Q and A With Incoming History Teacher Michael Sandberg


Michael Sandberg was recently selected to fill the open teaching position in the Social Studies Department. He has taught history at Seven Hills Middle School for the last 25 years and served as an adjunct professor at Los Medanos College for the last Seven years. He is set to begin teaching on December 11. 

Can you talk about your teaching experience?

I started teaching back in 1992 at the Seven Hills School in Walnut Creek, so I taught sixth, seventh, and eighth grade, and then actually English for a couple of years. In 2010 I also started teaching history out at Los Medanos community college. I’m also on the Bay Area Advisory Board of facing history and ourselves, which does Holocaust education. I always thought it would be a great opportunity to teach history at a high school, and that’s why I’m coming to Piedmont.

What role does history play in your life?

To me, I’ve always been interested in history, even as a kid. When I was in middle school and high school I was the person who was always reading history books and learning all kinds of stuff. The reason I feel that it’s important is that history is how you can understand why the world is the way it is today. To do that, it’s important to know about as much of history as you can. Whether that’s the Romans, the Greeks, the Middle Ages, the French Revolution, World War I, World War II, or the Civil Rights Movement, to understand where we are today you must understand history. There’s a great quote I have in my current classroom, from Harry Truman who said, “The only thing new is the history you don’t already know.”

Why Piedmont?

For me to make this transition, it had to be the right high school. I’ve had students over the years who know people at Piedmont. My brother-in-law in 1991 was homecoming king at Piedmont, so I’ve been well familiar with Piedmont and Piedmont High School. You guys are a really good high school, so I am very excited to come here. During the interview process, I was very impressed with the students and teachers I met. During the mini-lesson I did on the Enlightenment, I was very impressed with the level of discussion that I had about Jonathan Swift.

What is your strategy for the year?

I think the first thing I have to do is look at what the students have already learned, and where they’re at, because obviously with an AP class there’s a sequence you have to cover. Once we figure out that, it’s just a matter of getting the students the knowledge they need and the skills to do well on the test. I’m not so worried about that piece because I’ve just been teaching a long time. Even though it’s an AP class, I’ve taught both subjects at the college level. For me, the bigger challenge is coming in and figuring out where the students are, and from there planning how we get them to where we want them to be.

Why do you like to teach?

For me, the better question would be why wouldn’t someone want to teach. I always thought I would be a teacher and for me it was just a matter of what level I would end up at. Teaching history to me is the most fun I think you can have. When the lightbulb goes off over a student, watching them get it I can’t think of anything I’d rather do. My classroom currently, and I think a lot of that will be coming over to Piedmont is just filled with all kinds of historical trinkets, posters, things, and having students learn by being in a space like that is tremendously fun and rewarding.

How do you like to teach, what do activities in your classroom look like?

For me, I like to do lots of different things. One of the things I’ve learned over the 25 years I’ve been doing this is that not everybody learns the same way. That said, there are some times when you need to lecture, but there are other times when you’ll do a simulation and other times when they learn from projects, producing things. For example, at Seven Hills this week we are simulating a World War II trench. The students will be immersed in mud, smells, body parts, and other grossness, and then we write a letter from the World War II trenches. It just depends on what the subject is, but everybody has a different learning style, so you try to design what you do to cater to as many of those different learning styles as you can.

What is one thing you want the students to know about you?

I would say the one thing I would like them to know is that hopefully they will not be bored in my class. They will learn a lot and it will be interesting and entertaining.

What are you most excited about?

I am excited to be teaching students that have the thinking ability that Piedmont High School students have, to address concepts and ideas that were just a little bit too complicated for middle school students.

What will you bring to PHS and the history department?

I think I will bring a sense of humor. After Christmas break, I will be bringing lots and lots of historical things. I have a steam engine, Greek shields, Roman shields, a water wheel I made this summer, any number of airplane models, tank models, ship models– all kinds of stuff.