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


Illustration by Valentin Nguyen

Alex Cheng, Math Teacher

By Crystal Chan

Photo by Anita Liu, Illustration by Valentin Nguyen

Algebra teacher Alex Cheng attended Lowell High School and graduated from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. There, he majored in chemistry and minored in math. After graduating, Cheng took a year to think about his career before deciding to become a math teacher. In his free time, Cheng enjoys fencing, working out, and playing board games.

What led you to become a teacher?

I was inspired by the teachers that I had. A lot of it was my experience at Cal Poly; that’s where I went to school after Lowell. It was very obvious that my math professors there were enjoying what they were doing. I eventually started teaching workshops at Cal Poly, helping out other students in their calculus classes, and that was a lot of fun. It was fun because I was taking more math classes and seeing other ways of teaching.

Has math always been your favorite subject in school?

I wouldn’t say always. I was more of a science kind of guy. When I was here, I had a lot more fun in my chemistry class. I was a chemistry major, actually, at Cal Poly. I added the math minor later. At Cal Poly, once I started taking more upper division math classes, that was very exciting for me. That was just another way of thinking that I really liked.

What are the rewarding and challenging aspects of teaching so far?

A challenging aspect is getting students to not be afraid to be wrong. Especially at Lowell, I think there’s an actual fear that if I get something wrong, then I’m dumb or I don’t belong here or something. I really want to help my students eliminate that fear, and know that it’s okay to be wrong, because if you knew everything, why are you in school? If you knew everything, you wouldn’t need to be here. You’re not expected to know everything. If I can get my students to get past that, that would be super rewarding.

Have you taught at any other schools prior to Lowell?

I did my student teaching at San Luis Obispo High School, but this is my first full-time position.

Have you always been in the field of academia, or did you have any other jobs prior to being a teacher?

No. I finished my bachelors and got my credential at Cal Poly, then took the 2017–2018 year off, kind of just out and about in San Francisco, figuring out what I wanted to do, or where I wanted to be. Then I ended up here.

What has been your most memorable moment as a teacher?

There was not one moment in particular. Because I had my own room at my old school, I’d always leave my door open. When I had my room open, students were able to come into my room and just eat lunch and hang out. We just talked to each other, not as teacher and student, but just as friends.

What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of teaching?

Outside of teaching, I like to work out a lot; exercise is pretty important to me. I also fence at a local fencing club in the Mission (at least I did a lot). I’ve been doing that for like ten years, and I was on the fencing team at Lowell. So those are the two big things at this point. I also like a lot of board games and things like that.

What inspires you?

I guess it would be my previous teachers or professors. They were very effective, and they had a good time [teaching]. And that’s something I want to be. I think everyone wants to do something they enjoy and have fun with, that they are really good at, and always be chasing and getting better at. I think my professors were never content with where they were; they were always trying to get better, even though I thought they were already great.

Ian Knight, Math Teacher

By Crystal Chan

Photo by Christina Johnson, Illustration by Valentin Nguyen

Algebra teacher Ian Knight grew up in Weaverville, California. There, he attended Trinity High School and then attended San Francisco State University, where he majored in math. Prior to teaching at Lowell, Knight taught at Visitacion Valley Middle School. In his free time, Knight enjoys playing video games and rock climbing.

What led you to become a teacher?

It was something that I always enjoyed doing. Being in the classroom as a student I had fun. I wasn’t the best student, but I got my work done and I never made too much trouble. My mom was also a teacher, so I got to see a little bit of the other side of how it worked. I think my sophomore year of college, when I was in an engineering class, we had different people from different lines of work in engineering who came and talked to us. Their jobs just sounded so boring, and it made me step away and realize that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I really decided I wanted to be a teacher when I got to observe a calculus class at Galileo. It was just this great experience and I instantly fell in love.

Has math always been your favorite subject?

