New year, new staff: Meet your new teachers, part 1

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New year, new staff: Meet your new teachers, part 1

Graphic by Amy Marcopulos

Graphic by Amy Marcopulos

Graphic by Amy Marcopulos

Graphic by Amy Marcopulos

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Christopher Watters, History Teacher

By Jacqueline Mei

Photo by XingLin Li, Illustration by Amy Marcopulos

Growing up with parents who were teachers, it is no surprise that Christopher Watters decided to become one himself. After majoring in history at San Francisco State University, Watters earned his M.A. in history at the University of San Francisco (USF) then taught at St. Cecilia School, before transferring to Lowell to teach Modern World History and AP US History. When he’s not teaching, Watters enjoys adventuring outside of the classroom, spending much of his time surfing at Ocean Beach.

What were your favorite subjects in high school?

My favorite subject in high school was definitely history. I really enjoyed learning about the pre-Civil War era. But, my second favorite subject was probably math, just because there were definite answers.

What led you to become a history teacher?

I think it was just something that I was used to. Both my parents were teachers. One still is, and one retired, but both my parents were teachers, so it was something I was accustomed to hearing about at home. They would talk about the job. I think early on, [history] was something that appealed to me, so I majored in [it]. I like the story that goes along with the events, and that led me to become a history teacher. 

What are some of the challenges and rewards of teaching?

I definitely think some of the challenges lead to rewards. Some of your biggest challenges in a classroom, whether it’s making connections with certain students or teaching difficult material, are accomplishments that can lead to your biggest rewards as a teacher.

What is your impression of Lowell?

I really like Lowell so far. The students and staff, everyone’s been friendly and helpful, so I’m excited to be here and continue working here.

What is your most memorable moment as a teacher?

I think making music videos about the American Revolution and watching those music videos in class. It has been [an assignment every year] in the past, but I don’t know if I’ll do it this year. It’s pretty time consuming, and we have to move quickly. 

What are some of your passions outside of teaching?

Outside of teaching, my newest hobby is surfing. I picked up surfing last year and am trying to learn and get better, and just pushing myself to improve and get [out] there more often. I just [like] the challenge. Working inside all day, I was definitely looking for something outdoorsy. So just the physical challenge, and also the mental challenge of being able to read the waves and make adjustments, things like that. It’s tough but rewarding.

Isaac Alcantar, Assistant Principal

By Eric Dye

Photo by Anita Liu, Illustration by Warren Quan

Isaac Alcantar is one of the new faces around campus; he is Lowell’s assistant principal of buildings and grounds, replacing Mr. Beltran who is now the assistant principal of curriculum and instruction. A Lowell alum himself, Alcantar has lived in the Bay Area for a majority of his life. He has held a wide range of positions at multiple different schools, from a paraprofessional at Lakeshore Elementary to an algebra teacher at Balboa. Alcantar believes that the best way to educate students is through the continuous building of bonds between the teacher and the students. Outside of the classroom, Alcantar is a huge baseball fan — he’s been involved with the sport all his life. He is outspoken about girls’ involvement in the sport, and coaches the San Francisco Bay Sox, an all girl baseball team that includes his three daughters. 

What led you to become a teacher?

It actually started here. After I had graduated, I had taken a year off of playing baseball — that’s what I used to do — and then I’d just basically been told I was going to play baseball at the college level. My old coach, John Donaughy, I’d called him for some reason. He was like, “Hey why don’t you come volunteer and help coach over here [at Lowell].” So I came over here and worked with one of our current coaches, Romeo Aurillio. He and I had been in high school together, and I coached with him and I was having a great time. I was working with high school kids and I was like, “This is a lot of fun,” and I thought, “You know, I might be interested in teaching.”

What were your favorite subjects in high school?

Baseball and friends. I think I wrote one paper [that] I got some good comments on, and I thought, “Wow, I’m good at writing.” But for the most part, I didn’t feel strong in any class that I had [at Lowell]. I did like conceptual physics.

How would you describe your teaching style?

It’s really based on building relationships and rapport with students. For me, the content is second to the relationship, because I’ve learned that there’s two pieces of it. You have to know your content, and you have to be able to build relationships before [a teacher] can get a student engaged in the content. So like, when I taught algebra at Balboa many years ago, I knew algebra really well, and I knew it so much that I could break it down in a variety of ways, but it was only because I was willing to talk to the kids about their lives and build relationships with them, that they really cared about hearing algebra from me. 

