Mr. Laurel educates about AAPI identity


Matthew Laurel is Berkeley High School’s Academic Support Counselor and Asian American and Pacific Islander Literature teacher. According to Laurel, his role as the Academic Support Counselor includes the supervision of the College and Career Center and tutoring programs after school hours. 

Laurel strives to be a friendly, familiar face, a helpful college adviser, and a teacher who helps his students connect and learn about their culture. His roles on campus have resulted in his popularity as a BHS faculty member, appearing at cultural events and assemblies, as well as being known for his work in the CCC. 

Laurel credited his initial interest in teaching to an impactful teacher he had. “I had a teacher named Ms. Steeb my senior year in high school, and being in her class turned my world upside down in a positive way. She helped me harness my passion for storytelling, literature … and inspired me to want to become a teacher,” Laurel said. 

Laurel has worked at BHS since 2010, originally as an English teacher in Academic Choice (AC) for seven years before taking a job in the CCC. 

According to Laurel, his change in position on campus was due to burnout and the stress of teaching for so many years. He described his job in the CCC as “a slightly different way to connect and help students.” Although he found his years of teaching to be stressful, he decided to take on the task once again, but only for a very special offer — teach the AAPI Literature class. Laurel explained his decision to teach the class was because there hadn’t been a class at BHS focused on Asian-American studies for decades.

The class often allows Laurel to connect with and learn about his Filipino heritage. “Teaching AAPI Lit, I was forced to examine myself a little bit, and what it means to be Filipino, what it means to be an Asian man, and what my positionality is with the material that I’m teaching,” he said.

Laurel often shares his culture through stories, food, and history. Laurel spoke about how his relationship with his AAPI identity was weak growing up and how it matured along with his connection and respect for his culture and ancestors which he is now excited to share with his students. This is important as it allows students to feel safe sharing and learning about their culture.

Laurel is a teacher who is able to make his students feel truly seen, according to his account of a student interaction. “From day one, (I knew) this is going to be a different kind of class, because I connected with a student … being in the class made (the student) feel seen in a different way than he had in any other class,” Laurel said.

Part of Laurel’s teaching style is his emphasis on both empathy and curiosity in the classroom. Laurel explained that each of these can come into play when learning about a diverse range of human experiences. 

Connecting this to his personal life, Laurel explains how he sees the importance of AAPI figures reflected in experiences with his son. He discussed the time he brought his son to hear Gene Luen Yang, the author of American Born Chinese. 

“I talk about my five-year-old son, Diego, a lot, and how important it is that he sees Asian figures in his life,” Laurel said, “You should see my son’s bookshelf. It’s all children’s stories about Asian American identity or being a person of color … a lot of the stuff that happens in class has helped me carry some of those valuable things (about cultural identity) home.” 

Although Laurel’s journey through teaching has been a long one, the impact he has made and is making on students is undeniable.

“People who are typically marginalized in the literary world or who are cast off as side characters or background characters, making those identities and narratives central really helps students from all backgrounds who feel like they’re othered to become the main character of their own stories,” Laurel said.