This week, reporters from the City Voice sat down with 7th and 10th grade history teacher Mr. Ezekiel to learn more about his life and his teaching.
Where did you work before City?
I worked at an IB school called Washtenaw International High School in Ypsilanti. Those [Washtenaw and City] are the only two schools I worked at full time but I was a full time substitute for a couple of years.
Which do you prefer? IB or non-IB?
So I took and taught AP, I taught it as a student teacher, and it was okay. AP has become more like IB since I taught it but I am definitely a big believer in IB because IB goes in depth. When I learned US history we did a chapter a week and took a test on Friday so I really like the depth and thematic approach of IB. I also think that one thing it [IB] does really well is to help students learn how to answer questions you can’t just Google. I was in high school before everyone had a smartphone in their pocket. Now you don’t need to memorize names and dates because you can just look them up. Now we need to teach those unGoogleable questions.
I think my favorite book would have to be Dune by Frank Herbert. It’s basically a masterclass of world building. I read it every couple of summers, especially with the glossary and the notes. There are lots of others that are fun to read but if I just had one I think that would be it. I think they’re making a movie for 2020.
I mean I love the Star Wars movies with a few exceptions. Jurassic Park was fun. I desperately begged my parents to let me go and see it but they wouldn’t so I read the Michael Crayton book. That might have warped me a little bit. I got in trouble for using some of the words in that book! This is an obscure one but I really love the movie Sunshine, it’s a Danny Boyle movie. And if we’re going to talk about Danny Boyle I really like 28 Days Later. That’s an excellent zombie movie.
Why do you like to use so many simulations in your classes?
I’m probably a social studies teacher because I was really influenced by simulations that I did when I was in school. I just thought it was fascinating and engaging to take on those different perspectives. I’ve always liked role-playing, I played role-playing games as a kid. I think social studies is a subject where you have a lot of opportunities for learning by experience and that’s sort of the approach I want to take. In science you can mix two chemicals together and see what happens, and while in history you can’t transport yourself to a different time you can do simulations. We may not be able to do labs in history but I think this is as close as we can get. My 5th grade teacher did a New World simulation called Discovery 3 where we had to make so many decisions and colonization and it was so competitive. It was my first real exposure to learning that way and it just blew my mind. I think that teacher still does it.
Divided into separate “colonies,” teams of students face problems typical of life in 17th-century America and try to ensure the success of their settlements. After deciding on cargo and using map skills to cross the sea and select their sites, students—playing such roles as colony leaders, bankers, mappers, traders, and recorders—are pressed to make decisions concerning the division of labor, the role of government, and defense against possible Indian attack. Interaction among the colonies results in trading, alliances, and sometimes conflict, while Fate Cards affect each colony’s success or failure. The wealthiest colony after 15 rounds of play wins. The simulation may run for as many as 19 class periods, but can be truncated greatly depending on class skill level and time available.
Discovery Three Simulation website
What is your favorite thing about being a teacher?
It’s different every single day. I don’t feel like I am ever bored because students have new and interesting things to say about the same lesson, even if I’m repeating the lesson it’s always changing and it’s always evolving. Unlike a regular desk job where you’re doing the same thing every day working with people will always provide new challenges and make things really interesting. And every once in awhile you get those great moments of comprehension where the light bulb goes on and somebody gets something they never saw before. That’s the best. That’s a great feeling.
If you weren’t a teacher, what do you imagine you would be doing?
I think I would have gotten into sports broadcasting. Sometimes when I’m watching TV I bring up a point and then I hear it from the announcers. I do a fantasy hockey podcast so that’s how I explore that hobby.
Do you prefer teaching history or economics?
I mean I love them both. Economics is really interesting because that’s another place where I can do a lot of simulation and it’s so useful. History is useful too but the practical applications of economics are something every student can see and just thinking about how people make choices is what it’s really about. I do think that if I did teach economics again I would want to teach history too since that’s just such a passion for me but I would love to do both some time.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to students coming into one of your classes?
I guess my biggest piece of advice is to be mindful of the habits that you’re developing because they stick with you and they’re very hard to change. I know that I have developed plenty of bad habits in my life and I have worked hard to break them, sometimes successfully. So at the beginning of the year, and in the middle when you’re feeling it’s kind of difficult, be careful of your habits because they can be very hard to escape from.
The other one that I would recommend is to be willing to reach out for help when you need it and make sure that you are communicating with the people in your life. That is another hard learned lesson for me, as I didn’t like asking for help and would just prefer to put my head down and suffer in silence. The teachers here aren’t going to bite, they want to help and you should just talk to them to work out a solution. Don’t let your pride get in the way of asking for help because there’s no shame in needing help and it’s going to help you survive IB. I’m telling my 7th graders that by the time you get to 12th grade your going to be hanging on to each other for dear life. When I’ve taught those years it’s just like people hanging onto a life raft and trying to survive together.
Why study history?
I think what’s really valuable about studying history is that the way we do things in our era is not by accident, it’s the culmination of all the events that have come before. Sometimes I think we just take for granted that things are the way they are and they will always be that way but that’s not true. Studying history and understanding its patterns gives us the power to understand the way things are and why they are and gives us the power to change things if we don’t like them. It’s not just a bunch of dusty old dead people, it’s something that everybody kind of fundamentally understands is important: how we interact with each other. That’s all fueled by what has happened up to this point.