Teachers new to BHS, one year later: What have they learned?


“Because it’s a big high school, you don’t know who to ask for help, but so far, Berkeley (High School) has been doing a really great job. We have some great mentors and great co-leader teachers that have been helping me in guiding me in all of this crazy process,” Angie Soto, a first-year Spanish teacher at BHS, said. BHS can be a difficult place to adjust to, both for first-year students as well as teachers. Halfway through the second semester, teachers have settled in and have grown accustomed to working at BHS. 

The adjustment can be more difficult when a teacher hasn’t previously worked in a high school environment. “I’ve definitely settled in more than I had at the beginning of the year, but just in terms of the workload, high schools have more instructional minutes than middle school,” Justin Valencia, a first-year History teacher at BHS who previously taught at a middle school, said. “Coming from a middle school environment is something that I’m still kind of adjusting to in terms of the level of freedom that students have, for better or worse.” 

Creative freedom at BHS is one of the things that makes it unique. Valencia expressed his admiration for the different student-run extracurriculars and performances that happen at the school. “Students are all invested in all these different extracurriculars, and being exposed to that and just seeing how that reflects into school culture is nice,” he said.

As well as settling into teaching practices, new teachers have also been working on decorating their classrooms this year, and making them their own. “I think my classroom has always been very settled, and I usually like to have like some nature touches around,” Soto said. She has also tried to incorporate student interests into her classroom. “Some of my students really love singers like Sza and Tyler the Creator, so I have been enjoying adding that into my class,” Soto said.

Valencia has decorated his classroom to show off some of his interests and hobbies. “I’m just a big maps person; I like to put maps all around the room, and I have a picture of a single scull because I used to row in college,” he said.

New teachers also have personal goals they’ve been working towards this school year. At the beginning of the year, Valencia expressed an interest in exploring more difficult topics and opening class discussions, and now towards the end of the year, he feels he has accomplished that. “(I’ve been able to) have these really great, rounded discussions with the students, not just about stuff on the curriculum, but stuff outside their curriculum about current events,” Valencia said. “There’s been a few times this year, particularly on social issues, where I’ve had some really great discussions with students that would not have been able to happen in my old school.”

Soto’s goal this year was to connect with and get to know her students, and that has felt like one of the most important parts of her job. “I’m very proud of being able to create those connections that I wanted to create at the beginning of the year, and the fact that maybe my students have been enjoying my classes,” Soto said. She enjoys getting to know her student’s interests and incorporates them into her teaching when she can. “(I like) being able to talk one on one with my students and kind of getting to know them for their interests, and what, from their interests, I can add into my classes,” Soto said.

The sense of community and connection with her students is something else that Soto has found to be unique about BHS. “So far in Berkeley High (School), I have been feeling respect from my students to me not only as an adult, but as a human,” Soto said. She spoke of difficulties at her previous school with getting students engaged with her lessons; “It was a lack of interest, not only for you, as a teacher, as a person, but also for the subject. Here at Berkeley High (School), I have been getting used to my students asking me, ‘How am I doing?’ or checking on me, and that’s something that I really appreciate,” she said.

It is important for BHS students to remember that teachers also go through a hard transition and they deserve the same kindness that anyone else does. “I really appreciate being in a caring environment where my students not only see me as a teacher but as someone that is also a human that has problems, responsibilities, etc.,” Soto said. “Keep checking on your teachers.”