This week, the Warrior Word sat down with Mr. Matla, a beloved History teacher and Head Disciplinarian of the school. Get to know more about Mr. Matla’s decision to move to Ohio, his hobbies, and his plans for next year when he will sadly no longer be imparting his knowledge upon the students of the Hebrew Academy.
Kayla Herssein: If you’re comfortable saying, what factors influenced your decision to move to Ohio?
Mr. Matla: It was a family decision. It was the best move for my kids and for my wife. We left Florida for my wife’s career. She had an opportunity we couldn’t ignore. Since we moved to Florida for mine, we left it for hers. Florida was never a forever thing for us. We stayed a lot longer than either of us had thought. We also moved back because we wanted to be in seasons and the kind of area that we grew up in. Ohio ended up being the winner of the lucky lottery because my mother still lives in Western New York, and my brother lives in Illinois. So, now I’m a quick couple-hour drive away from both of them. It was really to be closer to family, ultimately. COVID actually played a role too, as being home with my wife and kids made me realize that I didn’t have much time with them before my kids leave to have their own lives. I wanted to take some of that time back. The combination was too much to ignore.
Ali Smith: Has it been challenging teaching on Zoom this year? Why or why not?
MM: It’s been easier than I thought because you kind of fall in the pattern, you know. You fall into the habit of it. But, it’s been more difficult because ultimately you do like being in front of a class, as a teacher. That’s where the real kind of adrenaline rush, or dopamine hit—or whatever you want to call it—comes in. I do miss that; I miss the interaction, and I miss the occasional banter that doesn’t make any sense, or even getting completely off topic. It hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be, but at the same time, it feels like I’m only half doing what I’m usually doing.
KH: In terms of the actual place, do you prefer Ohio or Miami, and why?
MM: Ohio, sorry. It’s less crowded, and I was never a city person. I like being out in the quiet of the country and looking up and seeing stars, not streetlights. Honestly, also just being able to go outside and have a huge yard to do whatever I want to do in. It is what I grew up doing, and I lived in that whole area, so being down here in Florida and being around everybody is always kind of an adjustment. Obviously, I miss the culture, I miss the restaurants. It’s not that I don’t have any up there, it’s just that the kind of experiences that we had down here—that I’m glad my kids were able to have—you’re not going to find that anywhere else. This is definitely a unique place, and I don’t regret living here at all. But I’m very happy where I am.
AS: What are some hobbies that you’ve picked up or that you started doing again now that you live in Ohio?
MM: Oh, you know the answer to this one already: blacksmithing, woodworking. Woodworking was something that I grew up doing with my dad. He passed away since I’ve moved to Florida, so when I got back to Ohio, all his tools and his workshop and everything were still at my mom’s house. So, I brought them to Ohio and I have all these tools. We’ve been doing remodeling projects; we rebuilt the dining room, and I built a couple of tables and cabinets, and all those kinds of things. Having space to do all those kinds of things really gave me a relaxation that I didn’t have in Miami. I’ve gone from playing video games to relaxed and going back to doing the stuff that I like to do, as far as working with my hands and building things.
KH: What are some things you are going to miss about working at Hebrew Academy?
MM: The people! It’s certainly not the elevators. They are completely uncooperative. But you know, the people. I’ve made some really good friends on the faculty here and I enjoy—maybe not the freshmen—but I enjoy being around students. It keeps me intellectually sharp because you guys are always going to ask questions, and no class is ever going to ask the same question twice. So, I’ve always got to be a step or two ahead of you. It keeps me on my toes as an educator, and I think—I hope, anyways—it keeps me mentally agile. I miss this kind of interaction. I think that is what I’m going to miss most about the Hebrew Academy; the people that I’ve met here because they’re not anywhere else.
AS: As a History teacher, do you feel like you have a different perspective of all the events that have happened this year? How has that led your way of thinking?
MM: As a Historian, I tend to think that I have more—it’s going to sound arrogant, and I don’t mean it to—insight than the average person into these kinds of events and processes, and finding historical precedences and equivalence. I’ve always been the person that my family and friend group are texting me like: “What is going on?” or “What’s going to happen with this?” I’ve always kind of been in that spot, and I do feel like it gives me more of an informed perspective than random people who decide they’re going to post things on Facebook or internet boards or whatever. But at the same time, I recognize that I do have my own apparent biases when it comes to politics, so I have to always either quantify that this is what I believe as opposed to something else, or do my best to leave it out and give an objective explanation.
KH: What is the funniest moment you’ve had at Hebrew Academy?
MM: That I could say that would be reprinted for other people to hear? We’ve had a few. We went to a water park once many years ago for a day-long retreat, and two of the teachers who were supposed to be chaperoning fell asleep and took naps for three hours. Seeing people fall down the stairs, while not morally correct, is always hilarious. We’ve had characters on the faculty that if you could put them in a room with a hundred screenwriters, they couldn’t write these people. Do you think anybody could create Mr. Innes? That man is gold. It’s been fun to watch activity directors come and go like a revolving door. It’s been kind of a culture shock to see color war as a school event. It’s all been kind of a fun ride and I don’t know if I can pick one specific moment where I’ve laughed the hardest, but I’ve definitely laughed quite enough over my nine years here.
AS: What are some messages that you’d like to leave with your students, or Hebrew Academy in general?
MM: It’s always about effort. As long as you’re willing to try, and you’re willing to give it your honest best, things are going to work out for you the way they’re supposed to and in the way you want it to. I’ve always said that I’ll take a kid that will work hard for a B- over a kid who does nothing for an A-. I would rather have the kid that’s going to work. That’s not just in my class, that’s life. You’re going to get the job if you work harder, you’re going to get better grades in school if you work harder. You’re going to get more friends, you’re going to get what you want if you’re willing to work for it. You can’t just sit and wait for it to happen to you, you have to physically and mentally prepare yourself to achieve.
KH: Do you think you will keep in touch with staff or students from Hebrew Academy?
MM: I hope so. Every time I’ve come down this year, my outside of school time is making sure I keep in touch with friends that I’ve left, or former teachers that I’ve worked with down here. That has been rare for me in the past. Usually, once I’m done with a job, I don’t really talk to anybody there anymore. So, I hope to keep in touch with people.
AS: Do you think you’re going to continue teaching history in Ohio, or do you have other plans?
MM: I’d like to keep teaching. If it doesn’t happen right away because of certifications and paperwork and everything, then I’m okay with that—I’m comfortable with it. I just can’t do anything where I don’t use my brain. I have to be a teacher, or something that involves thinking or at least using my hands. I couldn’t be a truck driver. If I’m teaching, great! If it’s something outside of teaching that is mentally stimulating, then I’m still good.
KH: Thank you so much!
Interview by: Kayla Herssein (10th Grade) and Ali Smith (10th Grade)
Compiled by: Kayla Herssein