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New teachers elaborate on paths to Paly


This year, Paly has seven teachers who are new to this district. Here are their stories.

Margaret Deng Chemistry and Marine Biology

From searching for rock carvings in the heat of Death Valley to scanning volcanoes in Hawaii, Chemistry and Marine Biology teacher Margaret Deng’s love of geology has taken her to many corners of the world and eventually to Palo Alto.

Deng said her love of teaching emerged at UCSD, where geology professor Jeff Cook’s enthusiasm hooked her.

Deng also said she fondly remembers the teachers who inspired her to pursue science and hopes to instill this kind of an interest in science in her students. Most importantly, she said she encourages students to enjoy their time at school. 

“You can live your life and enjoy it while you’re a high schooler,” Deng said. “You can figure things out later. You don’t have to know what you want to do all the time.”

Lindsay Cohen English

Hidden from the audience’s sight, Lindsay Cohen beams with pride as a group of young actors she directed bows to the roar of the crowd. 

While attending Notre Dame de Namur University, Cohen, now in her first year as an English teacher at Paly, founded a non-profit organization to give more people the opportunity to get involved in theater.

While she doesn’t teach theater at Paly, Cohen said both directing theater and teaching English allows her to see the direct results of her coaching.

“You get to see all of that hard work,” Cohen said. “At the end of the year, you get to see this kid who’s grown so much from when you first met, so it’s very rewarding.”

During her time in college, she also taught English to incarcerated teenagers in a juvenile detention center. Cohen said she has brought the lessons she learned from them to her teaching today.

“What it really taught me was patience,” Cohen said. “It taught me understanding and taught me empathy. I really try to bring that understanding into the classroom no matter where I’m at.”

Idabelle Cunningham Algebra and Geometry

An unforeseen blunder jumpstarted Geometry and Algebra teacher Idabelle Cunningham’s path to teaching math.

During a math placement test at UC Santa Cruz, Cunningham accidentally swapped her college ID for her high school one, resulting in her having to retake the test and being placed in Precalculus. Having learned the material previously, Cunningham was at first uninterested in the course, but over time, her professor’s zest revived her love of math.

“Even though you were in a lecture hall with 300 students, they just had so much energy and compassion for the subject that it made me really like the subject,” Cunningham said.

While she originally planned to major in computer science, Cunningham’s newly sparked interest in math drove her to an internship, which later motivated her to complete a teaching credential at UC Berkeley.

Cunningham said the accepting environment at Paly as one of the reasons she decided to teach here.

“It’s like I’ve known these people for so long, and it’s only been a couple months,” Cunningham said. “I do really appreciate just how close they are and how collaborative they are. I don’t feel like I’m teaching alone; I feel like I’m teaching with my team.” 

Randolph Mercado Algebra and Geometry

Algebra and Geometry teacher Randolph Mercado’s interest in teaching emerged in middle school, when he started helping his peers with their math homework. Learning to work collaboratively with others later encouraged Mercado to become a teacher. 

Mercado said he hopes students enter his classroom with an open mind and are ready to persevere.

“I think that any student who has put in a good effort will take away believing that they are capable of doing at least a little bit, and that’s all I’m looking for,” Mercado said.

Today, Mercado said his favorite part of teaching is when a student understands a concept and realizes their capabilities. 

Mercado said, “Those are the things that you look for, and really keep you grounded and you going in teaching.”

Mary Haddad Biology and Chemistry

During graduate school, Biology and Chemistry teacher Mary Haddad worked as a part-time substitute teacher, which allowed her to work in different schools throughout California. While Haddad rotated through different schools, she said she found Paly’s environment particularly special.

“I would always ask the students and the teachers about the good and the bad of the school, and I was really taken with the way that students in this district kept using the word ‘community’ over and over,” Haddad said. “They kept telling you the other best part of being here is the people we get to be here with.”

In her classroom, Haddad said she hopes to foster the strong sense of community that first convinced her to teach at Paly.

Haddad said, “I really liked the way that students and staff talked about the community here, and I wanted to be part of that.”

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Isabella Bian
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