What are the challenges and rewards of teaching?

One of the main challenges is that you are trying to engage 30 some odd children [at] one time, and it is difficult to be able to find something that sings to everyone, to find the rhythm to all the kids’ drummers. One kid might be more interested in history, another one might be interested in physics, another one is into sports, but you’re trying to find a lesson or get their attention about some common theme that you are passionate about. It’s about finding that entry point to a lesson that engages everyone. So I think that is a challenge, which is fun when you’re able to do that. The rewards of teaching are just any time you are able to have a kid see themselves as a learner, as an intelligent person. It’s that whole other experience for that kid and opens another door for them, so that they can see themselves in a way that they may not have been traditionally seen. I had a [lesson plan] that I taught at Balboa which was like, misogyny and hip hop. There were students with IEPs, students who’d traditionally been kicked out of classes and such, and we talked about the words “misogyny” and “misogynistic.” And one day, [I was] in the hallway supervising in between class transitions and some kid said something and one of my students said, “Hey! That’s misogynistic!” That was a word that he had never even thought about and to me that was the reward: he was seeing something, identifying, calling it out in a way to try and support other students, so it was pretty cool. It was just a really exciting moment.

So far, what’s been your impression of Lowell?

There are a lot of motivated young people in this building. There’s a lot of exciting talent out there. My impression is that [there are] definitely [many] self starters, but [there are] also kids on the fringes. I think that’s my goal: Bring in those kids that are on the fringes and help them feel like they’re part of something here versus “I’m going for my A, leave me alone.” I think the key in education is to be part of a community, to learn how others learn, and to be able to see how you fit into the big picture.

What’s been your most memorable moment as part of a school staff?

I think for me the most memorable moment was walking into this building for my interview as an adult versus when I was a student here. Just that feeling of, “Wow, I’m trying to become a staff member in this building.” It was just a moment where it was kinda like, “Ah, this feels right.” I worked at Lakeshore as a paraprofessional, I coached at Lowell. I worked at the YMCA for like forever. I worked at Stonestown. I worked at  Balboa. I worked at Aptos. And now I’m back where I started, more or less, so it’s pretty cool.

Do you have any passions outside of teaching?

Baseball. I coach an all-girls baseball teams. I’m a father of three girls, and they all have taken up baseball. They’re girls so they’re always looked at differently because they play baseball; they’re always encouraged to play softball. I tell my daughters, “If you wanna play softball that’s your choice. I don’t know softball, but I can teach you baseball.” There’s a program I work with, it’s called the San Francisco Bay Sox, an all-girl baseball team. My daughter just got on ESPNW. There was a clip of her giving a motivational speech to one of her friends. It’s got like 5,000 likes, and it’s blowing up and it’s pretty cool. You know, it’s really trying to give girls an opportunity where traditionally they haven’t been given. [People ask me] “Why is your daughter playing baseball? There’s no point.” I like to remind [them], “My daughter’s chance of making the major leagues are slightly less than your child’s, but don’t tell my daughter what she can and cannot do before she’s given it a shot.” A woman who runs this organization called Baseball For All has said, “If you tell a girl what she can’t do, what else is she gonna think she can’t do?” So I think, to me, it’s an organization that I’m involved in, that I really love. It’s a fun thing that I’m passionate about.

Do you have any advice for high school students?

Try things that make you uncomfortable. Volunteer in areas, try classes, clubs that you’ve never thought about trying before. Just do things that push you, positive pushes, that allow you to kind of be able to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Don’t stay in your comfort zone, you’re gonna be comfortable your whole life and you’ll never live it.

Yejeen Nam, Counselor

By Brandon Ng

Photo by Xinglin Li, Illustration by Amy Marcopulos

Counselor Yejeen Nam has moved around her whole life, as her dad was in the Army. Although she could travel to many places, it also meant she had to transfer schools many times. According to Nam, she attended around over 13 schools. Nam attended San Diego Miramar College for two years before transferring to San Diego State University to obtain her B.A. in psychology. Afterwards, she went on to pursue her M.A. in counseling psychology from the University of San Francisco and recently completed her college counseling certificate at UC San Diego. This is Nam’s first year as a counselor but her second year at Lowell, as she had been an intern for the past two years. Outside of school, Nam enjoys weight lifting, food and traveling.

