Combs moves to Sacred Heart Preparatory

Sara Yang

Switching from public to private, getting back to her roots



Since joining the school in 2008, English teacher Diana Combs has integrated student feedback into her curriculum. Many new strategies stem from her involvement with educational conferences from Florida to Shanghai, Taiwan; she began attending in 2007 and presenting in 2008. Photo by Sara Yang.“I’m going to go home and sleep some more… See ya.”

English teacher Diana Combs called out to fellow English teacher David Clarke, her teaching counter-part for their American Studies class, as she breezed past his open classroom. The duo had stepped off the plane alongside nearly 60 of their students some 12 hours before, as the American Studies classes returned from the traditional trip to the South.

For Combs, who joined the MVHS English department in 2008, taking on a classroom of 66 American Studies kids represented a personal challenge for the school year. She will not be teaching the class next year, but the challenges do not stop. In March 2011, Combs accepted a position in the English department at Sacred Heart Preparatory, and will be opening a new chapter in her educational career in the fall.

She arrived at MVHS after earning an undergraduate double major degree in literature and political science from University of California San Diego, and a master’s degree and teaching credentials from the University of San Diego, a Jesuit Catholic university. Before attaining those degrees, Combs attended Saint Francis, a local Catholic college preparatory high school in Mountain View. With a mission statement grounded in spiritual, intellectual, and social growth, Saint Francis and USD championed philosophies of values-based education.  

The presence of such philosophical values and the resulting environment at the two schools left a lasting impression on Combs. During her years as an undergraduate student, graduate student, and teacher, she realized that something was missing from her life. This, in turn, influenced her decision to get back to her roots by transferring to Sacred Heart.

“A lot of it is about educating the whole child instead of just educating the student who’s sitting in your class for English,” Combs said. “It’s looking at more than just being academic. It’s about growing as a genuine human being in lots of different areas.”

According to Combs, everyone at her high school, from students to administrators to janitors, demonstrated strong support for central goals of education and personal development—which in turn encouraged a strong, tightly-knit community.

“School…provided fodder for conversations around faith,” Combs said. “So right as my brother and I were getting to that kind of critical consciousness phase where we were questioning and wanting answers and wanted to talk about things, we were in a school that nurtured us in our questioning.”

Though Combs did not find such a specialized atmosphere everywhere, this is not to say that Combs was dissatisfied with her time at MVHS. If anything, she embraced the experience as the next step along the road to becoming a better educator.

“It’s given me the opportunity to really learn about being a teacher,” Combs said. “The students here have given me the opportunity to try things, try curriculum that is advanced or challenging or difficult…just go out on a limb and see what works.”

According to Combs, simply collaborating with fellow teachers also provided invaluable classroom knowledge. As a student and substitute teacher in San Diego county, she faced students who came to school drunk, cut class to go surfing, and did not know what the SAT was—nevertheless, “What do I do now?” moments at MVHS still arose. In those situations, Combs often turned to colleagues like Clarke and fellow English teacher Stacey McCown.

“Teaching is something you continue to get better at as you do it,” Clarke said. “Part of that comes from experience, part of that comes from working with other teachers and being open to changing the way you do things because of what you’ve learned from them.”

For Combs, the switch to Sacred Heart represents the next challenge of her teaching career. Yet as with all transitions, like switching from teaching 66 juniors in an American Studies classroom to 15 sophomores at a time at Sacred Heart, some things remain constant.

“The obvious similarity is that you’re teaching kids,” Combs said. “And I love teaching kids, so in either setting, I’m happy with my audience…[and] in either setting, I’m teaching a subject that I’m very passionate about.”

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