judge a book by its cover.
Last year I did the same thing, registering for Introduction to Literature with her after some
students literally begged me to do so. Everybody had to say something about her, and I mean it in a special way. I had a great experience in her class since she is so passionate about it.
I was curious about her career and how she developed that love and interest for literature and
teaching. Everything started in high school and college. She was an English major at the
University of Massachusetts in Amherst because she loves to read and write, but she never knew what to do with her career. “I never went to college to teach, and I never even thought about teaching at all,” she said.
Professor Della Fera figured out what to do with her career in her senior year after she took a six- month internship without any pay. “It was in an alternate high school. This kind of high school was for all the troubled high school students that were kicked out from their normal high schools and were sent there for emotional issues. They needed teachers to be with them. That was really my first teaching experience and that’s when I knew “this is what I need to do with my life.””
“How did you feel about teaching for the first time?” I asked her. She answered, “I was
absolutely terrified.” I was surprised about that because the way she teaches is so different from other professors. I asked how that day ended for her. “It’s kind of like a performance. I think every actor before they step on the stage feels a little bit of butterflies before their performance, and once they start the first line everything comes out and the nervousness goes away. I feel teaching is like that still for me. It came naturally to me. I felt like I was able to use what I was good at. My love for literature, my love for writing. Even my love for art because art is about creativity, and I feel like teachers have that opportunity to be creative in the classroom. I loved it.”
Professor Della Fera tries to put herself into her students’ shoes. She believes that as a professor she needs to get out of her head and think about what the students need to learn and hear from her. “When a teacher forgets what it means to be a student, they will lose the sense of being a good teacher, she remarked.
She also pointed out, “I felt like I was using my degrees, but in a way that I didn’t expect.” After her six-month internship, at the age of 22 she was an English writing tutor at another community college where she gained more experience and kept practicing writing and teaching. Then, she came back to New Jersey and applied for more and more teaching jobs in Essex County College in Newark for twelve years. Professor Della Fera saw that first opening for teaching in a program for women that just left jail and wanted to get degrees for new jobs.
This was her “first official first time,” as she described it, teaching at the college. Then, there
was another opening in the developmental program and the English program where she applied for both with the purpose of gaining more experience.
After that, she took a break for five years because she had two children, but after that time in
2008 she applied for a job at the English department in Passaic County Community College. This job was a combination of Literature, Composition, Developmental Writing, and College Level Writing. She has been teaching at PCCC for thirteen years.
In the future, Professor Della Fera does not want to leave Passaic County Community College.
“We don’t know how long [it’s] going to be, the pandemic…so we must get used to remote
She saved all of her journals with all of her experiences, but she is not interested in writing a
book or publishing her journals. They are personal, for self-growth and privacy. “I’ve always
kept my journals since I was in college, but it always been a private experience. Maybe one day I will feel the need.”
As for writing books, she would like to go back to school for creative writing and explore that side of her since she has been working with academic writing for so many years.
The meeting ended at 10:45am, Professor Della Fera wanted to give me and the rest of the
students some advice.
“Take the risk. You always benefit from taking the risk even if you fail. There is always
something important to learn about yourself for the next time you take another risk, and
sometimes accidents are the best things that happen to you.”
“We always need to be open minded for everything. You can’t say no if you don’t even try, so
never say never. Therefore, the more you practice, the more you have positive feedback, the
better you will get. It just takes time.”