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May 3, 2021 | Abby Liu
This is a part of a new video interview series so that you can get to know our Middle School faculty. We hope that you enjoy learning more about them!
Abby Liu: Hello, I’m Abby Liu, Director of Marketing and Communications at Mustard Seed School and I have Zach Licato here with me today. Welcome, Mr. Licato.
Zach Licato: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Abby Liu: Thanks for being here. Why don’t you tell us what your role is at the school?
Zach Licato: Yes, so I am second through eighth grade physical education teacher as well as health teacher. I teach health to the sixth, seventh and eighth grade. In addition to that, I am also a homeroom teacher for the seventh grade.
Abby Liu: And is that like a normal thing for us to have you do both those roles?
Zach Licato: No it is not. Luckily, I have my degree in English. And I have some experience with these kids as well. So, no, it is not normal, but very doable and I’m excited to do it.
Abby Liu: You’re actually doing this this year because of the pandemic. So we can keep our class sizes lower by splitting up the seventh grade and having two home rooms.
Zach Licato: Absolutely.
Abby Liu: We’re so fortunate that you have all these areas of expertise! Actually, you’ve sort of started in on the next question. What did you study in college?
Zach Licato: I was an English major in college. So that’s my background. But currently I’m also a high school coach. So that’s some of my physical education background. So kind of a dual-threat kind of experience.
Abby Liu: Excellent. And we’re just curious, what are you coaching?
Zach Licato: So I’ve coached high school football, basketball, and baseball. My girls basketball team is one of the best in our group, over the last four years we won four straight championships.
Abby Liu: Wow.
Zach Licato: And I’ve been coaching basketball for the last seven years and baseball–I’m going into my ninth year actually, we start today.
Abby Liu: Wow, oh wow. Spring training! Excellent. What are you most passionate about in terms of teaching content?
Zach Licato: I think the passion for teaching content especially is more about the end that it serves more than the content itself. I know I’m serving a larger purpose than myself. It’s creating lifelong learners and educated members of society. I think that’s the most important thing, as I’m creating lesson plans or doing things for the students. It’s really about how that will help them as they move on past Mustard Seed.
Abby Liu: Great. Can you tell us about a moment when a student was challenged beyond what you were expecting in the classroom. What did that work look like? And then what was exciting for you about that as a teacher?
Zach Licato: Yeah so health class, I really over the years have tried to develop health class as sort of a universal vision of health. So not just the anatomy or physiology aspect of it, but more about different topics that sort of encompass World Health. So one of the things we talked about was water equity and the access to clean water around the world.
And, you know, for the eighth graders, especially, the discussion went way beyond my expectations, and we started talking about and researching water inequality, and how it affects poor communities. How it comes at a cost for people in the United States, whereas in other countries, they have access to clean water. So it’s just really interesting to see how they picked up the conversation, and were able to take it a lot further than I expected.
Abby Liu: That’s really exciting.
Zach Licato: Yeah.
Abby Liu: That the students are getting involved in world– are thinking about real issues. I love that.
Zach Licato: Yeah, and I try to to create my classwork and open discussion so kids can sort of bounce ideas off each other or describe how they’re really feeling as opposed to just me sort of knocking off bullet points. It helps us create and cultivate a more open dialogue for us to communicate with each other.
Abby Liu: That’s great. So building relationships–that whole knowing and caring piece of the mission statement. Going along with that, we’ve been thinking a lot about belonging, as you know, with our work in UDL or Universal Design for Learning and also DEI– diversity, equity and inclusion. Can you tell us about something that you’ve tried in your classroom as a result of the professional development that we’ve been doing in school in UDL?
Zach Licato: I like creating access to the content in different ways, because it’s not as much about the direction that they take, it’s more about the end goal. So if we’re creating an end goal that’s obtainable, no matter how they get there, is really the end game.
So I like to think about it sort of as a buffet. I wouldn’t make your plate for you, because I don’t know how much of something you might want to do or how that might help you. Or when you enjoy eating honestly so I let you pick out the parts that work for you, and it creates a more enjoyable experience where you’re more likely to do it again, or be able to access that information in a better way. So it’s more about trying to optimize the learning and setting challenging goals, but how they reach those goals is really up to them.
Abby Liu: So giving a lot of choice?
Zach Licato: Oh absolutely.
Abby Liu: And what about the DEI piece? What’s an action that you’ve taken to better honor and celebrate the diversity that’s present in your classroom?
Zach Licato: We’ve talked a lot about that in health class, especially. You know I really try to say it’s about not othering people. There’s a hierarchy to our society, and it tends to lean towards a specific viewpoint. I think that celebrating diversity is something that students do very well at Mustard Seed. I believe it’s more about presenting it in a factual unbiased way and really talking about difficult topics by honoring diversity and understanding its roots as well.
Abby Liu: Yeah, and understanding our personal biases as well, right? That’s actually been one of the helpful things for me–we’ve been talking about this as a staff — looking at our own personal bias and reconizing that everybody has them.
What motivates you and inspires you as a teacher?
Zach Licato: So I would say, students, of course, like I said, I’m a high school coach. I enjoy the process of learning. I enjoy teaching because I want to be there for students in their hardest moments and celebrate their victories. I understand how hard it was for me at this age. Knowing that, to have a teacher in their corner means so much to a child to navigate the changing world around them.
Abby Liu: Absolutely. Is there anything else that you think our families should know about you?
Zach Licato: I teach because I care. I teach because I’m passionate about developing these lifelong learners. Passion, desire, and education leads to students pursuing goals that maybe they don’t see the end game to yet, and that’s okay. I think it’s more about the journey. So I want families to know I have their backs. I’m here to help and I’m here to mentor and especially, listen.
Abby Liu: Great. Okay, we’ve gotten to the quick questions. How long have you worked at Mustard Seed?
Zach Licato: Five and a half years.
Abby Liu: What’s the last book you read?
Zach Licato: Malcolm Gladwell, David Versus Goliath.
Abby Liu: What’s a show that you’re watching right now or recently enjoyed?
Zach Licato: I love mysteries. I’ve been watching This is Us and it’s just a great show.
Abby Liu: Yes. So is Ms. Wu, actually! I love the British mysteries. I don’t know if you’re a British mysteries person, but I love those shows.
What is the first thing you’re going to do when the pandemic is over or at least the major restrictions are lifted?
Zach Licato: I want to travel anywhere and everywhere. I love to travel. I’ve been a lot of places in the world and I just want to get back to that. It’s just a very humbling and welcoming experience to be… I just want to travel.
Abby Liu: Yeah, I get that. Favorite dessert?
Zach Licato: Ice cream. It’s gotta be ice cream. I have a lot of favorite desserts but ice creams got to be up there.
Abby Liu: Ice cream wins. Okay, name a band or artist that you enjoy listening to.
Zach Licato: Well, just quickly, I’ve probably seen a couple of hundred bands live. I love music. We play a game with some of the students trying to tell me a band that I haven’t seen live. But quickly, probably Red Hot Chili Peppers. Mumford and Son. Black Star’s really good. I could go on for days.
Abby Liu: You’re a music guy. See? These are interesting things to know about you! What is one item that will always be in your fridge?
Zach Licato: Vegetables and ice cream so you know, a well balanced diet.
Abby Liu: That’s good. You get the vegetables in and then at the top it off with ice cream. That’s really good. Well thank you so much Mr. Licato for being here today and letting us get to know you a little better.
Zach Licato: Thank you for having me!