A Q&A with a Golden Apple Finalist from Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep
SCHOOLS | March 9, 2022
A Q&A with a Golden Apple Finalist from Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep

Mr. Will Ejzak, an English teacher at Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy, notes that teaching wasn’t always his planned career. Growing up, he wanted to be a musician, and even taught weekly private violin lessons during college. However, once he started student teaching, he loved how engaging and meaningful it felt to teach an entire class. Since he also loves reading and writing, he describes his job as the perfect synthesis of everything he cares about. Get to know him more below. 

How have your experiences as a student impacted your approach to education?
I’d like to think that my experience as a slightly disgruntled high school student has made me a better teacher. If the kids aren’t engaged, nothing you do as a teacher really matters because it falls on deaf ears. The human connection, the genuine interest and motivation, and the warm, positive classroom environment always have to come before the content and skills you’re teaching—one leads to the other, but both are equally important.

What is your approach to helping students learn and grow throughout the school year?
I think it’s really important that students look forward to your class. It’s tempting to scoff at the concept of “fun” in the classroom, particularly in a rigorous high school or college class, but it’s a cornerstone of student motivation. If students feel comfortable and happy and relaxed and calm in my class, they will learn much more.

It’s also important to build up students’ confidence with reading and writing. They are only motivated to try if they think they have a chance of succeeding, so teachers have to be careful to emphasize each student’s strengths, meet each student where they’re at, and celebrate small successes along the way.

What are your goals for your students, both in the short term and the long term?
My secret goal is to turn all of my students into lifelong readers: kids who read outside of school for fun and who recognize reading as a valuable, beautiful, and essential part of a meaningful life. There are dozens of skills we can cultivate in the classroom to make kids more confident, organized, sophisticated writers and nuanced readers, but it’s never going to add up to much if they never develop a love of reading, or if they never read outside of class.

What was your reaction when you learned that you had been named a Golden Apple finalist?
Thrilled, of course! I’ve given all of my creativity and enthusiasm to teaching, so it’s deeply meaningful to be recognized for it. At the same time, there are so many extraordinary teachers who go unrecognized. So I’m very grateful, but they should be recognized, too.

If you had to describe your career in one word, what would it be and why?
A combination of “exhausting” and “inspiring.” I love teaching, and I feel extremely lucky that I get to do it. And I love my students. My days always feel full and meaningful and real. It’s also a lot of work, but, of course, I’d rather fill my life with exhausting, meaningful days than easy, superficial ones.

Fun fact: Mr. Ejzak is the faculty sponsor for the BALM, his school’s monthly arts and literacy magazine. Check it out here.