Faculty Updates

Teacher Returns to Chemistry after Travels


Among the places future chemistry teacher Michael Mishali traveled the past two years is Timna Park in Southern Israel. “I’ve been to lots of wonderful places but my top spots aren’t really determined by the place so much as the people,” wrote Mishali. Photo by Eliza Uster, Mishali’s friend and travel companion

Former teacher at Jordan Middle School (currently known as Greene Middle School), Michael Mishali, will teach Chemistry at Palo Alto High School next year. From 2013 to 2017, Mishali taught eighth grade physical science. For the past two years, Mishali has taken a break from teaching to travel and visit family. As the teacher schedule is still being determined, Mishali does not know which specific Chemistry class he will teach.

Mishali is in Bali, as of 3 May 2019. Below is a transcript of our email correspondence with him, edited for length.

Veritas: Where have you traveled the past two years?

Mishali: When I travel, I like to spend a chunk of time in a place before moving on. This means I haven’t seen a ton of places in these two years but I’ve gone deeper in the places I did experience. I’m pretty happy with the living I’ve done. I did lots of living in Spain and Israel this past year also a good block of time back home on Long Island. I even spent a few months back in Palo Alto working at the Ronald McDonald House School. 

V: What was your favorite place?

M: I’ve been to lots of wonderful places but my top spots aren’t really determined by the place so much as the people. I met a student at Jordan who said, “You find home in people, not places.” I think that student was completely correct. So the places where I met or traveled with people that made me feel at home were Basque Country and the Camino de Santiago in Spain, Israel, and Bali. And I also spent time back home on Long Island where I got to refresh and deepen relationships with old friends and family. I’m a bit surprised with myself for putting Long Island on my list of favorites, but it really belongs there. It’s all about the people.

V: Where are you now?

M: I’m writing this from Ubud, a fun, touristy, hippie town on Bali with delicious food and friendly people. I’m here with two friends. This week we hiked up a volcano to see a sunrise, took motorbikes to see some rice terraces, and went to a sound meditation class. The sunrise never happened because it rained buckets and we got drenched but we met a pair of very cool people, two wives from Australia on their honeymoon, so the experience was still fun. The trip to the rice terraces was harrowing because we were handed motorbikes without any instruction or insurance but we loved it and survived. And the sound meditation was a very long ninety minutes that basically became a glorified nap. Tomorrow we head to quieter areas of Bali to relax for a bit.

V: What made you want to become a science teacher?

M: I know of a lot of teachers who found inspiration in the teachers they had when they were younger. For me, becoming a teacher was part that–Ms Bowker, Ms Burt, and Ms True absolutely inspired me–and part something is else. The something else is more intrinsic and elemental to me as a person (pardon the chemistry dad jokes). It was working at camp that helped me realize this second part. I worked at a camp for kids with cancer and their siblings for ten straight summers. It was there, at Sunrise Day Camp, that I really began to grow into the person I am today–a person who finds such happiness developing connections with others. My Sunrise experiences, combined with my love of science melded perfectly into me becoming a science teacher.

V: Why did you decide to leave Jordan?

M: Because my job at Jordan was my first job out of grad school, I wanted to take some time to see the world and have some adventures before settling down. Still, it was a tough decision to make. Yet, I thought then, and am sure now, that some time exploring the world and myself would help to deepen me as a person and a teacher.

V: Why did you decide to switch from teaching middle school to high school?

M: I really loved teaching middle school students. I find middle schoolers to be fun, complex, and capable. I’ve felt this way since my student teaching days. But after my time at teaching Jordan and my time living abroad, I’m excited for the challenges and opportunities that teaching high school presents. Also, I’m looking forward to diving deeper into the content than we can in middle school.

V: How does traveling inform your teaching?

M: Before becoming a teacher, I didn’t have too many stamps in my passport. I caught the travel bug during grad school but hadn’t actually succumb to it–I was scared! At the end of my first year at Jordan, I started chaperoning trips to Quebec and France with the Madame Modica [former French teacher Diana Modica] from Jordan. … Later on, I organized some trips with friends. And slowly I began traveling more and more. Traveling isn’t as glamorous as it’s made to be though. It’s tough for me to be lost, culturally and linguistically. Hostel sleeping is damn near impossible. Travel towels just don’t feel like real towels. Bed bugs suck. And hand-washing your clothes is no fun. Being away from home tossed me outside my comfort zone on a near daily basis. Lots of moments were rough. But I’ve grown immensely in the past two years. I’m working on bettering myself and I hope I can better the lives of those around me. I’m more certain of myself, my goals, my skills, my strengths and weaknesses. I’ve become more empathetic, open minded, and flexible. I’ve worked hard at maintaining friendships. I can better understand other perspectives. I’m certain that all these things will help me create better learning experiences for my students.

V: What is your teaching style? What should your future students expect?

M: I’m not sure I can answer this very well yet because I feel like I’m heading into new waters and I don’t fully know what I’ll find when I get there. The ship that is my teaching style will need some updates to sail smoothly at Paly. One thing I can confidently say, though, is that I really believe that kids learn best in safe, caring environments. I work hard to create classroom cultures in which students feel safe and comfortable with themselves and their peers so they can learn as best they can. This has been and will be my top priority as a teacher.