Adam Gold was part of a bumper crop of middle school kids ready to reinvigorate HHS Debate the moment they stepped into the school. Usually our freshmen arrive too late to join in on a fall trip, but that year we made an exception and the crew became the core of a club renaissance. Adam also joined Mock Trial, took a semester elective with me, and traveled on my first overseas trip to France. Our relationship would continue through his time at Rutgers and beyond. It has been one of the great pleasures of my career to watch Adam evolve into an outstanding and innovative teacher, perceptive and supportive coach, and fundamentally kind person.
How would you characterize your pre-high school childhood, growing up in Hillsborough?
I was lucky to grow up in a small neighborhood with a bunch of kids my age. Even though the town was big, I felt like my street was an entire community and good people were always around. I also appreciated a lot of things that feel really simple now, like playing baseball on the Burger King field and stopping in after for a Whopper, playing coin-slot arcade games in Boro Pizza with friends and comparing high scores, and snowball fights on the cul-de-sac I called home. I appreciated my childhood and loved Triangle School, even when the entire school was accused by a police officer of “pooping and peeing on the walls” and we spent our 5th grade in a “temporary” trailer that still sits there to do this day. Middle school was a typically-awkward time, but I had some great teachers and some not-so-great teachers who all inspire me in my job today.
I knew you throughout high school, but I’m curious how you look back at your high school years. Let’s talk about social studies. What do you think HHS did well in that area? What were the shortcomings?
I liked history classes, but I didn’t love them as much as I should have. I thought I loved current events and politics and that the only place for me to pursue that interest was in Model United Nations and Model Congress, but I should have been made more aware of the connections between history and the world I was inhabiting. This was evident in a couple electives, but not as much as it should have been. In retrospect, as a history teacher now, I would have loved studying history in college, but I never fell in love with history in high school enough to pursue the degree at Rutgers.
What impact did your extracurricular activities have on you?
HHS Debate is the single most impactful experience in my professional life. The opportunity to travel, to feel empowered as a leader at conferences where problems, instead of teachers, held me accountable, to get to lead as an officer doing good work for the benefit of an organization, and to spend time with so many intelligent and interesting people; it was a powerful experience that gave me a sense of community and a foundation for my academic and professional future. On top of that, the advisors, especially you, set the tone by caring to such a degree that it was impossible to not care too. And that became a foundational principle for my teaching.
Present company excluded, who was your favorite teacher K-12 and why?
Mr. Keck always stands out to me. He tried to understand me like he would a character in one of our assigned books. We were people in his class. He was interested in our interests, he empathized with our personal and academic challenges, and he cared about us getting something out of the experience of learning English. I remember to this day a lesson on song lyrics and iambic pentameter. And while I usually appreciated sarcastic and witty personalities, I came to really appreciate his authentic and profound kindness.
There was no one better. You majored in political science at Rutgers University. What were you thinking that major would lead to at the time?
I liked politics and current events and thought it would be the only way for me to learn more about how I could create political change. I wanted to work in politics or government and would eventually intern while at Rutgers at the governor’s office.
Your first job out of college was as marketing director for your father’ company. What did you learn in that experience?
My dad’s company is in the same industry as his dad’s company and his grandfather’s company. While not sexy in the eyes of a college-aged kid, I did come appreciate essential work, like that of selling containers for liquids. I also came to appreciate small business, which was making a decent life possible for not only my dad, but also the many who are employed at his business. My dad also used to show me how to do some basic things in the warehouse, like how to roll a drum on the edge of its lid. He used to say that I should never ask someone to do something if I was unable or unwilling to do it myself. That sort of lesson, as well as better understanding sales and logistics, carried over into my other jobs.
You also became very involved with the Institute for Domestic and International Affairs, the organization that runs several of the Model United Nations and Model Congress conferences you attended as a high school student and staffed as a college student. Would you say your roles as conference advisor and professional development facilitator was your first teaching job?
