We’re a month and a half into school. The sophomores are cruising through drama, the juniors are swarmed by tests, and the seniors are drenched in college apps—but what about the new IMSA staff and teachers? Are they, too, drowned in a pool of work and meetings? To get to the bottom of this, I’ve interviewed Dr. Patrick Buck and Ms. Paula Diaz, two of IMSA’s newest teachers. Let’s begin.
A little about Dr. Buck: he is from West Michigan and studied at a small private liberal arts college named Albion. He later continued his education at Michigan State University for a degree in history. Dr. Buck specializes in Chinese history and currently teaches Ancient World Religions and Philosophy (AWRAP) and Revolutions for the fall semester.
Ms. Diaz currently lives in Chicago with two teenagers, Beatrice and Henry, a dog called Warren, and a cat named Carlos. She holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop and has been working in higher education for both teaching and administration since 1998. Currently, Ms. Diaz teaches LE III: World and LE I.
As it turns out, both previously taught at colleges, so getting used to the high school schedule has been a challenge for them. “For the last five years, I have enjoyed working part-time, teaching 2 days a week, at a college just down the street from my house—a 20-minute walk,” says Ms. Diaz, “Now, I drive an hour each way to teach 5 days a week at IMSA. As you might guess, that has been a real change for me in terms of energy and time!” However, not all hope is lost for Ms. Diaz. In fact, she chooses to view it in a positive light: “I was worried about two hours of driving each day, but adding audiobooks to my travels has been amazing—I’m ‘reading’ an additional 4-5 books a month and finally getting to some books that I have wanted to read for ages! I’m about 5 hours from the end of Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer and next up is The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. Now I look forward to my drive every day and don’t even mind an occasional traffic jam if it means I can get in one more (short) chapter.”
Dr. Buck noted a different aspect of the challenge of teaching at a high school: “This is the first time ever that I had to be in class at 8 a.m. Getting used to waking up early has been a real adjustment. In the past, I started a bit after 9 a.m., or later in the day. All throughout college, I’ve always avoided having 8 a.m. classes. Grad school classes are also usually in the evenings.” The only solution to keep Dr. Buck cruising through his morning classes is—you guessed it—coffee! In terms of the teaching aspect, Dr. Buck also remarked that teaching college students is much more different than teaching high school students. “College students are adults, so there is less hand-holding. For them, it’s more like, ‘Here is what you have to do, go do it, and if you don’t want to do it, then you don’t have to’. However, for high school, it’s more ‘check in with your students and know what they are actually doing’.”
Dr. Buck and Ms. Diaz also shared similar highlights that they encountered during the school year. They both love the participation of students in their classes. As Ms. Diaz says, “I love posing a question in class and seeing 10 hands shoot up in the air.” Dr. Buck also loves the participation and notes how his students in 1st mod AWRAP class are a lot more talkative than his students right after lunch (Author’s note: Not to be biased, but 1st mod AWRAP is clearly the better class), which he found interesting. The dance culture, diverse commitments, and different activities presented by students are a few of the things that impress Dr. Buck and Ms. Diaz about IMSA.
Ms. Diaz and Dr. Buck also shared a few goals that they had for themselves in the 23-24 school year. One of Dr. Buck’s goals is to have his students become more culturally literate. “I would like to really find a tune to courses that I am teaching…I’d like to come up with a really well-rounded semester course planned. I’m trying to plan more hands-on activities in class. Ideally, I would like to help students improve their argumentative writing and critical thinking skills. From a more humanistic philosophical perspective, the background I came from was not very diverse so I am very interested in learning about the different cultures. I believe there is a huge importance in being culturally literate and knowing about the values and beautiful things in cultures around the world. I also look forward to professional growth. I’m throwing myself into trying to come up with more assignment ideas for my students, as well as different ways to approach teaching them.”
Ms. Diaz offers a more personal goal, which actually also caters to many of the student body. “At the start of the semester, my students and I agreed to always bring our “whole selves” to the classroom. So, while this might sound funny, my central goal this year at IMSA is to step back and say no. In the past, I’ve been the person who always said yes to the extra event, role, responsibility, class, student club, whatever–I learned a lot but exhausted myself with new duties. At this point in my teaching career, I want to bring my whole self, not expend my whole self. I hope to simply be who I am as a teacher and share my passion for literature and language with students in the ways I know I can–sincerely, enthusiastically, and funly (yes, I mean that).”
When asked about what advice they have for future teachers, Dr. Buck said, “I’m learning more from them at this point, so I can’t say anything at the moment. I guess one would be to try to come up with a way to wake up the students who come in after class for lunch.” I’m sure many teachers can relate to having dry students after lunch, so this is a great piece of advice for them. Ms. Diaz says to “remember to be creative and experiment. Be bold. Do new things. Teach to transform.” This advice also ties in with what Dr. Buck proposed. Perhaps creative assignments will wake up every other teacher’s 5th mod class and encourage them to participate more!
The first quarter of school has clearly gone by fast for everyone, not only the teachers. Nonetheless, just as the new teachers, staff, principals, and students adapt to their first year at IMSA, it’s equally important to pause and reflect. This applies to not only new faculty, but all the other teachers, juniors, and seniors as well. It’s only the beginning of the year, and it’s an excellent opportunity to deepen self-awareness and explore the various facets that make you you.