I don’t know if I’d say that it’s necessarily my favorite, but it was the definitely the one I was best at in school. I had to do reading classes when I was younger, and I’ve been a terrible writer my whole life, so English was always a struggle. Social Studies is really interesting to me, and one my hobbies is learning about history. But once again, the writing and reading involved with it was something that turned me off, and so math just made sense. I always enjoyed all my math teachers, and I was able to make really good connections with them, so I certainly enjoyed it.

Did you teach at any other schools prior to Lowell?

At Visitacion Valley, I taught 7th grade for four years and coming from a middle school to a high school, one of the biggest differences has been the maturity level and it’s just been such a welcome change. I think that Lowell has a reputation of excellence and a high performing student body, and all my expectations have been met so far.

What has been your most challenging moments as a teacher?

You think that you have a lesson that’s totally going to kick butt, and it’s going to be really engaging and interesting and lead to all these super deep conversations about math, but you come in the next day, and it just absolutely flops. It’s one of the hardest moments because you pour your heart and soul into it, and it doesn’t come out. Those are tough days.

What do you consider to be the rewarding and challenging aspects of teaching?

I think the rewarding part is when people have their ‘aha’ moments. When they have discoveries, when they feel successful, it’s so much fun because you get to see their expression, you get to hear it. It really gets me excited because people are learning about math; I feel like I’m being successful at those times. The challenge, I think, is always trying to make it interesting. How boring is it to just go through the textbook and do problem after problem? That’s not what I want my students’ experiences to be like.

What are your hobbies or interests outside of teaching?

I play a lot of video games. If you want to come and find me on Steam or Xbox, let me know. I also rock climb three times a week, and that has really been the physical exercise that I’ve been looking for. I tried running for a little bit, but did not like it. I played soccer growing up, but don’t really have the time now, so climbing has been a new experience that I really enjoy.

What inspires you?

I think it’s just to always to be better. We’re given a short amount of time to be here, and making every second count is what I live by.

Raymond Chan, Math Teacher

By Kate Green

Photo by Nathan Yee, Illustration by Valentin Nguyen

In 2011, algebra and programming teacher Raymond Chan graduated from Lowell and proceeded to major in computer sciences at UC Davis. After one year of “boring and tedious” work in software engineering, Chan realized his career’s unfulfilling nature was rooted in its lack of opportunities to help people. As a result, he ventured into the field of education, acquiring a job as a sixth-grade science teacher at Gateway Middle School. Returning to his alma mater has provided Chan with the opportunity to work with an older age group and the subjects he is most passionate about:math and computers. Chan is also devoted to making math a less intimidating and more inclusive subject. “Specifically for my freshman…my goal for them is to feel that they belong here. I teach math, so often times people feel they don’t belong. I want to overcome that and bring those people in, so that we can learn as a collaborative community of mathematicians,” he said.

Since starting teaching, what have been some of the rewards and challenges?

Coming back to Lowell, I was a student not too long ago so it’s very familiar. That’s a reward in itself. Being back in a space where I was once a student, I know the experiences that a lot of my students have. Now that I am a teacher here, I can be a leader, and that’s great.

I am also very introverted by nature, and I’m really putting myself out there in front of these classes every single day, out of my comfort zone. I’ve somewhat gotten used to it, just because I’ve thrown myself into the deep end. But at the end of the day, I’m just exhausted, and I can’t say anymore words, can’t interact with anymore people. But it’s all worth it for the students, and I hope that my classes feel that.

What has been a standout experience of returning to Lowell as a teacher?

The very first class of my freshman year, at first period, I was in room 340 with Ms. K. Now I’ve come back as a teacher, and I’m teaching second period in that class, sharing a room with Ms. K. And my first day back it was surreal, there’s the same desks, just pointed in the other direction…. So many teachers that I’ve had are still going strong here, and now they’re colleagues.

What were your favorite classes when you were a student at Lowell?

I really liked Chinese class, I really liked science class, and I really liked the later math classes. And computer programming for sure, those were definitely my favorites. If I were to summarize why I enjoyed them — I felt successful in those classes. I felt that this is the stuff I care about and I’m feeling I’m growing as a learner…. Now I’m teaching two sections of Intro to Programming. Everyone needs to take programming with Mr. Chan. Period. Everyone will take my class, that’s one of my goals.

