Allison Kent, English Teacher
By Karis Kotschnig
Allison Kent grew up in San Diego before moving to Santa Barbara for her undergraduate degree. Due to her love for travel, she soon found herself on the other side of the world teaching art in Asia. The enjoyment Kent felt when teaching students to think critically from different perspectives led her on the path towards becoming an English educator. With the added challenge of distance learning, Kent begins her first year at Lowell. In her free time, she enjoys drawing and practicing meditation.
What led you to become a teacher? Have you always wanted to teach?
I haven’t always wanted to teach. I actually went into the music industry after college, but eventually decided that the corporate world wasn’t for me. Then I lived in Asia for a couple years, in Thailand, and actually ended up teaching art there. I loved it, but I moved back home to be closer to family.
What was your favorite subject when you were in high school? Why did you decide to teach English?
In high school, my favorite subjects were art and English. Teaching art in Asia made me fall in love with teaching. The reason I chose English was because what I took away and what I enjoyed the most when teaching art was engaging in discussions about the artist’s perspective and having students think critically about where the art comes from and how the artist views the world. You can do a lot of discussion and explore different points of view in English [classes].
What are the challenges and what are the rewards of being a teacher?
Currently the challenge is creating a space online for the students that is comfortable and engaging—a place where they can participate together, as I know it can be really awkward with these empty black boxes. Also I think, for older students especially, it’s hard for students to keep up with the amount of work, because I know we all deal with the Zoom fatigue. The rewards of teaching are hearing students’ voices and all of the really interesting perspectives that they bring to the table. I think that’s the coolest part of teaching.
How would you describe your teaching style?
I would say I’m pretty relaxed. I like to use a lot of art when I can, because I think it’s a different way for the students to express themselves. And, overall, I just want to be really understanding of everything that’s happening right now. I also definitely value discussion and student voices in the classroom.
What are your passions outside of teaching? Any hobbies?
I love traveling, and I love drawing and art. I’ve also been practicing meditation since I was an undergrad, and when I traveled in India and Thailand I was able to really experience meditation at a different level, so I keep that as a practice in my life.
Christian Villanueva, English Teacher
By Elisa Umanets
Born and raised in the Bay Area, Christian Villanueva grew up inspired to spark change in his local community. Having worked many different positions prior to pursuing a classroom job, Villanueva wound up at Lowell as an English teacher. Excited to be part of Lowell’s community, he looks forward to some day meeting his students in person and on campus. Other than his job as a teacher, Villanueva enjoys hiking, backpacking, and camping, as well as spending time with his newborn son.
What inspired you to teach?
I think I’ve always been community-minded — I always thought about teaching. In college, I was thinking about journalism as the best way to effect change but [the industry] was switching from print to online and that was taking away some of the security of the job. I was looking for a career that offered more stability, while still allowing me to be part of the local community and effect change. That’s why I became a teacher.
What do you like most about English?
I think language is extremely important. It’s how we communicate with each other and articulate our ideas. I think the skills that we’re learning while we’re reading books and understanding context clues are really important in real life — I think that’s what I like most in English. If you can imagine it, it’s possible.
What are some pros and cons of being a new teacher during distance learning?
It’s a lot and it’s very challenging. I haven’t gotten to go to the campus, I haven’t met any of my co-workers in person, and I haven’t gotten to meet any of my students in person, so it’s definitely challenging. But, I think that’s an exciting thing about being a teacher: it’s dynamic and every year is different. The thing I love most about being a teacher is that you’re always learning, so in that aspect I’m looking at [these challenges] as a year of growth.
Do you think it would have been different if you were on campus?
Yes, absolutely. But it is what it is and we’ve got to deal with the challenges we’re presented with. [In person learning is] just not an option this year and, like everybody else, we’re going to deal with it.
What are the biggest challenges and rewards of being a teacher?
This year [the biggest challenge is] certainly that we’re doing distance learning, [but] in general, the biggest challenges are the biggest pleasures of teaching. The fact that it’s so dynamic and every year is different. You’re kind of relearning a new group of kids and learning how they interact with each other.
How would you describe your teaching style?
I think the first thing I do is try to build a relationship with my students and try to get to know them: know their interests and know their knowledge, know where they’re at in terms of English Language Arts skills. Through doing that, I can make the class more interesting for my students. I think my approach to teaching is [also] to make it as fun as possible. When the students are having fun, they’re learning as well and it doesn’t seem like work, so it’s more enjoyable and fruitful.
What was your first impression of Lowell?
Well, my first impression of Lowell was when I was back in high school. I had a friend [in San Francisco] and his girlfriend went to Lowell. They had some event they invited me to and I went. I was impressed with the focus of the students at Lowell back then and it must be 20 years ago now. That was my first impression — the students were very focused and very driven. Lowell students are still very focused, very driven, self-motivated and they’re a pleasure to work with. It’s taking a little longer, with online teaching, to get to know my students and I only have a few students in my class who actually turn their cameras on, but through their writing and through conversation in breakout groups, it’s been great. I think there’s a lot of really intelligent and conscientious people and I love it.
What has been your favorite experience as a teacher?
At my last school, I had a community garden and one of the electives I taught was just focused on that. It was a bunch of Los Angeles city kids and…it was beautiful to see them making discoveries [in their gardens] on their own and with each other. Just watching students have that “aha” moment or seeing their lightbulb go off — that’s the most exciting part of teaching for me.
If you could tell your students one thing about you, what would it be?
I’m here to help you be whomever you want to be.
