Victor Nguyen: what’s on the Nguyen(side) counts the most


Amid Najmi

In second period Calculus BC class, math teacher Victor Nguyen teaches juniors Grady Hofmann and Egor Cherkashin how to compute and graph derivatives on their calculators.

By Cedric Chan and Vaishu Sirkay

“My name is Victor Nguyen. I’m 29. I like long walks on the beach—except actually, I don’t. It’s kind of sandy. It’s messy.”

This is how math teacher Victor Nguyen responds when asked to introduce himself.

You might know Nguyen as that teacher that looks more like a student. Maybe you know him as that teacher with a fan club. Or perhaps you know him as just plain old Mr. Nguyen, geometry-slash-calculus teacher.

Regardless, one of his most distinctive characteristics is the eccentric teaching style that he uses with students. 

Teaching for seven years—with three at Los Altos—Nguyen is one of the more recent additions to Los Altos’s faculty. As many students might know, the relationship Nguyen has with his students is not the most typical. It’s common to see him joking around with, or maybe even roasting, his students. 

“I’m always able to roast people very quickly and easily,” Nguyen said. “I don’t know how I’m able to—it just happens.” 

He acknowledges that this might be unorthodox to those who haven’t gotten to know him and what his class is like, commenting how an outsider might be thinking, “Wow, really? He’s gonna do that?” But it’s all in an effort to create a laid-back environment in class. 

I don’t need people to take me seriously as long as they take class seriously and the work seriously,” Nguyen said. “It’s why I have a ukulele in class.”

Nguyen aims to create a positive and constructive relationship with his students.

“It doesn’t mean they need to talk to me like they’re becoming my friends or BFFs, but at least I try to be more understanding and as flexible as possible,” Nguyen said. 

Seniors Elena Atluri and Sarah Yung can attest to the relationships Nguyen forms with his students. When asked what fruit they would describe Nguyen as, Elena and Sarah said, “An orange because there’s a hard exterior, and he’s sour when you first get to know him, but as your rapport ripens, it gets sweeter.”

Math teacher Linh Tran, who worked with Nguyen in Algebra II last year, agreed with their perspective.

“He pretends like he doesn’t care. You can say, ‘Hi’ to him, and he’d be like, ‘Oh, whatever,’ but you can obviously see that he loves his kids,” Tran said. 

But while teaching is natural for Nguyen, it wasn’t always the plan. 

“There was some pressure to go into medical, pre-med stuff being from an Asian family in the Bay Area,” Nguyen said. “I didn’t really have too much opportunity to think about what I wanted to do, and so I was just like, ‘Okay, sure. Yeah, that sounds great. I’ll be a doctor one day.’ And that’s just kind of how I operated for a very long time.” 

However, after interning at a hospital in junior year of college, he realized that he didn’t want to be a doctor. He pursued teaching instead, mostly because it was a minor he could complete in his remaining year of college.

Although his choice of graduating with a degree in biochemistry and becoming a math teacher doesn’t exactly align, his decision wasn’t totally out of the blue. Despite the fact that Nguyen had always been good at math, he never really enjoyed it because of negative experiences with math teachers throughout high school, and preferred science. So, when he was deciding what to teach, he looked back on his own high school experience, and became a math teacher with the motivation that he could “totally do it better than the people that taught [him].” He’s carried that attitude into the classroom to this day.

One of the chief issues Nguyen had with his teachers was their lack of communication skills.

“Part of it just seemed like they didn’t know how to teach a classroom. They didn’t know how to talk to kids, to teenagers,” Nguyen said. 

So, in his teaching, he strives for the opposite: a line of communication with his students that feels natural, friendly, open. He takes what he wishes his teachers would have done and channels it into his own practices, creating a safe place where students know he really cares.

“For me, you really shouldn’t be a teacher if you don’t care for your students,” Nguyen said. “I don’t know what other teachers are thinking or feeling but I’m just saying if you’re not in this to help people, you probably aren’t the best fit to be a teacher.”

So the next time you see Nguyen walking around campus, you might still see him as that teacher that looks more like a student. Maybe you’ll see him as that teacher with a fan club. Or perhaps you’ll see him as just plain, old Mr. Nguyen, geometry-slash-calculus teacher.  But once you peel back the layers, you’ll also see that there’s something sweet there, just like there is in all of us.