Profile of history teacher Matt Cohen

Irit Skulnik, News Editor

Imagine a history teacher who hated history as a high-schooler, but now it is his profession. High school history teacher Matt Cohen fits the description. Cohen is new to the CESJDS staff this school year, and previously worked in Chicago. 

In Chicago, Cohen worked as both a Hebrew and social studies teacher. But, having grown up there, he was ready for a change of pace. He decided to apply for his current position at JDS. 

While Cohen has a lot of teaching experience under his belt, it was not always the career he wanted to pursue. During his junior year of high school, his disinterest in history began to shift.

“Junior year, when I took U.S History, I had a really phenomenal teacher, and something clicked. It just made it really interesting and fun,” Cohen said. “I want to see if I can help kids find their own passion within history, whatever that might be.”

According to Cohen, he tries to keep his classroom very student-led, and it’s important to him to do what is best for his students. Cohen strives to create an inclusive space for the students, rather than him standing up and doing all the talking.

“I really care a lot about student choice and student voice where I give the kids options and opportunities to explore things in ways that really work for them,” Cohen said.

Cohen’s care for active student voice guides his teaching, and he feels strongly about the impact that listening to one’s students can have on a teacher’s teaching. 

“If your kids really are one way or care about this or that, listen to them, understand them and help them to broaden those interests of theirs. I think that really speaks to what a teacher should be,” Cohen said.

Junior Eilah Goldberg really appreciates student-centered and interactive classes, especially since four of her classes are lecture style. 

“I feel like I learn better when I’m challenging myself rather than just being lectured to by a teacher. The information registers better when I’m doing things more hands-on or participating in discussions,” Goldberg said.

Cohen is still adjusting to JDS, and he hopes that as he gets more acclimated to the school he can contribute more of his experiences to the school. 

“I want to really work to bring in some different ideas. I think there’s a lot of good ideas that are already in the school, and teachers do a lot of really cool things, and I just want to take my experiences and bring them in,” Cohen said.

In addition to contributing his personal experiences and helping students in the classroom, Cohen has gotten to know them beyond it as well. Cohen is the club advisor for spikeball, the assistant girls varsity basketball coach and the assistant varsity baseball coach. 

“It’s the best way to meet the kids; not just to learn who I have in class, but also to really get involved in the school,” Cohen said.

In addition, Cohen has attended all the Shabbatons this year. According to Director of Jewish Life Shoshana Schechter, some teachers really enjoy the Shabbatons and go on all four if their schedule permits. Shechter thinks that there are many benefits to Shabbaton attendance, especially for new teachers. 

“I think as a new teacher it’s a great way to meet a large group of students and get to know them on a more personal level. We are so busy here that it’s hard to connect with students all the time…on the Shabbatons you have the ability to sit down face-to-face,” Shechter said.

Cohen’s role-models guide his teaching, particularly former President Abraham Lincoln. In Cohen’s classroom, students will find several posters of Lincoln as well as a bust on display. Cohen’s interest in Lincoln started on a trip to the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois when he was in high school. 

Cohen sees many parallels between himself and Lincoln, such as the ability to embrace mistakes. 

“We’re not perfect people; nobody is a perfect person, and I think it’s really important that we learn to be okay with making mistakes,” Cohen said. “While he [Lincoln] knew he made mistakes, he was able to do his best and care for the people around him. I do my best to do the same. I’m not a perfect person or a perfect teacher, but I always try to do what’s best for my students.”

Lincoln also provides a lot of inspiration to Cohen while he is teaching. 

“I think he inspires me to work hard and know that no matter how tough situations might be, there’s always a way through them,” Cohen said. “…I don’t think about it every moment, but having him in my classroom I get to look at him and say, ‘you know what, if he was able to do it the way he grew up and the person he was, anyone can.’ I try to lean on that to help me.”

Outside of his classroom, Cohen enjoys drumming, baking and spending time outdoors, and someday Cohen even hopes to drum in a band. Cohen also hopes to travel to Ireland and Australia.