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Interviewers: Emily Gorbacz and Stephanie Marcus

Q. Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. How many years have you worked here?

“I’ve been teaching at HAFTR for fifteen years.”

Q. What are some of your favorite things to do in your free time?

“I love to cook and bake, and I actually used to do karate. I think it’s crucial, for women especially, to take karate and learn to be strong and powerful. I also love traveling! Locally, I enjoy going to the beach. I just recently went to Panama, and that was incredible. I also love swimming, crafts, and fishing.”

Q. Describe your college experiences. What did you major in? 

 “I attended Touro for undergraduate school, and majored in English. Then, for graduate school I went to Hofstra University and received my masters in secondary education so I could go into teaching. It was wild for me, going from such Orthodox schools to end up in Hofstra, which was a co-ed university. But, it was a great experience.”

Q. Was English always your favorite subject?

“I have always loved English, especially the writing aspect of it. To be honest, as a kid, I wasn’t so fond of reading, it took time to develop. But now I love reading, especially the complexity of characters and to psychologically analyze them.”

Q. How did it feel to come back to teach after you graduated from here?

“I have been at HAFTR since middle school. Many people may assume that it would be weird for me considering that I went to HAFTR as a student, and to be honest, it was weird at first, but not anymore. There were some teachers who were familiar to me: Ms. Lippman, my middle school principal, and Rabbi Brisman, my teacher..”

Q. What made you want to become a teacher?

“I have always enjoyed working with kids, that has always been a passion of mine. I loved being a counselor in camp, and babysitting. Being able to make a difference and make connections with my students is one of the most meaningful parts of school, not just the content. I always wanted to be that presence for other people.”

Q. What strengths do you feel that you have as a teacher?

“I think that I try to make class fun and relatable. I don’t believe in education being boring; I think that it’s possible to have fun and learn at the same time. All those things that we do on those fun days, everyone benefits from them. It’s not just a waste of time. Learning should be fun and a non-stressful time.”

Q. What is your favorite book?

“The Catcher in the Rye. I love the psychoanalysis of it. I considered going into psychology instead of English in college. That is a book that can go deep into someone’s mind, so I really like that book.”

Q. How have you seen HAFTR change since you came here as a student?

“Definitely the building has changed. What was the library is now the Center for Student Services. There is a beautiful new gym and a STEM lab. The physical building changed a lot, but the heart of HAFTR has stayed the same. This has always been a very warm place, an inclusive environment, and I think that only gets better as time goes on. Every year the grades get nicer and nicer, and the community gets stronger and stronger. The people have changed, the building has changed, but the core of HAFTR has been the same.”

Q. Since you mentioned that Catcher in the Rye is your favorite book, did you choose it for us, or did the school choose it?

“It is part of the curriculum. I could choose to teach something different, but I decided to keep it as part of our curriculum, so it’s both.”

Q. Who are your top favorite colleagues in this school and why?

“Having Ms. Lippman as my principal in 8th grade and having her as a mentor has been a very rewarding, heartwarming, and valuable experience. Always knowing that she is an advocate for me, and that she is in the building, has been very rewarding for me. Mr. Gelman, who is the chair of the humanities department, is incredible. Any time there is an issue, or I just want to talk about something, he’ll let me vent, he’ll listen patiently. Everyone in this school is so special and nice.”

Q. How have you felt and dealt with the changes in the environment because of COVID-19?

“We’ve all felt the environment change with the pandemic. I felt it last year with barriers, and feelings of detachment with masks. I think that created a lot of physical and emotional barriers, but that also made us come up with innovative ways of interacting and getting to know each other. It’s been a challenge, for sure, and I don’t think anyone wants to continue with the pandemic protocols, but we’ve all found new ways to learn and maintain relationships.”

Q. What personality traits do teachers need to be successful?

“Patience, hard-working, focused, having a good heart, and being genuine.” 

Q. How has the transition been from Ms. Lillien to Mrs. Mandel?

“Interestingly, some people who didn’t know me as Ms. Lillien call me Ms. Lillien. I answer to both. It took me time to remember that I am Mrs. Mandel, so when people say Ms. Lillien I would answer right away, but Mrs. Mandel would have taken me a second. Now enough people have started calling me Mrs. Mandel that it sounds more natural, but people definitely still call me Ms. Lillien.”

Interview with Mrs. Mandel: Academics
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