Teacher Interview: Mr. Mathieu
BY DHRUVIKA DEEKONDA '24
Welcome to Spectrum’s new initiative, a teacher interview column! The Fall 2023 issue,features Mr. Aaron Mathieu, a Biology teacher from ABRHS! Mr. Mathieu both advises STEM based clubs, Biobuilders and Gene Club, and school electives such as Research for Publication and EVAS. Those who know him will rightfully say that he has a voice worth highlighting among a larger audience. Fortunately, I managed to track him down and ask several questions, mostly about his journey as a teacher and the person he is today. Continue reading about our guest of honor: Mr. Mathieu!
Q. You’ve been teaching Biology, both Honors and AP, for a very long time. What motivated you to teach Biology at the grade levels you currently work with?
Mathieu: Yeah, so, Biology was easy, it was my major in college. It was the subject that I was most interested in. When I was studying in college, I worked at a lab and I didn’t really know what I was going to do with it afterwards and then in terms of grades in high school, I had this tutoring experience when I was in college, I took this class, where I went into a high school, and I tutored students in the school. It was part of a class and we would meet once a week in class and all the people who went to the same site would get together and talk. Those other people would just complain “the students never talk to me” “nobody ever asked me anything” but then when I would show up they would have notes with my name on them on the board saying “if you come in, come find me, I’ll be waiting here”. And for whatever reason, I just sorta connected with high school students even back then. I applied for a high school teaching job right out of college and it was a natural fit. I have worked with younger kids at summer programs. I was able to coach them but I always thought working at a high school was a better fit personality wise and temperament wise. It has always been an easy fit and it hasn’t felt like a lot of work to work with high school students ever, hmm and I think that when I know other teachers who work at other levels, you have to sorta enjoy the population that you work with and that there is a fit piece. And I don’t know if, you know, if I had been like a 3rd grade teacher then it would have been a good fit. But, high school is where I started even before I was a teacher and it was always an easy fit for me and something that I was able to relate with the students and it worked the other way as well.
Q. So in that aspect, were there any teachers or mentors that influenced your decision?
Mathieu: Yeah, so in terms of any teachers, I went to a really good high school, I had a lot of teachers that were very good. I went to school in a college town, and a lot of my friends’ parents were either professors or teachers. So, education was very valued in the town that I grew up in. So, I had a lot of very great people, but it wasn’t like I had somebody who I was like “oh I wanna become a teacher because of this teacher”. But, my first teaching job, when I got hired, I was very young and my department head was really, he was in the process of finishing up his doctorate. He was very soft-spoken, very kind… he was just super nice. He always had a way of encouraging and promoting reflection. I had a feeling he walked in and saw me do things both good and bad but he didn’t come in and tell me what I was doing was good or bad. He would just come in and ask me questions about what I was doing and would help guide me towards thinking about areas I want to improve upon, areas and strengths I should lean into. It wasn’t to say that he never complimented me or never said nice things to me, it's just that he had this way about him that his entire nature was both nurturing and encouraging of reflection which matched with who I am and what I want to do. And actually since he retired, he is working at UMass, in the education department and working with student teachers and teaching classes and helping those types of people and you know he was a very pivotal person even after I left that place. We would actually meet up and I can remember the conversations I had with about a year and half before I came to AB, where he was sort of asking me career goal questions similarly. He was being very blunted honest with me like “being reflective about where I wanted to be” and if I were to settle in a school to do what the school had designed… is that what I truly wanted to do? Like, what were my long term goals and how to think about that to set myself up into that position to have the career I wanted to have the career I currently have. But otherwise, I’ve also had a lot of other teachers who have inspired me in different ways that influence my thinking about how I do the things I do.
Q. Follow up question on that, how do you apply the values that you obtained from all the teachers and mentors you have worked with?
Mathieu: I try to listen a lot more than tell other people. So, whenever I go into any sort of conversation whether it’s with my student or a colleague, I think it’s fighting your own nature, my own nature, that when you have a point in an argument you want to say, “well, this is the way it should be”. However, overtime, I’ve tried to work with people by going in and asking them about what they see is true and what their perspective is and listening so that I can… you know, it’s not about going in and pushing what I want to happen in a conversation. But, if we are talking about teaching, I have ways that I’ve come about doing. The way I do the work reflects my values and rules what I do. It’s not my job to convince anybody else that the way I’m doing things is the right way to do them. If other people have made different choices, I think I will get better and we will get better if I listen and ask questions and reflect on how they’ve made their decisions. And where the common ground, which will naturally come up, and where the differences exist. If I go in with curiosity and try to figure out “alright, how did they solve these problems?” hmm.. Then it’s easier to get to a new place.