You mentioned how your parents were in the army and you traveled around a lot. Can you elaborate on what it was like transitioning so much, especially not staying in one place for school? What did that teach you?

I do understand that I had to learn how to say goodbye a lot and I also had to learn to adapt really quickly. I think what made it hard was when I moved to South Carolina for six months. I did not do very well [in school] and I think the hardest part was not having an adult, especially like a counselor, someone checking in on me, especially as a transfer. I think if there is anything that it taught me: it helps to advocate for yourself.

What experience do you have working as an academic counselor? 

So in grad school you have to intern for two years straight. So, my first year interning was actually at Roosevelt Middle School, and then I interned here at Lowell High School and I haven’t left. So including my intern year this would be third year being at Lowell.

Why did you become an academic counselor?

I recognized at a very early age in high school that I wanted to be a school counselor for the specific reason that I had an amazing counselor in middle school. Then I came to high school and in multiple different ones I recognized that there was a lot lacking there. I think as a student if I had just one adult and I’ve seen other kids where they had the support of an adult at the school and they succeeded a lot more than anyone in my graduating class did. I saw the disparity there and I wanted to give back. 

Do you ever feel intimidated about your role of serving a large student body?

Yes. When I came here and I learned that this is just a mid-size school, I was amazed. It was definitely intimidating but at the same time, you know, you take it one step at a time and a learning curve, just like students coming in. I realized that I’ve been finding a lot of different ways in trying to do many different things.

What is rewarding about being a counselor?

It’s just even the little things. Even being able to give you the classes you need. Even being able to have my room open and have you guys come in here. Coming here, to tell me that you succeeded in something or that something isn’t going great or even needing advice. All those little interactions and everything, it makes everything about it so rewarding. 

What is your impression of Lowell so far?

Well, I wouldn’t have stayed here if I didn’t love it for what it is. I definitely think it’s a high pressure school and I feel for you guys a lot. I personally don’t think I would have made it as a high school student here so when I see you guys and how hard you guys work, it completely amazes me. The school itself, wouldn’t be what it is without you guys. 

Would you say that the students made you want to stay here or is there another reason?

I have to admit, my original goal when I went to grad school was to give back to the military kids. If you look at Lowell compared to the military schools that are overseas and stuff, it can’t even compare. When I came here and I started to see the needs you guys have and in general the whole school, I realized there was a lot I could also do here and seeing how hard you guys worked. I don’t know, there’s something about you guys, you guys all have a really huge spark and so much I think to give back to the world, it really convinced me to stay.

Is there any advice you would like to offer to students about going through high school?

I think taking small moments to really enjoy being a kid. When I think back in high school, it wasn’t about the homework or anything. It was the friends that I made and the memories that they made together. That’s what made high school what it is. 

What are some of your hobbies outside of school?

I like to weight lift. Mr. Fong and I like to go get boba. Actually, it’s his fault that I’m completely addicted, but boba is my thing, it is life. I love food. I will go out and drive for food, no joke, and then traveling. There’s still so much more that I want to see.

What is the favorite place you’ve traveled to so far? What is your dream destination?

Europe. I’ve lived in Europe for three and a half years, in Germany specifically. I got to see just about everything but you know being a middle school student you don’t appreciate it as much, so I’ve been wanting to go back. I’ve been wanting to see Egypt and Greece. 

Andrew Cho, Chemistry Teacher

By Zoe Simotas

Photo by Anita Liu, Illustration Warren Quan

Chemistry teacher Andrew Cho grew up in Algonquin Village, Illinois. He later attended Emory University and DePaul University, where he received a B.S. in Medicinal Chemistry. After graduating, he began a career in corporate dentistry, but found it to be monotonous and enrolled in a USF teaching program. This year, having previously worked as a student teacher at Lowell, Cho has begun teaching as an emergency hire to relieve other teachers’ workloads.

What were your favorite subjects in high school?

I loved math a lot in high school. I was always very good at math, but it lacked a direction. Once I got into physics and chemistry, I started to like them because they had a lot of math and the fact that [they] explained more phenomena. I got really interested in chemistry in high school because my teacher was a big influence. He was someone that you did not want to disappoint, and I had to work hard for him.

