Professor Mirjana Lukic has a story she repeats to all her classes. As a young child who emigrated from the former Yugoslavia, she picked up English slowly. During one assignment as a second-grader in PS 8 in the Bronx, she finally felt comfortable writing in English. It was an “aha!” moment for her, she recalled, that moment when she realized she felt comfortable in her new language.
Her second-grade teacher was not impressed.
The teacher reprimanded her for her use of the word “gonna” and criticized her. Humiliated and devastated, Lukic returned to her desk.
“We can’t assume what children know,” said Lukic, who says that the experience eventually informed her perception of education. “We have to reflect on our teaching to make each child successful.”
Current students at PS 8 are unlikely to have a similar experience because their teacher is Lukic herself, who is celebrating almost 30 years teaching at the same school where she was a student years ago. After graduating from John F. Kennedy High School, Lukic enrolled in Lehman College and studied linguistics. She received her master’s in education from the College of New Rochelle with the intention of teaching English as a second-language. She became a teacher at PS 8 in 1989 and has remained there ever since.
“I recalled my own experience struggling to learn English and this motivated me to ensure that children have a better experience than I did,” said Lukic.
In her tenure, she has taught child refugees from war-torn countries, victims of ethnic persecution and those, like her own family, who fled to the United States for a better future. She has taught them all with the same grace and patience.
Eleven years ago, she received a call asking if she’d like to teach a class at Touro’s Graduate School of Education.
“I wanted to share the joy of teaching with teachers who are just starting their careers,” said Lukic. “That’s been a driving force for me.”
Lukic said that what she loves the most about Touro is the feedback she receives from her students, many of whom are working teachers.
“I love modeling and demonstrating for them,” said Lukic. “When a teacher comes back to class and says: ‘I tried this strategy and it worked,’ that’s an incredibly rewarding moment.”
Last year, she noticed a familiar face in one of the Touro classrooms: a student from Bangladesh whom she had taught at PS 8. The student remembered her.
“Each child has a special light and it’s our job to find the switch.”
Lukic said teachers today are faced with a wealth of opportunity to have an impact on their students.
“There’s more flexibility in teaching now,” she explained. “Every individual teacher has their own strength—I love the arts and literacy and creative arts—so for me sharing that with potential students is a wonderful thing. Teachers are able to express their talents with their students. We want children to find what piques their interest and concentrate on that.”
“Every child has a special light,” Lukic continued. “It’s our job to find the switch.”