The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

Silja Paymer

August 30, 2020


Courtesy Silja Paymer

After years of working in a fairly isolated environment as a mechanical engineer, science teacher Silja Paymer decided on a slight change of pace: teaching high schoolers. Equipped with her passion for hands-on learning and her firsthand knowledge of environmental science from volunteering as a tour guide at Hidden Villa, Paymer looks forward to building meaningful connections with her students.

Science teacher Silja Paymer went from working as a mechanical engineer sitting alone in front of a computer to sitting in front of a computer with the faces of her students smiling back at her.

“While I really enjoyed the engineering aspect of my work, it was a bit isolated, and I wanted a career that was a lot more collaborative and interactive,” Paymer said. “Being able to teach AP Physics allows me to keep a lot of the hands-on aspects of engineering but in a more engaging setting.”

While teaching at various schools in San Jose for six years, Paymer’s love for hands-on work led her to volunteering at Hidden Villa, where she has been as an education tour guide for a decade. Her experience with the plants and wildlife on the farm translated straight over to her teaching. She has never explicitly taken an environmental science class and this will be her first year teaching the subject.

Paymer’s biggest focus is to have a student-centered classroom where students feel like they are the priority within the classroom. However, there are endless difficulties with online school that make it a lot less natural to give students the same attention as a physical classroom.

“Remaining student-centered on digital platforms has been really interesting in terms of ensuring that students can still be successful when you’re not there all the time to check in,” Paymer said. “We need to consider how we build the culture because checking in with students online has to be a lot more deliberate and conscious.”

Connecting with students on a personal level is a major part of Paymer’s goal to create a positive and welcoming classroom environment.

“I always aim for a relationship with my students that’s based on kindness, where we work on being kind to both ourselves and mistakes,” Paymer said. “From there, the student-teacher relationship of mutual respect and honoring each other’s voices comes naturally.”

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