This week, the Warrior Word interviewed Dr. Walker, a new history teacher at the school. Dr. Walker teaches World History, AP European History, and American Government and Economics. Learn more about Dr. Walker as he talks about growing up in Arkansas, coming to Miami for the first time, and his passion for history and current events.
Kayla Herssein: Where were you born and raised?
Dr. Walker: I was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas, a big Arkansas Razorbacks fan.
KH: Did you like growing up in Arkansas?
DW: Yeah, all of my friends and family are there, so it’s home.
KH: How long have you been teaching for?
DW: Well, I taught at the University of Arkansas for years, but this is my first year teaching high school.
KH: How is Hebrew Academy different from your past teaching experiences?
DW: Well, Arkansas is a place where there are almost no Jews to speak of, so this is my complete introduction to Jewish culture and things. I love learning about different cultures, so that’s always really nice. And as far as different, when I knew I wanted to teach high school, I knew I wanted to teach at a religious private school because they combine academics with an emphasis on building moral character, and so far, everything has lived up to the expectations.
KH: What got you into teaching?
DW: The ability to stay in history. I got my undergraduate degree in accounting and was actually an accountant for two years in Bentonville, Arkansas, where Walmart is, and realized that I would’ve hated being an accountant for the rest of my life. So, I went back to school to get my masters in journalism, of all things, because I had dreams of being a sportswriter, and revolutionizing Arkansas’s sports writing. But in the process of getting my journalism masters, I was sort of taken under the wing of a young British historian at the University of Arkansas, and he encouraged me to pursue history. I had never thought of doing history for a profession, so the idea of being able to study the subject that you love and also teach young people about it appealed to me.
KH: What kind of teacher do you see yourself as?
DW: Well, to be honest, this being my first year teaching in high school, I wouldn’t want to set in stone any kind of teaching style that I do have. One thing that I’ve learned is that I’ve got to adapt my previous teaching experience in college to the high school environment. Right now, I would say I’m a very flexible teacher.
KH: What kind of teacher do you strive to be like?
DW: One that always finds even the students who aren’t interested in history. I understand some kids have a question as to why history should be studied at all. Just name states and facts, and if I could just change a handful of students’ minds on the fact that history is actually useful, not just in understanding how the present world was made, but also it’s useful as a tool for building critical thinking skills. And when it comes to the writing aspect of history, it can improve one’s ability to articulate their own thoughts and in person. So, if I could do that, wonderful!
KH: What do you wish to accomplish with your students by the end of the year?
DW: Each class has its own goals. Obviously, with the AP Euro, the easiest goal for them would be to pass the AP exam at the end of the year. The seniors, because it’s a government and economics class dealing with America, I’d like for them to have graduated high school with a better understanding of today’s current political climate, both historically, and as far as how America’s legal documents, like the Constitution, are still in play and relevant to our daily discourse. With the sophomores and the freshmen, it’s all about building a foundation from which future historical learning can grow. The freshmen class, I am looking forward to what they are doing next year. Next year, I want to move beyond just the fundamental knowledge of certain historical things like names, dates, places, and understanding geography. I want to move more into the critical thinking phase of history by the time they’re sophomores. The sophomores, the same but to a lesser extent. I am really a great admirer of Mr. Matla, and how well he shaped the sophomore’s form. I am really impressed with my sophomore history class. So, if I could continue just what Mr. Matla has done with the sophomores, that’s all just great. And if I could turn the freshmen class into a group like the present sophomores I have, then I’ve done a good job.
KH: What were you like as a high school student?
DW: Believe it or not, I was a jock in high school. I went to an all-boys Catholic school, and all of my friends were a mixed bag, I suppose. What kind of student was I? The best way I could explain that, I suppose, is that the high school that I did go to was a high school where about seventy percent of the graduating class—I graduated with about 100 boys—so I’d say about 70 of them went to the University of Arkansas, pledged to a fraternity, and wanted to go to law school. So there was sort of a set pattern to all of that. And I, at the time, followed that pattern for about three years in college before I realized. Four years, I guess, if you count that, I actually went to become an accountant and everything. I was someone who was still figuring out their own path. So when I hear students who are seniors worrying about what they are going to do next year, I reassure them that it’s perfectly fine not to have everything laid out in stone or anything like that.
KH: Do you have any hobbies or passions outside of school?
DW: Well, I always love reading. I love staying up on current events. I subscribe to about 5 or 6 magazines. I love to read book reviews, like the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books. I love The Economist. I also love The Week. So, staying up on current events, and always looking for the history angle on them. I have a bunch of nieces and nephews that I love, so I always like to stay informed on what they’re doing. And staying in touch with my friends and family back in Arkansas. But also, I’d say my most recent hobby is getting to know my new city; getting to know Miami Beach. I like to walk around and, every weekend, just go do something new around town.
KH: What is something that not many people know about you?
DW: Maybe that I was a jock in high school.
KH: Is Hebrew Academy different from what you expected it to be?
DW: Yeah, it is. As I said, I went to a Catholic all-boys school, and when I decided to become a high school teacher, I applied only to religious private high schools thinking that they would all be like Little Rock Catholic School for Boys, in Little Rock, Arkansas. The students are a little bit more rambunctious than I had anticipated, as in the biggest hurdle that I’ve had to overcome is the talking in class. It could be a generational thing as much as anything. Whereas, when I was in high school, if you spoke in class, you might have your head thrown through a wall or something like that. But there is a positive spin to that, in that the kids – and the fact that they’re talking in class – are always willing to share their thoughts, whether it is related to the topic at hand or not is something that could always be useful for teachers. So, taking advantage of the fact that these kids are engaged in something upon some level, rather than being just zombies stuck in a chair.
KH: Lastly, what is your favorite part about teaching at Hebrew Academy? DW: The people, and the students. It is a new city for me, and I’d never even been to Miami before I moved here. A transition like that is never seamless and easy, and there is always a little bit of a hiccup here and there with that kind of transition. But that fact that I am surrounded by wonderful, nice teachers and students is my favorite thing.
KH: That’ll be it for today. Thank you so much for your time!
By: Kayla Herssein (9th grade)