What are some of your passions outside of teaching?

I love gardening, and I love composting, so those are some things I’m working on. I grow lots of vegetables and have backyard chickens my family takes care of. I have two compost piles going right now. We’re trying to grow pumpkins, we already have a whole bunch of lettuce, greens, and spring onions. [The chickens] have Chinese names, they are basically the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4, and the queen chicken, that’s the OG, we call her the Empress in Chinese. 1, 2, 3, and 4 are really young, so they just started laying eggs. It’s ridiculous, we’ve had an egg shaped like a pill and eggs without shells!

Jonathan Lombardi

By Anna Kaplan

Photo by Anita Liu, Illustration by Valentin Nguyen

While studying abroad in Querétaro, Mexico as a college sophomore, Spanish teacher Jonathan Lombardi discovered his passion for the romance language. Following his graduation from

California State University Long Beach, Lombardi moved to Spain, where he secured his first teaching job instructing the locals of Granada in English. As he achieved fluency in Spanish, Lombardi also grew increasingly enamored of the country’s culture and began to wish that he could somehow share the vitality he experienced in Spain with those living in the United States. After four years abroad, Lombardi decided to return to his hometown of San Diego and pursue a credential to teach Spanish. With two student-teaching jobs under his belt, Lombardi was hired at Lowell, making this his first teaching job as a full-time, credentialed teacher in the United States.

What led you to become a teacher?

In college, I fell in love with the Spanish language when studying abroad in Querétaro, Mexico. Once I became fluent, I wished everyone from back home was able to speak the language and experience what I had. Being or becoming bilingual is such a unique and rewarding experience. After college, I moved to Spain to teach English and really enjoyed being in the classroom.

Where was your first teaching job?

My first teaching job was near Granada in Southern Spain, and I have been teaching ever since.

What year of college did you study abroad in Querétaro, Mexico?

During sophomore year, I went to the study abroad office and said I wanted to learn Spanish. The lady working at the office suggested [that I] study in Mexico for a year. At the time, I thought she was crazy. Eight months later, I found myself on a one-way flight to Mexico, where I ended up staying for 11 consecutive months. I didn’t even go home for Christmas!

What do you think are the challenges and rewards of teaching?

There are lots of challenges and rewards in teaching. This year my biggest challenge is having three prep [periods], which means I have to prepare for Spanish 1, 2 and 3 with a curriculum and book I have never worked with before. Despite all the challenges, teaching is without a doubt, in my opinion, the most rewarding profession in the world. Getting to know and interact daily with students is the best, I wouldn’t change it for anything. It is the only job I have ever had that makes me excited to get up the next day.

What were your favorite subjects as a high schooler?

I loved AP Music Theory. I actually started college as a music major because of that class. I also liked recording arts and anything that had to do with music. As far as the non-elective classes, my favorite was probably government, since I had such an awesome teacher.

What’s your most memorable moment as a teacher?

Last year, before Christmas break, a few students wrote me notes describing how much they had enjoyed my class and how they appreciated everything I had done. It was at the end of a long semester, and reading those cards meant the world to me, knowing that I touched their lives in some way.

Lombardi seems like an Italian name. Are you Italian?

My grandparents on my father’s side were Italian, but suffered cultural assimilation in the 1950s and 1960s, and were somewhat “deculturalized,” like many others during that time in the U.S.

Why did you decide to teach Spanish over Italian?

Unfortunately, my father never learned Italian. After learning Spanish, I took some classes in Italian and spent time in Italy to get to know my Italian roots.

Do you speak any other languages?

Only English and Spanish and intermediate Italian.

What drew you to teaching Spanish over another other language?

Being from San Diego, I grew up hearing Spanish all over the place, so that is what drew me to Spanish. For some reason, I always felt attracted to the language and wanted to be able to speak with my Spanish-speaking neighbors in their native language.