An instructor at PHS for four years, Zachary Vajda teaches Algebra II Accelerated, Discrete Mathematics, Introduction to Statistics, and AP Statistics. He attended East Brunswick High School, but grew up in both East Brunswick and Seaside. After high school, he attended Rutgers University, double majoring in math and geography with a minor in education, and currently attends graduate school there. Previously, Vajda was a student teacher at Monroe High School and currently works as a freelance DJ.
What did you like most about Rutgers?
What I liked most about Rutgers [was] the variety of people you could encounter. It’s a nice, large school, and you could always find a niche of friends that you knew you would get along with. I had the opportunity as a student assistant to manage the Division I basketball team, and that was awesome [because] I felt like I was part of a team and went on all these road games.
What’s it like being a teacher and a student at the same time—is it hard to balance?
I’d say it’s very hard to balance because I have the job here, DJing, and … grad school. The three things do take up a lot of time. I try and be here after school for my students all the time and provide extra help. It’s [not] hard to balance time … as long as you go in knowing you’ll have to make sacrifices elsewhere. You have to budget your time early so that the 20 page paper is not due [in] two days.
Has being both a grad and a teacher affected how you teach?
It definitely has. I’d say that when I got my first masters, the courses that were taught in that one year really defined my pedagogy and how I go about teaching. The classes [showed me] different ways … to provide … higher-level thinking questions that I don’t think I could’ve gotten just having left Rutgers with my four-year degree.
What are some differences you’ve noticed between the high schoolers you teach and college students?
The difference, I think, is that you are much more on your own when you get to college as opposed to here, where you follow a schedule and have accountability [to be in class]. [In college] if you decide you don’t want to go to class, you just don’t go. And it’s going to add to the burden later in the semester when you have long-term assignments and exams. The biggest difference is not the content, it’s not how hard the classes are—it’s more that once you get your independence, you have to really have a high level of responsibility for yourself … In my time [as an undergraduate], I saw that people who really took charge of their time at school got the most out of it.
What do you like most about being a teacher at PHS and what are some of your best memories?
I have to say that the one thing I think about the most is that this senior class [and I] were freshmen together. My first year was their freshman year, so this year’s been super exciting to see [that] the kids I started high school with are graduating. This year [I’m] trying to check in with every kid I taught freshman year and see how they’re doing … I’d love to talk to all of them again. I’d say the best thing about teaching at PHS would be our students. Our student population is nothing like the high school I went to and it’s not like any other high school I worked with. Our kids take authority for themselves, and they are some of the hardest working kids I could say I’ve ever come in contact with … I love their work ethic.