When you were 17, what did you want to be?
I had no idea. When I was growing up, I wanted to be a dinosaur – a stegosaurus. I even painted one on my fanny pack. Then, when I found out I couldn’t be a dinosaur, I wanted to be a paleontologist because that was the closest I could get. So that’s what I was going to be until I was 15. But then I realized the necessary amount of math and science I would have to do to become a paleontologist, and my math background was not very strong.
So I decided, “You know what, I like to draw. I'm going to be an artist and live in a box.” In my senior year of high school, I was in a class that was really important to me, comparative government and comparative literature. The second to last week of the school year, we were given an assignment to answer the prompt, “How are you going to save the world in five years?” And I didn’t know how me being an artist was going to save the world.
I had also been an activist in high school. I was the president of the Gay Straight Alliance, and this was during Proposition 8 too. I was inspired by my own coming out; I recognized that just because my family loved and accepted me immediately doesn't mean that everyone else's family does. But I hadn't really come into my own or become confident in it yet. I just thought that that would end in high school too.
So I was trying to figure out what to do to save the world in five years. We were all sitting outside, and my teacher, who is described as the living embodiment of Atticus Finch, sat down next to me and asked, "So, what are you gonna do?"
I told him I had no idea, and I started crying because I was taking this so seriously. And he just said, "That's funny, because I always thought you'd be a teacher," and got up and walked away. And I just thought, “Oh.”
So I ended up delving into that and realizing that, yes, when I was growing up, I had been teaching my dinosaurs how to spell. I started recognizing that that had always been there, but I had never noticed it as a possibility. So I decided that I was going to save the world in five years by becoming an art teacher in my hometown.
How did you decide to attend Chapman University?
I went straight into college, but I wish I hadn't. Chapman wasn't really a good fit for me. I went there because my best friend was going and they had a decent art program and a political science program, and I wanted to study both of those. But it was a bit of a superficial environment, part of that Orange County culture. And
while I was there, Chapman decided to become more business focused and they funneled a lot of the funding away from the humanities and into the business school.
I am glad that I went to a small school, and I did meet one of my best friends, and if I hadn't gone to Chapman, I wouldn't be in the job that I'm in right now, but overall, it wasn’t a good fit for me.
How did you choose your major?
I went in as an art and political science major, and that’s what I graduated with. I also started my teaching credential in social sciences and fine art while I was there, which is how I was able to start teaching at 21.
How did you get from college to where you are now?
I graduated a semester early because I wanted to come home. I moved back home for a few months and started working as a substitute teacher. I had gotten hired on when I was home for Thanksgiving break so I could start working right away in January. I also got a job as a helper at a dog groomer, so I got paid to play with dogs. I love dogs and that ended up being my second job for three years.
After that semester, I became a long-term sub and then a history teacher at San Ramon Valley High. Then I got hired as an art teacher at Monte Vista the following year. Originally, I loved teaching both history and art, but now that I've been teaching art, I wouldn’t want to go back to teaching social science.
I love social studies, but when I was teaching history, it was me lecturing or me facilitating something. Whereas with art, I'm able to have a lot more of a personal relationship with my students, I can talk to every student every day, and in social studies that's not an option. I thought I got into teaching because I wanted the students to be smarter, but I think the real reason is that I want to help them be better humans and be kind and this is the easiest way to model that.
The fun part of teaching is that I get to play with all these different mediums all the time, so I don't feel pigeonholed into one. My favorite is watercolor because 70 percent of the time, watercolor does what you want, and the other 30, it's like, "Hee-hee, you've gotta figure it out!" I also love ceramics, and I've been doing a lot more acrylic painting recently.
In the past year, I've been showing my art outside of school. Part of it is because I need the second income, but it's also fun. I just got into my first juried show and I was the youngest one who was accepted by at least a decade. The opening was a couple of weekends ago, and it was so validating to have other people care about what I’m making. It’s also meaningful in trying to show my students that there is room for creativity as an adult, whether it be as an artist or an engineer or whatever they want to be.
I also started to teach yearbook a few years ago. When I was in college, I started taking graphic design courses, and I fell in love with book design and typography.
I'm fortunate to have a group of kids that are really passionate about it. One of kids described it as how every family has the weird cousin, and yearbook is like putting all the weird cousins in the same room together. It's a really fun environment, and it's so gratifying to see their faces when they open up the boxes and see this book that they made.
I also just got admitted to a master’s program. I never really considered getting a master’s before. I didn't want to get a Master of Education because it’s basically just five more classes after your credential. And I didn't want to get a Master of Fine Art because I didn't want to spend time working on an MFA if I didn't want to make a career out of being an artist. Then this program at the Art of Education University showed up offering an MA in arts education.
What I'm doing in this program immediately applies to the classroom. And then I’m also improving my artistic craft, taking studio classes. My next class is a photography class and I'm stoked. And in a way, it’s also validating that this is what I want to do, this is my career. That feels really good.
My main goal is to always get better. I think that my teaching is evolving in advocating for more funding for the arts and for my program. And in continuing to find ways to empower my students. I think that's one thing that I will always be able to improve is getting my students to advocate for themselves, to view themselves as artists and creative people, as people who have improved and grown throughout the year, and as people who have value and can create something worth creating. I think that is going to continue to be my main focus.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
I wish I had known that not everybody loves college. I felt like I was doing it wrong, instead of recognizing that if the best years of my life are from 18 to 21, then I’m probably doing that wrong. It just continues to get better.
The other biggest thing I wish I’d known is that everything ends up okay. I think that at 17, coming into my own as queer person, I felt like I was wrong, broken, hollowed out. Looking back now with a supportive partner, with supportive friends, and an incredible family, I can see that you do end up okay.
I would tell people to make time for yourself. That therapy is always a good thing. And that it's okay to switch it up. I think its been very helpful for me to see people like my dad, who stayed in the same line of work his whole life, or like my mom and my mentor who switched their entire careers partway through.