New teachers adjust, seeking community


“It’s a lot of things to adjust to (since) it’s such a huge campus compared to my old school … I’m trying to get the lay of the land, you know, what are the norms?” said Justin Valencia, a new Berkeley International High School (BIHS) Global History and IB History of the Americas teacher. The start of a new school year brings in new teachers and new students alike, and it can be challenging to acclimate to a completely new environment. 

“It can be very difficult because it’s kind of like the first day of school at a new school … There’s always these small things that you don’t think about that are different, even … down to like, you know, not knowing where the bathroom is, or like not knowing other teachers,” said Roberto Figueroa, a new Jazz Lab 1 and 2 teacher.

   Although the transition to a new school can be difficult, Valencia appreciates both his students and his fellow staff members for helping him through this change.  “I have a super supportive staff. We’re a very close cohort in terms of how we collaborate, which has made my transition a whole lot easier,” said Valencia, who explained that a close community of teachers can be rare to find.

For Angie Soto, a Spanish teacher, part of the difficulty of coming to a new school was creating new lesson plans and classroom decorations. “I didn’t have many decorations or stuff, as other teachers will have at this point … I feel like I’m doing everything from scratch right now,” said Soto. Soto, who taught in Colombia and Spain before moving to the Bay Area, noticed a lot of differences 

between teaching in Berkeley compared to Colombia. “Berkeley is really rich in different cultures, different backgrounds, compared to Colombia … (where) we didn’t have as … (many) resources,” said Soto.

Despite the difficulty of transitioning to a new school, there is a lot for the new teachers to look forward to at the beginning of the new year. 

Figueroa looks forward to the many performances that his jazz students are working hard to prepare for. “Here at Berkeley specifically, we do a lot of really cool trips and concerts. We get to play at Yoshi’s Jazz Club … We also are doing a Cuba tour this year,” said Figueroa. 

Soto’s favorite thing about teaching is building connections with her students. “I have 150 students and connections to explore, so we have something in common for sure. I’m going to try to make that connection and talk to (my students),” said  Soto.

Valencia looks forward to engaging students in the material of his class. “(I look forward to) getting more into the nitty gritty of different topics, (and) get kids interested in these topics,” said Valencia.

It’s easy to forget that Berkeley High School teachers are also starting a new year, getting used to a new schedule, and working hard to prepare just like students are. Some teachers, like Soto, Valencia, and Figueroa, are just beginning their journey at BHS.

Amidst all the chaos of the beginning of the year, Figueroa hopes that his students enjoy learning and performing jazz enough to continue playing  outside of his class. “I hope that after I teach students that they have an appreciation for the music … There’s not that many young people listening to (jazz), but I hope to keep it alive,” said Figueroa.

Soto uses daily memes and engaging lessons to make sure that students have fun in her class. “I would love … for them to feel free to come to me and … to have fun in my class. That’s basically one of the things – to make fun, be fun,” said Soto. 

Valencia hopes that his students not only enjoy history as a subject, but also find empowerment to become involved citizens. “While there are all these, you know, terrible things going on … you have a way to have your voice heard within it,” said Valencia.

New teachers have to quickly learn new protocols while also guiding their students through difficult course material and making their lessons engaging and informative. Although it can be difficult to transition, BHS’s new teachers are met with a wonderful community of teachers and staff, students who are accepting and ready to learn, and a wide variety of opportunities for them to explore.