Bryan Soh ’18 interviewed Mr. Zach Mulert, who taught AP US History and was the director of the School’s pioneering Global Service Program from its inception in 2013 through his departure from TASIS in the spring of 2018.
When did you start at TASIS, what classes do you teach, and what else are you involved with at TASIS?
I started in 2011, and right now I teach AP US History. In the past, I’ve taught EAL and mainstream US History. I am the director of the Global Service Program (GSP), which consumes a lot of my time, and I am also in charge of the WISER Kenya service learning group. I’m an 11th-grade advisor, and I am on a lot of committees as a result of being in charge of the GSP.
Can you please describe your educational background and your career in education prior to TASIS?
At Northwestern University, I studied history, French, and journalism. When I went to college, I wanted to be a sportscaster. But after the second year, I decided that I wanted to go into education instead and almost transferred into the School of Education, but I had a professor who persuaded me to stick with journalism and learn teaching later.
From there, I taught English in Japan for one year and then came back to San Francisco, where I grew up, and worked with high school exchange students for two years. Then I felt like I had to make a decision on whether to be a classroom teacher or to do something else related to education. I missed teaching in a classroom, so I went back to teach history in a boarding school in New York. I decided that I liked teaching and wanted to get a master’s degree, so I went to Teachers College at Columbia University and got my master’s in Teaching of Social Studies. It was such a great program that made me think about why I teach and what I wanted to accomplish as a teacher.
From there, it was three years of teaching in San Diego, one year of teaching in Rio de Janeiro, and now six years at TASIS.
Can you briefly describe your teaching philosophy?
There’s a quote that I’ve had since my first year of teaching, and it’s usually hanging behind me here: “Ten years from now, they won’t remember what you taught them, but they’ll remember the way you made them feel.” There’s also another quote by Thomas Friedman, an amazing author and journalist: “When I think back on my favorite teachers, I don’t remember the specifics of what they taught me, but I sure remember being excited about learning it. What has stayed with me are not the facts they imparted but the excitement about learning that they inspired.” So, when it comes to my teaching philosophy, I love history—I mean, I really love it, I could talk all day about history, I could read all day about history, I could watch movies all day about history—but I understand that most of my students are going to forget most of those facts; but if I get them excited to learn, then I think I’ve accomplished my goal. You can always look at Wikipedia and read the textbook years later, but if I taught you some skills on how to think critically, on how to write, on how to question things, then I think I’ve done my job as a history teacher.
|I’ll only know if we’re truly successful years from now, but I’d like to think that some people’s hearts and minds are being changed so that we become better humanitarians.|
What do you like most about working at TASIS?
There are a lot of great things. I love the diverse international community; I mean, that’s especially exciting in a history classroom, when you’re teaching World War II and you have students coming from so many different countries that were affected. And of course I’m excited about the GSP, and I think it’s so exciting to be able to offer that to students. Not many other schools have something like that. I think Academic Travel is also something special, where it just connects the learning between inside and outside of the classroom. So I guess it’s the additional experiential activities that add so much to TASIS beyond the classroom, and that’s what I like a lot.
What would you say has been your greatest success at TASIS?
I guess it’s too soon to evaluate, but I hope that the GSP has changed some people’s views on development and our responsibility to humanity. I’ll only know if we’re truly successful years from now, but I’d like to think that some people’s hearts and minds are being changed so that we become better humanitarians. If that is the case, then it’s a success. It’s just exciting every day to try to share something.
Out of all the Academic Travels you have been on, which has been the most enjoyable and why?
I’m in love with two of them in particular. WISER Kenya is a GSP trip, but it also occurs during Spring Academic Travel, and that one speaks to my heart quite a lot. But if I try to honor your question about Academic Travel, then I have to say the US History trip to Verdun and Normandy. I love it to pieces. I’ve probably gone to those places six or seven times in my life, and every time I’m moved by the experience. I also think students are moved by it.
I should add that I’m also a Francophile; I love France and everything French, so the fact that it’s in France is the icing on the cake, the cherry on top.
Why do you think students are moved by the trip to Verdun and Normandy?
I think we are busy learning from sunrise to sunset, that there is so much to see and do and experience that you can’t help but learn. So even if you’re an uninterested or bored student, you can’t help but learn by osmosis because you’re going to experience what the D-Day beaches were and what the trenches were in World War I; you’re going to see places that were destroyed and rebuilt, and I think you begin to understand the gravity of both World Wars. I think that’s a really powerful lesson to students that we should try to avoid future conflicts.
How about WISER Kenya? Why do you love that trip so much?
WISER is in such a rural place in Kenya that no one would ever choose to visit it. So when TASIS students go there, I think they are absolutely blown away by a different world that they’ve never seen or experienced. I think very few people have been to the developing world, and particularly a developing village that is not sustained by tourism. So I love watching student reactions and hearing them say, “Oh my gosh, I get it now,” “Oh my gosh, now I understand all those statistics on poverty and all those stories that we read—now that I’ve met a WISER girl, now that I see the life they’re in,” “Oh my gosh, this WISER girl has two children,” “Oh my gosh, this WISER girl lost her parents,” “Oh my gosh, this WISER girl had to sell herself so that she could go to school.”
You can’t replace or substitute those learning experiences.
If you could teach any other class or work in another department for one day, which would it be and why?
Hmm, that’s a tough question...I would have fun trying to teach French because I used to do it, so it would be fun to see how French is taught here because I’ve never observed a class. I think if I really wanted a challenge, I would choose to be a Pre-K or Kindergarten teacher because good elementary school teachers work magic with little children, and I feel like I have absolutely no skills in that area. I mean, the worlds are so different! So I think I would take the challenge on just to try to learn and also respect elementary school teachers even more. What they do is amazing; I could never do it.
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