M-A’s Veteran Teachers Share Their Wisdom

3 mins read

M-A is lucky to have a handful of teachers who have worked here for over 20 years. These experienced educators have watched the school evolve and made countless memories on campus.

Woodworking teacher Mark Leeper said, “One obvious thing that has changed during my 37 years here is the physical look of the campus, as many buildings have been built or refurbished during my time. People from the old days would hardly recognize the school.”

Mark Leeper, 2006 staff portrait

Many buildings, such as the Performing Arts Center and the S-Wing, were not built until recently. AP Environmental Science teacher Lance Powell, who has been here for 19 years, recalled, “There was a period of five or six years where there were construction projects all over the place.”

Lisa Otsuka, who has taught various English classes at M-A for 22 years, noticed how students have changed. She said, “School became transactional after the pandemic, so I’ve tried to have more human moments. Instead of coming into class and taking out the phone, I ask my students to briefly talk to someone next to them.” 

Ceramics teacher Mike Tillson, who has been at M-A for 25 years, noted how teachers themselves have changed. He said, “The approaches to teaching have changed and cycled through. Some initiatives early on in my career passed, but then ten years later, they resurface.”

Lisa Otsuka with former colleagues

When asked about their favorite class they have taught at M-A, many teachers were indecisive.  Otsuka said, “I love my literature classes a lot, but I find that I try not to have a favorite. I find something to love in every class.” 

History teacher Ellen Jacobson has been at M-A for 23 years and said, “I don’t really have a favorite class, because every subject and every grade has its benefits.”

However, Tillson does have a class that shines above the rest. “Ceramics is definitely my favorite class. There’s not really tracking, I like the variety of students in my classes, and even when given the same prompt, they will come up with totally different ideas.”

Teachers agree that there is a lot to love at M-A. Otsuka said, “I love how eclectic the population is here and how that affects the classes I teach. I have students from all over the world in my classes, and I think our school is super unique in how diverse it is.” 

Leeper said, “The people I work with are great, and I’ve made some of my best lifelong friends here.”

Many teachers also have passionate memories from their many years of teaching. Powell said, “I feel like I have fond memories from every year, such as the students I’ve worked with. When you’ve been around for a while, former students go out into the world and start to have families and build lives, and it’s really nice to see.” 

Jacobson said, “One of my fondest memories was a fundraising event where some of the teachers played basketball with players from the 49ers and Raiders. I made cookies for the opposing team, and the one shot I took I totally airballed.”

These teachers also have ambitions for their future years at M-A. Otsuka said, “I’m hoping to continue learning, growing in this profession, and getting to know new students. I’m always trying to challenge myself.” 

Mike Tillson, 2006 staff portrait

Leeper said, “I hope that my next few years are more of the same because I feel really fortunate to teach what I teach. But, I also hope that the shop classes become more recognized and seen as valuable.” 

Powell added, “I hope to see the program for teaching emerging English learners continue to grow and develop so students and educators collaborate together more.”

Teachers have also had to learn from many mistakes in order to perfect their craft. Otsuka said, “Are there any mistakes I haven’t made? As a teacher, you make mistakes all the time, but that’s how you learn the most. I used to think that I needed to be someone else to be a good teacher. I’ve gotten more comfortable teaching in my own personality.” 

Powell jokingly said, “I’ve never made any mistakes as a teacher. You know, besides earlier today. Teachers have to make decisions on the fly constantly, so there are times when I say or do something that I shouldn’t, because teachers are human.”

Lance Powell doing a chemistry demo

Tillson remembered a much more catastrophic error he made that sticks with him to this day. He recalled, “One big mistake I made was the time I exploded a kiln full of students’ work because I got distracted.” 

One thing many of the teachers had in common is that teaching students has taught them to be optimistic about the future. Otsuka said, “As an English teacher, I see that everything is driven by paradox. People are responding to change and saying things like, ‘The world is going downhill because students have phones,’ but I feel that while everything is changing, it also stays the same. We have to keep students engaged and continue to encourage them to become critical thinkers, even though the environment is different.” 

Powell put it best when he said, “Even though there’s a lot of things in the world that are worrying, my students give me hope for things to come.”

Jace is a sophomore, and this is her first year in journalism. She hopes to write about local issues that impact M-A students and beyond to provide insight on ways we can improve as a school and community together. In her free time, she reads a variety of articles relating to local, national, and international news.

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