I would agree that I could argue my first job as an educator was as a director of a Model UN committee at RUMUN. I was called during the summer before my first fall semester to see if I could take on the job of director at Rutgers Model United Nations 2002. This was a big challenge as a brand new student, but I had a lot of experience prior as a high school student and so the college staff thought I was ready. The ability to craft an experience for high school students that would engage and educate them became an addicting part of my life. I would also come to love training other people as to how to direct and then train other people how to train other people. I loved the art of education, the challenges of getting to know how someone learns, and the inspiring moments of inspiring them to be their best. IDIA made that possible and I am forever grateful.
In 2010 you became the academic director for the Global Leadership & International Affairs program for Julian Krinsky Camps. Tell me more about this month-long international leadership program you ran out of the University of Pennsylvania.
I just ended a 10-year run as the academic director of this program. I crafted a curriculum for the summer experience where students participated in Model UN and mock trial, and created an NGO to bring awareness to an invisible humanitarian issue. I got to take students to Washington, D.C. and New York City to visit places like the Saudi embassy and United Nations. I got to teach hundreds of students from over 25 countries and work with teaching assistants who had been my former students. I love this program as it gave me an opportunity to test out new teaching ideas and work in a resource-rich environment that prioritized creativity and possibility over all else.
You received your graduate level teacher certification in 2010. Was this an alternate route means to getting a teaching license? What did that entail?
I had to take my Praxis and a certain number of required classes to enroll in the program to ensure I would be eligible for teaching history in New Jersey. Once enrolled, I had to take a certain number of credits and student teach before applying for my teaching certification. I did not need to complete a master’s degree before gaining my teaching certification, which many programs require. This is not the typical alternate route method that some teachers use, which is getting a job and completing certification while working. I was certified prior to starting my job.
You began your high school teaching career at Highland Park in 2011. And you won the teacher of the year award in your first year in the classroom. Was there a massive scandal that implicated all of the other teachers that year? I kid. Tell me about what you saw as your successes in the classroom that year.
I was a first-year teacher, but I had a lot of practice before that year started. I was able to incorporate a lot of what I had done over the summer, at IDIA, and even at other seemingly unrelated jobs. I developed a personal finance curriculum that was uniquely interactive and taught history using simulations that I had come to love in my previous work. I felt really blown away to get this honor at the time, but it truly validated my choice to give up other career opportunities and dedicate my life to teaching.
In nearly a decade in the classroom, you’ve taught seven different preps. Other than “all of them,” what has been your favorite class to teach, and why?
Teaching personal finance is really fun because you don’t have to try hard to make the content relevant and to bring in personal experiences to earn credibility, but AP US History is such an exciting class to teach because I get to start from the current moment in time and work my way back to show how this country got to be what it is today. I get to incorporate simulations and guest speakers and media and engage a great group of students. I’ve also had the opportunity to recruit kids to this class who normally would not have taken an AP and I appreciate the chance to demonstrate the importance of history and inspire a love of learning as much as possible.
Can you talk about the challenges of teaching backwards? Do you ever find students getting lost because they lack the precursor to the precursor?
I don’t teach backwards. Imagine a movie that starts with the end and then works it’s way back to show the viewer how that ending came to be. I try to use current events to craft essential questions that require an understanding of history to answer.
I also employ the scientific method, as learned at a really cool magnet school called Science Leadership Academy in Philly. We make an observation about the world, ask how it got to be that way, hypothesize, then research and experiment with our ideas, and then write a thesis. For example I do a unit on American hegemony but start with agreed-upon observations about American military presence, cultural influence, political clout, and monetary policy.
I never operate under an assumption that my students fully understand where we are now, and thus I am never convinced they even know they should care how we got here.
What is the Highland Park/Rutgers Global Citizenship program?
