Teachers Look Back on Their Lives as High School Students

As finals approach, a popular topic of conversation among students is school work. Whining about homework, studying for tests and procrastinating on projects are all common. It is hard to believe that the teachers who now assign them once went through this stressful process, that they were once teenagers, in high school, with the same difficulties students face today. Here are the profiles of some teachers who turned back the clock and talked about their high school experiences.

Danielle Paige
Yearbook and science teacher Danielle Paige graduated from Hillsdale High School in San Mateo in 1995. According to Paige, the class slogan was “Stayin’ Alive in ‘95” in reference to the Bee Gee’s 1977 single, the year in which most of the students were born. Despite this intense class spirit, Paige said that she generally “pretended to be invisible” for most of high school.

Paige’s circle of friends was a small, intimate group; she ended up marrying the best friend of her high school boyfriend. For the most part, though, Paige kept to herself.

“I was a nerd,” Page said. “I didn’t have many hobbies—except for perfectionism on academics. My favorite subjects were math and science.”

After a while Paige slowly became more social. In her senior year, Paige’s counselor suggested that she get involved in student government, and after joining the school’s ASB, Paige organized school activities such as Red Ribbon Week (to promote a drug-free student population) and Friday Night Live (to promote fun activities to keep students from getting into trouble). Paige also continued to grow socially after high school, using her new environment as an opportunity to start over.

After college, Paige worked as a researcher and marketer for a company involved with the Human Genome Project, which helped her greatly to “develop her extrovert potential” and utilize the skills from her English Literature minor.

“Then someone said to me, ‘Why don’t you consider teacher high school?’” Paige said. “So I did, and I can’t imagine ever leaving it.”

When Paige went back to visit her high school in March of 2003, several of her teachers said they wouldn’t have imagined such a shy student choosing to teach in front of people.

“Who you are in high school doesn’t define who you are,” Paige said. “A teacher once told me that you have a switch on the back of your neck and at any moment you can flip it and start over. Whenever I feel bad, I always remember that statement.”

Keren Robertson
After attending a public middle school in Carmel where she was “kind of a geek” and “miserable,” English teacher Keren Robertson and her brother decided to go to a small private high school in Monterey called York. Though they got “basically full scholarships,” Robertson babysat every day in the summer to help pay the tuition fees.

The work paid off, and soon Robertson was in a school of 200 students where class sizes ranged from 5 to 13. In this environment, she was able to be outgoing and spirited “rather than being on the sidelines.”

As a high school student, Robertson said that she was definitely “a creature of habit.”

“Every day for four years, I had the same lunch: a toasted bagel and turkey,” Robertson said. “My mother would pack it for [my brother and me]—we were spoiled—and write notes on our napkins.”

Outside of school, Robertson was “really into the arts,” being especially involved in dancing.

English was one of her favorite subjects in high school, the other being history. She only decided to become a teacher after she worked as a Residential Assistant at UC San Diego, where she decided that she really “liked people.”

Robertson began her student teaching at Los Altos High for teachers Ted Uno and Sara Mayper in Global Connections and Survey of Composition and Literature.

When Robertson began teaching in 1977, she soon realized high school is different than what she was used to. The college process is “more of an industry” and students now, she said, have a lot more on their plate.

“We were pretty sheltered,” Robertson said. “There were not computers and no cell phones when I was in high school. Now there’s more technology, everything is much faster. … It forces you to grow up a little faster.”

Pete Bjorklund
History teacher Pete Bjorklund graduated from Los Altos High School in 1999 and completed his student teaching last year for history teacher Gabriel Stewart.

Though he always loved his history and photographer classes (the latter incidentally taught by current art teacher Christine An), Bjorklund did not think he would become a teacher after high school.

“I didn’t know quite what I wanted to do,” Bjorklund said. “I took some time after school, started coaching and figured it would translate directly into teaching.”

While in high school, Bjorklund described himself as a “pretty cocky kid” but still a “totally sober, straight-edge guy.” He was also highly involved with athletics (and actually had Stewart as a coach), participating in football, basketball, track and field and working with the Special Olympics.

“I was pretty simple,” Bjorklund said. “I played my sports; I hung out with my friends. After high school was when I kind of found out who I was. I’m still figuring myself out, though. You think you know yourself as a cocky 18-year-old, but I’m still learning today.”

Despite having graduated recently, Bjorklund said that there have been a lot of changes to the high school—mostly in terms of pressure to succeed. Bjorklund believes that it was right after he graduated that school became a stressful environment.

“I feel I was really on the cusp,” Bjorklund said. “After I left was when the really huge push to do nine million activities really started. I had some friends who did a whole lot, but it’s still very different now.”