How to love your job

Graphic by Yoon Jung

Noelia could always make a teacher’s day, so I was glad to do the same for her. A 17-year-old who moved to the country just recently, she told me she felt badly about her command of English.

“Noelia, you speak and write English very well,” I told her truthfully.

“Do you really think so?” she asked joyfully, smiling like sunshine after rain.

Summer has arrived, and teachers may be even happier than their students. But lest we forget what we love about teaching, it’s worth reflecting on the high points of the year we’ve just completed. Helping encourage Noelia was just one positive memory from my year at Castro Valley High School.

Quite a few other students wanted to learn and showed enthusiasm for our lessons. Several of my sophomores qualified for our Advanced Placement US History course and many seniors earned entrance to four-year universities. Kids with a good work ethic and a positive attitude make teaching seem easy.

Some struggle with issues I couldn’t fathom at their age. I had a student dealing with pregnancy, another who needed a kidney transplant, a boy whose younger brother is fighting cancer and a girl whose sister died. Whenever I’m able to help these kids learn and succeed despite great personal challenges, it feels like a victory.

I teach a large number of students learning English as a second language. This year four Vietnamese arrived speaking no English at all; I can hardly imagine a more difficult transition. Yet these students tend to be the hardest workers, and I’m always proud when they succeed. I started learning Spanish a few months ago and the Chicano kids loved becoming my “teachers” and finding mistakes in my homework.

About 30 kids took my journalism class, and most became published writers for the first time. Others gained skills as editors, page designers and business managers. We published 13 issues, won several awards and launched a web site at

These memories from my classroom barely scratch the surface of all the positive events from this school year. Our athletes won league titles and our boys varsity basketball team captured its first-ever NCS championship. As always, our artists, actors and musicians amazed us with their talents. Students visited Washington D.C. through the Close Up program, met Senator Barbara Boxer and got a smile and wave from President Obama at the White House.

Others formed a club to oppose education budget cuts. An ambitious boy attempted 11 Advanced Placement tests. A compassionate girl single-handedly organized a “Barefoot Mile” fundraiser to combat poverty. Another started a “free hugs” campaign just to brighten the days.

Nearly 700 students earned their diplomas and the Class of 2011 earned more than $900,000 in scholarships, a school record.

None of these achievements show up on our Academic Performance Index, the state’s mathematical report card for public schools. Yet I’d wager they’ll hold meaning to the students long after they’ve forgotten their STAR tests scores.

Teachers also would be wise to retain these memories even as we purge the aggravations of cell phone squabbles and discipline referrals from our consciousness over the summer. If we do, we’ll walk back into classrooms with bigger smiles come September.

Castro Valley Forum and Turlock Journal, 2011