Years ago, a Rutgers professor and Highland Park resident, Dr. Mary Curran, approached the school about incorporating global citizenship into the school’s mission. Since then, I’ve had the chance to travel to China, attend conferences, and develop this Global Citizenship program for our students. This program asks students to complete a series of tasks while they are in high school, including taking certain classes and participating in certain clubs, in order to show they have the skills to be a global citizen: the ability to investigate the world, think from multiple perspectives, communicate effectively, and take action. Before graduating, all enrolled students need to complete a service-oriented project that uses all four of these skills to use global research to improve their community. I have had so much fun seeing this program develop and students’ projects play out. From painting murals in town to starting new clubs to presenting proposals to the Board of Education, I believe the program has been a chance for me to have an indirect role in shaping the community by having students shape it in the way they think best.
How did you create and build your partnership with schools in Mexico City?
I was inspired by my trip to France with you to eventually take students abroad. With a particularly strong junior class, I thought it would be exciting to start a global ambassador program at our school and use Model UN as a vehicle for such an experience. We applied for a grant to go to Montreal first and then to Mexico City. Being that this was about more than MUN, we connected with other MUN schools to see if they would want to partner with us and host our students to take classes and participate in activities. We also get grant money for this experience, which guarantees that all of my students get to travel to Mexico City for no more than $600 plus food expenses. Students on free or reduced lunch go for free or a reduced fee. The experience is an education for my students, but also one of my favorite things I have done in my entire life.
What do you see as the benefits of travel for high school aged kids?
Travel in and of itself is a gift, but experienced with an educational sense, it can be life-altering. A tour guide is one thing, but traveling with a good teacher can turn a country into a classroom. That is how I felt about France and that is what I’ve tried to do for my students in Mexico and hopefully beyond.
Can you pick a lesson plan — either a single day or multiple — that you are most proud of implementing?
I had teachers visiting from Nigeria through Rutgers recently. They were observing a lesson on the Cuban Missile Crisis in my AP US History class that I was inspired to do from Model UN. I gave the students a MUN crisis experience that was only possible because of my own experience as a delegate and director. I reflected on my experience with these teachers and shared feedback from students in a way I learned since teaching high school. I felt proud of this lesson, but also of the ways I have learned to incorporate past experiences into my current job. I love bringing in guest speakers I have met in other settings, teaching skills like how to use spreadsheets that I learned while working at nonprofits, and a myriad of ways I use my life experiences to inform my teaching.
A few years back you gave me some grief about being somewhat negative when asked if I would encourage students to go into teaching. Whether you remember that conversation or not, can you talk about your feelings about encouraging your own students in that direction?
I would 100 percent encourage anyone who can teach to teach. I think it is a wonderful job if it is within your ability to do it. I think it is absolutely the worst job if it isn’t your thing. I would have loved encouragement when I was younger to pursue this field and I avoided it because of negativity.
Closely guarded secret: I like to complain about things. Can you channel me for a second and pick an educational reform or pedagogical idea that you have seen bandied about that you believe is a waste of time?
I love technology, but I despise using technology for the sake of technology. I think that represents a larger issue I have with teaching, that there are so many surface-level ways to pretend you are engaging your students. Do you need to ensure your students know the goals of a lesson? Well, just write the goals on the board and your administrators will know you’ve accomplished that task! Do you need to ensure your students know technology? Well, just have them use technology and your administrators will know you’ve accomplished that task too! This kind of low-hanging fruit method of evaluation encourages the worst kind of teaching, doing things for the sake of doing them. My supervising teacher while student teaching, Ken Boardman, used to say that a dirty word in teaching is “cover.” Those that worry about “covering the material” are failing to meet the primary goal of a classroom: engaging students.
Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
I want to be at a concert with my son for one of his favorite bands. I want to be at the shore with my wife. I want to be teaching future teachers. I want to be traveling to share my experiences and to gain more experiences to share back home. I hopefully will have been done with this interview by then.
Zing! Thanks, Adam.