After teaching at Palo Alto High School for nine years, student activities director and Japanese teacher Matt Hall will leave Paly at the end of this school year to pursue his dream of becoming a full-time Japanese teacher.
Hall, who studied Japanese in college and spent time at the Japanese consulate in Chicago, will begin teaching at Gunn High School beginning in the 2020-21 school year.
“I’m gonna be doing back to what I do best,” Hall said. “I want to be a Japanese teacher (and) build up a program, make a cool Japanese program at Gunn.”
Hall came to Paly nine years ago after having served as the director of the Japanese program at Silver Creek High School. According to Hall, Paly pushed him to become a better teacher, and envisions a similar process taking place at Gunn.
During his time at Paly, Hall was the Japanese One teacher in addition to his primary focus of overseeing student activities.
Among the myriad of events led by Hall, he said Spirit Week was his favorite.
“Nothing beats that Friday rally when the floats roll out,” Hall said. “(It) is usually the best moment of spirit week for me and the best moment of the year.”
According to Associated Student Body President Pooja Akella, Hall announced he was leaving Paly to ASB during a Zoom meeting on April 13.
However, Hall said that he applied for the job at Gunn and was notified he got it before Spring Break.
“I always wanted to be a Japanese teacher,” Hall said. “I was always looking if I could get a Japanese job. I thought that Hikida Sensei (the Japanese teacher at Gunn) would be working for a few more years, but she announced her retirement earlier than I thought she would and I applied for the position at Gunn and they selected me.”
According to Hall, another reason he applied for the Gunn job was to be closer to his wife, who also works at Gunn and is the student activities director there.
While Hall primarily came to Paly to work in the same district as his wife and take advantage of additional resources to teach Japanese, he built lasting relationships with many of the students he worked with on ASB.
Akella said she enjoyed her time working with Hall and built a meaningful bond with him over her ASB career.
“I’ve worked with Mr. Hall for all 4 of my years at Paly,” Akella said. “And he has been an amazing teacher, mentor and above all, friend.”
Paly economics teacher and close friend of Hall’s Grant Blackburn said Hall had strong leadership and his abilities as student activities director were unmatched.
“Everything he did was excellent,” Blackburn said. “He always strived to make sure everything was excellent.”
Blackburn considers Hall as more than just a colleague.
“He’s a badass, plain and simple,” Blackburn said. “A great friend, a great teacher and a great human being that always tried to do the right thing because it was the right thing to do.”
During Hall’s time at Paly, he and Blackburn forged a lifelong friendship that will last far beyond his time at Paly, according to Blackburn.
“He’s my best friend,” Blackburn said. “There is nobody I trust more, nobody whom I have more fun with and nobody I’d rather be with than him (except of course, my amazing wife). He is a man who I will know until one of us dies.”
Blackburn said there were many instances in which he had the pleasure of working with Hall, such as Stanford Parking, Homecoming, Prom and Baccalaureate, and said that Hall’s brand of leadership was a boon for the school.
“He single-handedly changed the culture on campus for the better by tirelessly working to improve student activities to make it more inclusive,” Blackburn said. “For changing the way clubs work and developing better systems overall so that students and staff work better together. He worked his tail off and he always tried to do his best, even when he was tired, frustrated and overworked.”
Junior vice president Chris Chen also praised Hall’s leadership and said that Hall’s vital knowledge of Paly was instrumental in discussions during ASB.
“He (Hall) had an insane amount of knowledge for nearly any precedent set and was almost a walking encyclopedia of Paly knowledge and policies,” Chen said. “I hope the new student activities director will be able to learn these policies quickly so we can maintain being an effective student body government.”
Akella found Hall’s fairness memorable, amongst his other unique characteristics.
“I’ll remember him for treating us all as equals in ASB, regardless of our position or prior experience,” Akella said. “And I’ll remember him for his meditation sessions at the start of class!”
Chen will miss Hall and his authenticity next year.
“I’ll remember him as a pretty genuine guy,” Chen said. “He is a pretty stand up (and) righteous dude. He is compassionate for his students and truly wishes the best for them.”
Hall does not think that his leaving will negatively impact ASB, and is confident in their ability to carry on without him.
“It’s not Matt Hall government,” Hall said. “It’s student government. If I died, Spirit Week would still go on. Everyone’s replaceable.”
Hall said that although he is excited for his new opportunity at Gunn, he’ll most miss his interactions with ASB officers.
“First and foremost, I’ll miss ASB and all the things we did,” Hall said. “Nine years of hardworking kiddos, I just felt like it kept getting better over my nine years.”
Hall especially lauded the current ASB team.
“This crew has done more new things,” Hall said. “Taken more risks, they’ve always done the right thing morally, their character is far away the best.”
Despite all the positive memories he’s made at Paly, Hall is ready to take his experiences as a Viking and apply them at Gunn as their Japanese director.
“When I came to Paly, I wanted to up my game at all levels,” Hall said. “And I knew Paly had the resources to let me do it. Now I can spend the last few years of my career at Gunn and apply everything I learned at Paly.”