Jeremy Dobin: Where were you born and raised?
Ms. Ehrlich: I was born and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota.
JD: St. Paul?
Ms.E: Yeah, it’s the capital.
Daniel Ohana: Interesting, what is it like over there compared to here?
Ms.E: St. Paul is really really different from where I live now. It’s a lot greener and spacious in Minnesota. People are a lot friendlier on the streets. People make small talk in grocery stores and things like that, so that’s really different. Otherwise, there are a lot of similarities, like day to day activities, more or less the same. Minnesota is known for this stereotypical thing called “Minnesota nice,” which is code for midwestern passive aggression. People are nice in person, but then are gossipy behind your back, which is something you culturally have to get used to when you live there.
JD: What were you like in school?
Ms.E: Like what were my favorite classes, what I did study?
JD: Like both what did you study, what did you do outside of school, like when you were our age pretty much.
Ms.E: Well, I hated English in middle school. In sixth grade, I thought it was the most boring class, and did not understand why we were learning the language that we already spoke. I was really vocal about my opinions in class. I would tell teachers what I thought, like what we were doing in class was dumb; which I realize is rude now. That changed a lot when I got to high school. I was a pretty serious student, but I wasn’t a strong student in math, and I think that was a really good experience for me because I always really good in school. I went to the same school pre-K through twelfth grade, so I was with the same people and I always did a really good job. And then I got to high school math. I was taking Geometry my first year, as a freshman, and it was so hard. I almost failed out of the class. That really changed me as a student because I stopped being as serious, and it made me realize it was okay to not always get A’s, and I didn’t need to stress about things all the time. I’m really glad that happened. But I really loved school, I loved learning and don’t feel embarrassed about saying that. I think it’s cool to know a lot of things, so I loved all my classes, apart from Chemistry, which I now think is really interesting, but I hated it then. We had many electives at my school, so I took a lot of classes that fit my interests, which was cool. I took a variety of religions. I took a class called Moral Issues, where we discussed ethics and philosophy, and also took a class that focused on China and Japan, it was a really cool class. Gender Studies was one of my favorites. A big difference with how my school taught and how this school teaches is that Social Studies and English were taught together. When we were in ninth and tenth grade, there were World Cultures. We also had American; Classes of the Americas. So we had American Lit, which complemented what we were doing in history.
Ms.E: Yeah, it was really cool, so I liked that a lot. I also got to learn Spanish, as I took a Spanish course.
DO: Do you use that here?
Ms.E: Yes, it’s nice because I can understand a lot of people. If I didn’t speak Spanish, living in Miami would be a lot harder. I would walk down the street and not be able to understand what the people around me were saying, which would be uncomfortable. But, I mean, I don’t speak Spanish a lot because I am shy about it. Especially because no one in my family really speaks Spanish, so I have no one to practice with, therefore I’m really self-conscious about how I sound. But, I do speak a little German, and that’s nice. I probably can read better than I speak, but I speak pretty well too.
DO: You didn’t always love English, right? Like what you said about sixth grade.
Ms.E: Yeah, I hated it.
DO: So, what would you say changed your mind about English?
Ms.E: In seventh and eighth grade I had an amazing teacher, who I actually reconnected with when I was job searching. He interviewed me for a job in Jordan, the country, and he is there now. It was so bizarre. And he was the first teacher I had that seemed really invested in his students’ interests, and not just the content he was teaching, and that was really important to me. That’s something that I try to do now as a teacher, I know that you’re learning so much, but there’s no reason that what you’re learning shouldn’t pertain to your lives. He was the first teacher that I had that taught things in a way that resonated with me. We spent all of seventh grade learning how to write persuasive paragraphs, which is really boring when you think about it. But you feel empowered, you feel your voice. That is what that class did, it taught me that my voice and my ideas are valuable. And that’s really important. The first time I felt validated as a student was in an English class, I always made A’s, but I never felt that what I was doing was valuable. The first time I felt that my individual contributions were important to a class was in that classroom. And that was really important for me too.
DO: So you being an English teacher, if you could pick any character from literature to become a person in real life, who would it be?
Ms.E: Oh, wow.
DO: Tough question?
Ms.E: There’s so many. One of my favorite characters that I read is Holden Caulfield, from Catcher in the Rye. I think he’s such a fascinating character. But I also love Jordan Baker from The Great Gatsby. He’s like the character nobody talks about. He’s really interesting, and I feel like we’d be friends. Gosh, I don’t know. The thing is, as an English teacher, I’m accustomed to thinking about what an author says in a book, that I’m more interested in meeting the authors than the characters, I guess. Even though I love fiction, it’s like I love the people that come up with the ideas.
JD: So then which author would it be? Who would you want to hang out with and be friends with, dead or alive?
Ms.E: Well I just read a book called Homegoing, I am going to be teaching it to my ninth graders, it is written by Yaa Gyasi, who I think is so interesting. Gosh, you know who I would love to meet? Marianne Moore, she was a famous poet, a modernist, and she writes about animals. It’s really interesting, so she’d be the author I would want to hang out with. I love literature, but I love poetry even more than I love books.
DO: This will be the last question, If you could know the absolute truth of one question, what would the question be?
JD: Heavy, huh?
Ms.E: I mean, I guess. I always think about if what we do is meaningful. In other words, is life meaningful? My question isn’t “what’s the meaning of life?” but “is my existence significant?” I don’t think there’s a universal truth. So, I think that’s a hard question for me to answer because I don’t really believe in that. Like is there even a point to living? God is such a mystery to me. The odds that we would be sitting in this room together right now is so slim.
DO: But if you had that question answered, do you think you would like the answer?
Ms.E: I don’t think I would want to know. I don’t know if I would like the answer. The answer is probably like “no, you’re random,” or “yes everything is meaningful, and you don’t have free-will.” So either way, it feels like a lose-lose. I feel like it is better left unanswered.
By Daniel Ohana (10th Grade) and Jeremy Dobin (10th Grade)