Q. Sort of carrying on with that, what are some obstacles or difficulties that you had to overcome? It could be something that happens when you are trying to get everyone’s perspective but that in turn doesn’t match your own.
Mathieu: Yeah, I mean, there’s been plenty of obstacles, this is a hard job. I think there have been times where it hasn't always been easy and there are times as a teacher where it’s not by a fault, but the nature of the job that can sometimes be very isolating. There’s been times throughout my career where I was teaching classes and nobody else was teaching the classes I was teaching and so literally the job was just me solving the problem by myself in some cases for many, many years. That was very hard because it is very easy to get into a rut when there’s a lot of isolation. And so, I’ve been very fortunate to have, really, the last 15 years of my experience as a teacher. I haven’t been in a citation like that, and I’ve been working with other teachers who work really hard.
Q. When times were hard during such periods of isolation, what motivated you to get going?
Mathieu: Something that got me out of that rut was when I was still teaching my own classes, I got into a community with the teachers, finding collaboration with other teachers whether inside the building or outside the building. Just now, I had a friend, who teaches Texas, send me a text 2 hours before saying that she was in a workshop and that she came across something cool regarding something that we both had been talking about. So, what I’m saying is that having other people who are excited about the work and remembering that I don’t have to solve problems myself, that there are things and other people’s perspectives who are in a community try to solve similar problems has been a really great way to prevent the isolation that teaching can sometimes promote.
Q. What is your definition of failure/success?
Mathieu: Life is, by its very definition, going to be filled with failure and struggle. Everybody struggles at different times. It’s not about avoiding failure, it’s about when you fail, when you struggle, you have to grow from that failure. At times, when you are struggling, you can’t help yourself. You are gonna need other people to help you out. And, when you are out of that struggle, you can look back and reflect on it. Also, by trying not to overreact, no underreact, try to find those times where you can get support when you cognize that you need the support. But, when you are out of it and are in a good place, think back about like “okay, well, what got into that? What got me out of that?” How do I, you know, grow so that I don’t fall into the same problem again? There will be challenges that come along down the line, but let’s not be running into the same challenge over and over again.
Q. What advice would you give current high school students here at AB?
Mathieu: Don’t be too busy trying to get to the place where you think you’re supposed to be. I think that, particularly, a lot of students in our school have this idea of “I’m going to go to this college or I’m going to get this career and I’m going to go like…” I’m not saying to not have goals. I think that having goals is a great thing, but don’t be so focused on your goals that it causes you to not pay attention to the journey. The fact is that you’re going to live this life and you’re going to have all of these experiences. I do sometimes worry about students who are so goal driven and they’re so focused on that thing that is 8, 10 years down the line. They’re worried about this unknown future that they really don’t have a lot of control over right now and as a result they’re not having fun. They’re not enjoying things, they’re not having hobbies, they’re not socializing. I think, as somebody who is a bit of a workaholic myself, I tend to drive into work. I do have to sometimes remind myself of how if you want to do things with other people, then you have to put some time aside outside of work. In the future, you’re gonna have a lot of responsibility and you won’t have as much free time and you’re gonna be working much harder to schedule those times compared to when you were younger. You have a luxury of time for socializing in a way that you will not necessarily have in 10-15 years. In a sense, have fun but not at the expense of goals. But, don’t be so goal oriented that you don’t enjoy the journey of getting there.
Q. Now, this is going to be a rapid fire question! If you woke up to 5000 unread emails, and only had time to answer 100, how would you choose which ones to answer?
Mathieu: That wouldn’t happen because I am a 0 inbox person…
Q. Hypothetically, which one would you prioritize?
Mathieu: Honestly, I would skim them all. And then I would answer my family members, my students and colleagues.
Q. If you could relive your days in high school or college, would you?
Mathieu: I don’t know. I mean they were fun, they were fine… but, I’m perfectly content living the life I have right now. Like even if I went back, I wouldn’t do anything differently. But also, I really like the person I am right now because all of those things are things that got me to where I am today. Again, it’s not to avoid mistakes or to avoid failure or avoid obstacles. You’re gonna have to make mistakes and you’re gonna have to have things happen whether or not they don’t work out.
Q. Would you rather fight a hundred duck sized horses or one horse sized duck?
Mathieu: Firstly, I wouldn't want to do either but I would pick the one horse sized duck. It’s just one battle versus a lot of battles.
Q. Last question for the day, what is your best joke?
Mathieu: I don’t have a joke to share, I think most people agree that I’m generally pretty funny.
In the end, Mr. Mathieu, along with his witty yet true statements, inevitably continue their reign as the best science teacher at ABRHS! Don’t forget to show your love and support for this column, AB. If you would like to hear from one of your favorite teachers in the building, make sure to email (email@example.com). Stay tuned!