New year, new staff: Meet your new teachers, part 2


Graphic by Valentin Nguyen

Brenda Palaby, Dance Teacher

By Anna Kaplan

Photo by Anita Liu, Illustration by Valentin Nguyen

Lowell alum and new dance instructor Brenda Palaby has been dancing since she was three years old. From the time she was a toddler through her high school years as a member of Lowell’s Dance Company and into adulthood, dance has always provided Palaby with a way to express herself artistically. Palaby hopes to instill an appreciation for this expressive art form in her students this year, noting that it is “especially [important] at a school like Lowell, where I feel like it’s so academically driven.” Although this is her first year teaching dance in an educational institution, Palaby brings a wide variety of teaching experience with her, having previously taught at dance studios and in after-school programs. The Class of 2011 graduate says she is happy to be returning to her alma mater. “I mean [Lowell is] honestly the best school,” she said. “I’m very fortunate to have ended up at Lowell because the students are amazing…It’s week two and people are already getting into it.”

What got you interested in dance at such a young age?

My parents put me in classes and I think I just stuck with it, because it was something that let me express myself outside of a school setting. Growing up, my K-8 school didn’t really have dance, so my outside classes provided that. I was a really active person. I was part of sports teams, dance studios, all of that, and when I got to high school, I had to start managing my time a little more and thinking about choosing which activities I was doing. Dance was the one that stood out to me. I couldn’t go on without dance and I could drop the other things for now.

What led you to become a teacher?

I have all sorts of reasons for being a teacher. I’ve been dancing my whole life and I love teaching a creative art form, where people can share their stories and find another outlet of being able to express themselves, especially at a school like Lowell, where I feel like it’s so academically driven. I think it’s nice to put emphasis on arts and sports, and just some of the other ways people can excel.

How many years have you been a teacher?

This is my first official year. Previously, I’ve taught dance outside of a school setting. So, I’ve taught at studios, I’ve taught at after school programs, and then my full-time job before this was actually working for Big Brothers Big Sisters. It’s a nonprofit, so I worked with children, families and volunteers in the community, and I helped to pair them up and mentor each other, so I’ve always been in the realm of working with kids and families.

What made you decide to switch to teaching dance at a school this year rather than continuing at Big Brothers Big Sisters?

The original teacher, Wendy Jones, she’s on sabbatical right now, so it was just an opportunity that happened to come up, and I couldn’t say no.

How has Lowell changed since you graduated?

Nothing has changed. You guys are all amazing, the students are on top of their stuff. It’s week two, and people are already getting into it.

What were your favorite subjects as a high schooler?

Well, you can give a shoutout to Mr. Shimmons. I obviously loved dance, but my favorite subject was psychology, actually. I went on to major in psychology in college.

What’s your most memorable moment as a teacher?

At the after-school program I was working at, down in L.A., it was the children’s first time performing ever, and so they were really excited to dress up and go in front of their families in the audience, but it was still so cute. Just seeing them when they hit the stage was a really proud moment for me.

What are your passions outside of teaching?

Outside of dance and psychology, I’d say I’m a really big live show person. I like to go to a lot of shows, and I also really like to go watch sports games. The Bay Area teams are the teams that I root for, so that’s probably what I’m doing when I’m not dancing.

Do you have a favorite show that you’ve seen?

Well, most recently, I saw School of Rock live, which was really fun, and I really love Wicked and Chicago.

Sam Moussavi, English teacher

By Joelle Chien

Photo by Anita Liu, Illustration by Valentin Nguyen

“It’s sort of no mistake that now I’m an English teacher,” English teacher Sam Moussavi said when asked about his career choice. When Moussavi came to San Francisco to attend San Francisco State, he originally planned on pursuing an occupation as a lawyer. Along the way, he realized that his calling was for a more creative path. He then applied to University of San Francisco as a graduate student, received a master’s in creative writing and wrote a novel.

What’s your impression of Lowell so far?

It’s been an overwhelmingly positive experience. It’s been nice working with kids that are eager to work. Colleagues and coworkers have just been fantastic, we have a lot of fun in the English Department. I think it’s a good environment to be in as a teacher because it makes you up your game. You have to come with something that’s stimulating, both intellectually and entertainment wise. I feel like you have to mix it up a little bit and it forces you to push the limits. One thing I talked about with my students is being okay with taking risks. I’ll come into the classroom with something I’ve never tried before knowing full well that it might not work, but that feeling of wanting to stimulate my students outweighs the fear of the unknown.

In your opinion, what are the challenges and rewards of teaching?

Just the number of students, I think, makes it difficult to really get to know the individual student. You have to do different things to kind of take the pulse of the classroom. The rewards are something like today, when you start a new book and see the excitement people have. Talking about the story, talking about the characters and [having a] class discussion, that’s the most rewarding part for me.

What’s been your most memorable moment as a teacher so far?