Robert Marshall, Economics Teacher
By Zoe Simotas
Economics teacher Robert Marshall is not only a Lowell teacher, but also a Lowell alum. After graduating high school, he matriculated at the University of Oregon, where he studied history. Having finished college, he moved back home to San Francisco and began teaching as a substitute teacher. He then went on to earn his teaching credential online at New York University, all while student teaching at Visitacion Valley Middle School. When he is not teaching, Marshall enjoys being outdoors and trying new types of food.
What led you to become a teacher?
I wanted to do something that I felt was worthwhile and would make a slight difference in the world; I thought teaching was a path to that. I also saw that if I started substituting, I could eventually start teaching history, which is what I enjoy. Substitute teaching was just a nice introduction and is definitely not easy to do all the time.
What is your impression of Lowell so far?
Lowell is similar to when I attended. There are a lot of students that are very driven and want to learn. I think that at others schools a lot of teachers focus on making lessons really engaging and relevant for their students because so many of them won’t want to work if it doesn’t seem important or relevant. At Lowell, you can ask students to do anything and they will do it. However, I do see a very positive change with teachers recognizing that some of the practices Lowell had, and has, need to change — like just giving students busy work and not teaching them the skills they need to succeed after high school and college. I have also seen teachers try to implement anti-racist teaching, which is something that was not as widespread when I was a student.
What has been your most memorable moment as a teacher?
Honestly, I have had some really nice moments this year so far. A few students have stayed behind and told me they really like how I am teaching and that they really enjoy breakout rooms and being able to work with their classmates. I appreciate that feedback; it really means a lot to me and lets me continue to focus on the stuff I have been doing well.
What is it like being at your alma mater alongside some of your former teachers?
The teachers that do remember me are really happy to see me coming back [as] a teacher. They have been nothing but nice and very helpful. I am working with one of my teachers, Mr. Furey. I had him for U.S. History [and] now, I have been able to work with him in the Economics department.
What was your favorite subject in high school?
I really liked English. I appreciate Lowell because they have some really interesting English classes like Ethics of Eating, which was taught by Ms. Moffitt. There were so many interesting English classes that I really enjoyed.
Who was your favorite teacher at Lowell?
I had many really good teachers at Lowell, and I had a few not so good teachers. My favorite teacher was Ms. Bransberg. She was an Italian teacher. Even though I was terrible at Italian (I’ve never been a very good language learner), I really liked her class because she was welcoming. And, even though I wasn’t that great at it, it was okay because it was fun to just try and learn. She also hosted Italian Club, which I joined. I also had a lot of really great social studies teachers who were engaging and had very fun classes.
What are your passions outside of teaching?
I am really into food. I love eating out and I have been getting a little more into cooking recently. I also love to travel and try different foods. Additionally, I love the outdoors and going camping. Recently, I have been really into podcasts, it’s my big leisure time activity.
Jessica Chan, Biology Teacher
By Jack Stern and Allister Xu
Jessica Chan teaches five blocks of NGSS Biology. Chan was born and raised in San Francisco, and graduated from George Washington High School. She earned both her bachelor’s degree in public health and master’s degree in education at UC Berkeley, and was an SFUSD student teacher last year. This will be her first year officially teaching.
How did you come to SF/Lowell?
I always knew I would come back to SF to work. All my family and friends are here. I got a call from Lowell because they were looking for a biology teacher, interviewed, and got the job!
What were your favorite subjects in high school?
Biology, [because it] shows us the beauty and complexity of life! It’s an awesome subject because there is always more to learn and discover. Psychology, [because it] studies the mind and behavior. I feel like I understood myself and others better after taking the class. Why do we dream? What is intelligence? How can we reinforce habits that are good for us? Etc.
What led you to go into education?
All my jobs and internships required me to engage in a teaching practice, whether I realized it or not. I think the turning point was in undergrad. I directed a literacy program for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. It was a one-on-one mentoring program that helped students meet or exceed their expected reading level. I loved it so much that I stayed for three years.
What makes it enjoyable?
Working with students and seeing them grow into the best versions of themselves. They mature year after year, gaining more confidence in themselves.
Were there any teachers who inspired you?
Ms. Blinick was [my] high school world history and U.S. history teacher. She was the definition of a warm demander. She was someone who held high expectations for every student in a welcoming and safe environment. She also went above and beyond for me by writing all the recommendation letters I needed to get into different internship programs.
What are some challenges and rewards of being an educator?
I have about 150 students, so a challenge would definitely be getting to know students one-on-one in a virtual setting. [As for rewards,] there’s never a dull day! There is always something new and/or hilarious each day. I love seeing students engage with the material. I love the perseverance and effort that students put in to learn. I love it when students gain more confidence in themselves. They’re all awesome, and I hope they can see that. [It] feels great to know that I am a contributing member of society.
What are the biggest changes you’ve had to adapt to in both switching from in-person to online teaching, and to teaching in an unfamiliar place?
Since I was a teacher in training last year, I had one semester of in-person teaching and one semester of online teaching. I like to think that I’m pretty adaptable, so the only big change for me was the switch from teaching 40-50 students a year to 150 students.
What is your impression of Lowell so far?
It’s great! Students are motivated to learn, and my colleagues are always helpful. I do not think I have a full picture of what Lowell is like yet, because the school year hasn’t been normal.
Is there anything else you want your students to learn about you?
I identify as a Chinese Cambodian woman, and I was the first in my family to attend college. So, to those students who have parents who immigrated to this country for a better life to escape war and poverty, you can do it. I believe in you. Remember to always ask questions and find those resources. One piece of advice that I give all my students: Do not compare yourself to others. Instead, think about who you want to be 10 years from now and chase that person. The best person to compete with is yourself.
Oct. 2 at 3:50 p.m. correction: Previously this story stated that Jessica Chan had her master’s degree in public health. She actually has a master’s degree in education.