What led you to become a teacher?

After college I worked for a corporate dental company. I started to realize who I was, what I was doing, and what my purpose was. Corporate life became very mundane and extremely unfulfilling. I couldn’t do that anymore. I needed more fulfillment and a sense of purpose. 

What are the challenges and rewards of teaching?

The biggest challenge is that I can’t reach certain students, and some naturally resist attention from teachers. It is hard because chemistry is my pride and they don’t care at all. Trying to make chemistry accessible and relatable is also very hard, as well as balancing it for every student. 

Some rewards have been learning from my students in terms of things like music and movies. The biggest reward is that I feel like I have a sense of purpose as a teacher, like when students have really good questions. I love my day-to-day life of interacting with students. The friendships that I have started to develop keep me going. Students expressing that they like being around me and the class is very rewarding. 

What’s your impression of Lowell so far?

Everyone is very well behaved. There is that sense of prestige that you have coming to this school and everyone is aware of it. It is a regular high school where everyone has their own thing, but the lack of diversity is very striking. As I’m starting to observe cliques, it’s very apparent what dictates them. Everyone is extremely stressed, though everyone has a lot of pride.

What’s your most memorable moment as a teacher?

I told students to show work, and then they did long division on their homework. I wasn’t expecting that; I wanted to see the set up. It was surprising to see that they took me literally and went the extra mile. Another moment was when I did my first lab [demonstration] and some students said that it was “hella cool.” It felt like I did something right. 

What are your passions outside of teaching?

I absolutely love snowboarding the thrill from snowboarding is on a different level. Hiking is also one of my biggest go-to’s. I really love cooking food, mostly baking cakes. I also enjoy watching anime cartoons, knitting, and dancing. In college I danced in an Indian bhangra team.

Cody Mitcheltree, Physical Education Teacher

By Bella Paterson

Photo by Lauren Caldwell, Illustration by Amy Marcopulos

Physical Education teacher Cody Mitcheltree is originally from Orange County, California. He matriculated at SF State University in 2003, and has considered San Francisco home ever since. Although he has always had a passion for sports and physical activities, he earned a teaching credential for social studies before realizing he wanted to teach PE. He taught at AP Giannini Middle School for a semester and was a student teacher before arriving at Lowell. Outside of teaching PE, Mitcheltree enjoys running and cycling. 

Why is PE important to you? Why do you think it’s important at Lowell? 

I’m very active; I love running [and] cycling. I loved sports when I was younger, and as I got older, I realized being active has so many more benefits than just getting in shape: it’s also really important for your mental health. I think [being active] definitely has a specific importance at Lowell because physical activity is a stress reliever, and students are under a lot of pressure.

What were your favorite subjects in high school? 

History. I played sports in high school so I never had a PE class, but definitely history, government, economy all that good stuff. I was not only lucky to have some amazing history teachers, but my father was also a history buff. His fascination with history was passed on to me, which made history class an obvious favorite.

What led you to become a teacher? 

So my dad actually taught middle school PE for 40 years, so teaching has kind of always been in the back of my mind. Right out of college, I was a political science major so all my friends were headed to law school. I thought that was what I was going to do, but I decided it wasn’t for me. I wanted a non-profit role because I wanted to work in a job that made a positive impact. But I ended up sitting in front of a computer all day and it wasn’t really that exciting, so I thought, “What better than teaching if you want to make a positive impact?” 

What are your impressions of Lowell so far? 

The first few weeks here at Lowell have been amazing. It is very different from my last school. Students here are highly intelligent and respectful, making my job that much easier. The faculty has also been very supportive and have helped me hit the ground running. 

What are the challenges and rewards of teaching PE? 

The challenges are motivating the kids sometimes. The rewards are when kids say they don’t want to do something or they can’t do it, and eventually after some practice and guidance they are able to accomplish it and reach their goals. It makes the students happy and it makes me happy.

 Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of teaching? 

Running, cycling, tennis basically a lot of sports. I liked to occasionally ride [my bike] in the past, but my father-in-law really got me into the sport. He sold me one of his older road bikes and encouraged me to train and to go on longer rides with him. I have done two century (100 miles) rides with him, but generally I like to ride 40 to 60 miles. One of my favorite rides is crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and riding around Tiburon, which is commonly called the Paradise Loop.