starting fresh

sharing teachers’ first experiences at MVHS

Alan Tai and Eric Zhou

Photo by Kripa Mayureshwar

Upbeat singing filled the choir room and echoed in the halls as students caroled to the beat of “Fine by Me” by Andy Grammer. Last year, choir teacher Amy Young instructed students to film themselves singing on the first day of school so that students could look back at the end of the school year at how they improved. According to Young, in-person learning has allowed them to do their job the “way that [they] had envisioned.”

“We were able to just really engage,” Young said. “We [didn’t] need any technology, we [didn’t] need any materials, we just [needed] ourselves. And that’s always how I like to start off day one.”

we [didn’t] need any technology, we [didn’t] need any materials, we just [needed] ourselves.

— choir teacher amy young

Since the first day Young taught at MVHS happened through Zoom, they recall that the awkwardness and silence present in the Zoom meeting along with technological issues that prevented them from hearing their students. Since the previous choir teacher retired, Young found it difficult to replace a teacher whom students had grown attached to over the years.

“I felt a lot of pressure to make a good first impression on students because I knew that as a new teacher, [they] also had to decide whether or not they liked me and if they wanted to stay in choir through this really difficult kind of transitional period of being online,” Young said.“[However], COVID in some ways did me a favor because it provided me a different medium for me to meet the students.”

Photo by Kripa Mayureshwar

New history teacher Usiel Meraz Cerna shares Young’s sentiment, explaining he had “fears of messing up” his future lesson plans for the week while on the first day. Arriving at his classroom early, he spaced out the desks and chairs, which he describes as the “biggest problem,” since he struggled to ensure that the students would have space when he went over his slides and did the activities. Because students were wearing masks, Meraz Cerna feared being unable to learn students’ names.

“It was harder to recognize students from just their eyes,” Meraz Cerna said. “I [had fears to] make sure I had activities that were going to engage students.”

Despite his fears, Meraz Cerna also describes his excitement for the remainder of the year as he has returned to teaching. Biology teacher Pamela Chow also shared these feelings of excitement on her first day in 2001, saying that despite it being her first day, the collaborative culture of the science department at MVHS, along with support from her best friend who worked at MVHS, Lani Giffin, helped her get to know her colleagues in the new environment.

“I’ve been fortunate to learn from a lot of my colleagues, and in doing so, they helped me to remember certain things that I wouldn’t have considered as a new teacher,” Chow said. “Sometimes in your mind, you think a lesson is going to go a certain way, and then you forget that you need to scaffold it along the way. I have to make sure that I put [the lesson] in chunks.”

During their first year at MVHS, Young struggled with finding the right person to seek assistance from when they ran into difficulties. They also weren’t aware of many MVHS events since no one informed them, but later on, the collaboration among the performing arts department along with further assistance from the FUHSD mentor team has helped them ease into MVHS. Meraz Cerna added that he has also gotten much more comfortable in the new environment, learning about his students’ personalities and where they need help.

Photo by Kripa Mayureshwar

Before teaching at MVHS, Meraz Cerna taught at other high schools. At one point, he tutored at an alternative high school for students who struggled academically. He fostered a friendly relationship with a group of students learning English, and the growth he saw in them motivated him to become a teacher.

“Education is something that helped me in my life, so I wanted to be able to contribute,” Meraz Cerna said. “I felt like it gave me a purpose. I was giving back to the community, helping people who needed that help, and I felt like I had the skills for it and the desire to do it. So it just felt natural to me.”

While Meraz Cerna describes his tutoring experiences motivating him to teach, Young’s music experience inspired them to become a teacher since junior year of high school. Involved in choir since they were six, they earned the role of section leader in choir in high school and the influence of the teachers around them led them to pursue music.

“[Music has] always felt like a home to me,” Young said. “Singing with others provides medicine to the soul. I think we lean on music in times of great need.”

According to Chow, since her first day more than two decades ago, she’s improved on her abilities to manage her time spent preparing for lessons and grading. However, she said that some aspects of her job, such as her enjoyment of it, haven’t changed, even as other aspects of her life have.

Photo by Kripa Mayureshwar

“It’s been so long, [so] it’s like I don’t know anything else,” Chow said. “It’s also different because I’m in a different stage of life. I still enjoy [my job] very much, but it’s different than when I was single or married with no children. Now, I have three children. And that changes how one balances one’s time now.”