Skipping into Retirement

Math teacher Skip Mueller reflects on his time at MVHS and his retirement plans

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Skipping into Retirement

Jai Uparkar

There were two things math teacher Skip Mueller never wanted to become: a salesman or a teacher. He ended up working in sales engineering for 17 years after graduating from college with a civil engineering degree, which was dependent on the local economy. Soon after semiconductor companies moved away, Mueller needed to make a career change.

“I remember one guy telling me that if you’re really young, a lot of people want to go save the world and go work in some inner city school and his advice was when … you’re older, that may not be the best idea,” Mueller said. “MVHS is in some ways, a pretty easy way to teach because the students are obviously high achievers.”

Mueller was hired by FUHSD in 2001 and visited each of the schools before making a choice. He came into the tours not wanting to work at MVHS and Lynbrook HS due to their competitive nature. But in the end, his first choice was MVHS because he really liked his soon-to-be colleagues.

“Even though you’re in the classroom with students all the time, one of the things in my working life before becoming a teacher that I decided for myself, and I think it’s pretty universally true is a lot of the satisfaction you get out of your job is the people you’re working with,” Mueller said.

Math teacher Martin Jennings is one of Mueller’s colleagues and close friends, who mentored Mueller. In Mueller’s initial years as a Pre-Calculus teacher, he shared a classroom with Jennings and mentions that he would follow whatever Jennings did.

According to Jennings, the pair work well together and their friendship inside the classroom evolved outside too, as they have visited Lake Tahoe together with their families and watched Stanford athletic events together. Jennings adds that Mueller hugely impacted the math department.

“He’s always a positive guy,” Jennings said. “So when there’s something that needs to be done, if he’s able to help, he’ll help … he’s always wanting to do more than his share.”

Mueller is going to miss many of his colleagues after his 18-year stay at MVHS and mentions that he will especially miss his lunch group which would often play fantasy football together. Though he hopes to still stay in touch with the friends he has made at MVHS, he does have some retirement plans too. He wants to resume some outdoor activities he used to do like biking, hiking and backpacking. However, there is one thing that Mueller has planned for a long time: the Army-Navy football game, a college rivalry game between the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) and the U.S. Naval Academy.

Mueller has been coordinating the logistics of attending the game with MVHS alumnus Peter Kim, who attends USMA and was previously Mueller’s student and on his baseball team. Even though Kim graduated three years ago, they still keep in touch and went out to lunch during winter break.

“When I tried out for the baseball team he definitely took me under his wing,” Kim said. “He was very patient with me and gave me opportunities to step up. In terms of [the] classroom, he was a great teacher who really cares about his students. It was not just a class and about material, we talked about life experiences and a lot of other more important things that when you’re in high school you don’t really appreciate but afterwards you realize is more important.”

Kim mentions that one of his favorite memories with Mueller was when math teacher Colin Anderson and Mueller hosted the 2015 SNL. This experience was one of Mueller’s most memorable one as well.

“I was working with students in a whole different way, and I was involved in more skits and you have students that are your directors,” Mueller said. “So the tables are starting to turn and some of the students are sometimes a little shy about ordering around the teachers. But I said, ‘Now you’re the boss here, so you tell me.’ It was a lot of fun.”

Similarly, Mueller’s favorite part of coaching the MVHS baseball team for 12 years was interacting with students outside the classroom. Being in the dugout and overhearing goofy conversations allowed him to see students in a different light.

But as Mueller explained, life changes. He was getting older and so were his kids. He wanted to be able to enjoy certain aspects of life before waiting too long. He was toying with the idea of retirement for a while and would re-evaluate his decision every year, but the idea was set into stone at the end of first semester. He talked with math teacher Jon Stark, who retired last year about upcoming retirement.

“[The students] kept me young in some ways, it’s just the interface being around students that are energetic,” Mueller said. “One thing I enjoyed about the teaching experience [is that] it allows you [me]  to do some things I never imagined doing.”