I actually think it was last semester at Lowell. I came in midyear. There was a situation with a teacher. He didn’t come back, and I was sort of thrown into the fire: four classes of freshmen who had that previous teacher. I really wanted to make an effort to show them that I cared about teaching them something, that I cared about them learning. About midway through the semester, my student left me a little note on my desk. It was after a really long and tiring day and he left me a note on my desk, just a quick note saying: I really appreciate you actually teaching something. Those are the kinds of things that keep you going. It sounds a little corny and cliche, but it’s actually the truth.

What’s your favorite written work to teach to students?

It’s probably the story that I just started with my ninth graders. It’s called The Red Pony and it’s written by John Steinbeck. Steinbeck’s not only one of my favorite writers but he’s also one of those writers that seems to speak to any age group. A young boy gets this pony as a gift and sort of has the responsibility of training it, taking care of it. The animal gets sick and dies in front of the boy. The reason I like it is that it’s a good example of that ‘coming of age’ tale. It’s set in a realistic world and I think a lot of coming-of-age tales these days are set in these different worlds or futuristic places or with extraordinary circumstances. I like the realistic nature of this piece and it also has that lesson, that transformation from adolescence to adulthood. It’s done in a very tasteful way.

Terry Bamberger, English teacher

by Joelle Chien

Photo by Lauren Caldwell, Illustration by Valentin Nguyen

“We’re all learning all the time,” English teacher Terry Bamberger said. “When I feel that moment [of realization] it’s just like, ‘oh my gosh,’ part of my world opens more.” Bamberger’s passion for storytelling was ignited at a young age. When she started school, the restrictive nature of her English classes led her away from her love of stories and English and towards biology. It was only after she realized that she had too soft a heart for veterinarian work that she re-discovered her original passion. She then became an actor and, eventually, a teacher.

What led you to become a teacher?

I had a really bad accident, almost 20 years ago, that left me stationary for about six months in a special med chair, with nothing to do. I was an actor [at the time]. I had nothing to do and I was trying to figure out what do I want to do with my life? Do I want to go from gig to gig and make ends meet? What do I really want to do? And what I thought of [was]: I wanted to share my love of storytelling with others. The more I thought about it, the more I thought about students on that [learning] journey. So I went back to school, got a credential and learned how to teach acting, theater, playwriting, novel writing and English.

What’s your impression of Lowell so far?

First of all, I’m blown away by the numbers, the sheer numbers. I come from a small school, so our whole school was one grade level here. What amazes me about Lowell is the sheer number of talented students all in one place with the drive, the focus and the hunger to want to know things. That’s intoxicating to me because I feel the same way. So that’s really lovely, that’s what impresses me about Lowell.

Which do you like teaching more: Theater or English?

Because I like stories so much, I like them equally. And I’m not trying to be diplomatic; I love all forms of storytelling. I love paintings for how they tell stories, and I appreciate written language for storytelling and songs for storytelling. I just love the idea of telling stories.

How does your acting career give you a unique perspective on teaching English?

Well, I think the other part of communicating and learning how to express ourselves more clearly is to speak, is to have discussion. I think a lot of times students will read a story and they will write about it but they won’t share it. Acting is getting students to share that verbally and to use it beyond reading and writing.

Tyler Centers, Math teacher

By Allison Jou

Photo by Christina Johnson, Illustration by Valentin Nguyen

This is Algebra teacher Tyler Centers’ first year living and teaching in San Francisco. He moved from Wisconsin only weeks before the start of the school year, after being accepted for a teaching position at Lowell. Centers was attracted to teaching in San Francisco not only for the the weather, but also its diversity. His early interest in math led him to study the subject for his undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. During this time, Centers also spent time tutoring his fellow college students and found that he enjoyed teaching, which inspired him to pursue education for his graduate degree. Aside from being a math enthusiast, Centers is an avid long-distance runner who competes in marathons. He also enjoys watching TV and playing video games in his spare time.

What led you to become a teacher?

I’ve always really liked helping out my peers and I’ve always been super interested in math. I also did some tutoring in college and I really enjoyed it, so that’s what led me to becoming a teacher.

What was the process you went through to teach at Lowell?

I applied to the district, as a whole, and I also specifically applied to Lowell because I heard it was a really good school. I’m really glad that I got hired and I’m a part of it now.

What’s your impression of Lowell?

So far it’s only been a couple of weeks, but it’s been a lot of fun.

What made you want to move to San Francisco?

The weather, mostly. No, the weather was a plus, but it just seemed like a really cool city. There’s a lot more diversity here than there is in Wisconsin which I’m really excited for.

What are the challenges and rewards of teaching?

It just takes a lot of planning and a lot of time. But it’s definitely worth it for the relationships with students.

How would you describe your teaching style?

I’m definitely focused on collaboration and group work more than lecturing, and learning through doing math.

Do you have any passions or hobbies outside of teaching?

I like distance running, I run marathons. Also, I like to watch TV and play video games.