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Interviewer: Jeremy Haviv

Q. Hi Mr. Gelman, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. Can you just start off by telling us a little bit about yourself?

  1. “For me personally, I grew up in Brooklyn, and I’m 51 years old. I am Chairman of the Social Studies Department, and now I’m also running the English Department. I teach AP Euro and AP Government. I love teaching those classes because of the content and being able to explore ideas with students.”

Q. How many years have you worked here?

  1. “I’ve been teaching in HAFTR for almost 20 years. I started in January 2001. It has been my first and only teaching job and it’s been amazing.”

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

  1. “I do read a lot. I like going to the movies and historical films and documentaries. I have some very close friends that I spend time with and I am very close with my family, which is very scattered. Sometimes I just like taking random walks around New York City; you know you could learn a lot that way by discovering interesting architecture and interesting restaurants along the way. But I could be a loner sometimes and just want to read.”

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

  1. “I went to Brooklyn College, got my undergrad there, and then went there for graduate school. My dad had a big interest in military history, and I learned a lot from him about World War I and World War II, and that became my focus in graduate school, or more the study of fascism. [20th Century European History] has always been a favorite period of history of mine. I then got my master’s degree in history and did my thesis on fascism with a focus on fascism in Britain. I talked a lot in my work about the debate about defining fascism. I then got certified as a high school social studies teacher.”

Q. Why did you want to become a teacher?

  1. “I feel like it is a combination of two things. I love the subject and I love being around people. I am very personable, and the job allows for that. I was thinking of becoming an archivist, and going into library sciences or something like that, but I felt like with a job like that I wouldn’t have the interactions I have in teaching which I really enjoy.  I’ve also always had an interest in history, which I got from my dad when we used to watch a lot of documentaries together. ” 

Q. Describe your weaknesses as a teacher.

  1. “A weakness as a teacher, which I bet you will say, “Oh yeah Mr. Gelman, I agree!” is being very flexible. If something comes up which is social studies related but not necessarily related to the topic I’m teaching, I sometimes will go with it. I think it is important for teachers to sometimes do that and have “teachable moments,” especially in social studies where the students might want to talk about current events. So sometimes I might get too far with that, and of course I have to do content and get the kids ready for exams.”

Q. Describe some methods of positive reinforcement that you might use in your classroom.

  1. “I always feel that when students give an answer that may be inaccurate, I always try to find something positive within their answer. Even if someone gives a “wrong answer,” other people could still learn from that and find the right answer. I like the give and take, and I like when students don’t have to feel that they have to have the answer exactly right to participate.” 

Q. Besides lectures, what methods of teaching do you use?

  1. “I’m very conversational in my teaching, as you know. I really like to start lessons with a little spontaneous conversation to wake people up and get their brains going. I want to hear from the students.”

Q. What do you think of technology in the classroom and how have you integrated it into your lessons?

  1. “I am cautious about it, and I think that is the right approach. I am not anti-technology in the classroom and I love having my smartboard. But I think first and foremost we should remember that technology needs to work for teachers and not the other way around. And as technology expands in all areas of life we see sometimes in ways it is controlling us, and we have to be careful of that. There is a trend in education to collect more and more data on students, and I’m a little uncomfortable with that. Not as much as privacy, but I don’t want to deconstruct teaching to data.”

Q. In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges that teachers face today?

  1. “Students are addicted to cell phones, we are all addicted to them, which is a big problem. Students also read less because of technology and they are writing differently, and that writing does not line up with the writing that we do in a typical social studies or English class, which is a problem. In general kids are multitasking too much which is unhealthy for their brains.”

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

  1. “Teachers need to like what they are teaching. For some people teaching is a fallback job, but a really good teacher, especially on the high school level, has a passion for their subject and field. They should feel their subject is important, not just in an academic way, which is very easy to do in a humanities course. A good teacher is also always improving. They should take what they did one year and tweak it a little the next year, not just creating one binder when they start with the curriculum and then never going back to it.”

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

  1. “I love the teachers in my department. The teachers I work with directly are the ones I have the most interactions with and I just think they are amazing people and amazing teachers. We are a department where we share a lot of information and teamwork is one of our main ethics. My success as chair has so much to do with them.”

Q. Congratulations on being named head of humanities last year. Is it hard being the head of both history and English?

  1. “It is my first year so it has had its challenges and it can be hard, as I had to learn a lot about the English department now. But I love it and I love the teachers in the English department. It has been nice to get to know them in a different and direct way since I am supervising them now. They are all scholars and smart people, and I am very grateful for these two departments as I feel our teachers are very well respected among students.”

Q. How have you seen HAFTR change since you first got here until now?

  1. “I feel like HAFTR is better than ever. I feel like it has always been a great school, but I feel like the scholarship has picked up and since our teachers have been here for longer they are more experienced and know how to work with HAFTR kids. It’s a very positive place, as Ms. Lippman always says, and I think she is right, kids are happy to come to school here. It is a friendly, warm place.”

Interview with Mr. Gelman: Academics
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