Orhan H. M.
This is the first interview of a new series based on interviewing faculty who attended CPS. As a bit of background, Jeff attended CPS from 1983-1987 and had Bosky as a teacher for one semester! After high school, he graduated from Princeton with a bachelor degree. Then, he attended the University of Chicago for his master's. Jeff decided to take a pause from academia when he decided to try teaching at CPS in 1993. He’s been teaching science at CPS ever since. This year, he is teaching sophomore chemistry and two physics-focused electives. Of course, huge thanks to Jeff for taking the time out of his day to do this!
Orhan: Did you have a favorite class/favorite classes when you were a student?
Jeff: Math came easily to me, and when I was a student there was no “i track” for math yet, so I kind of just rolled along through math. I also loved science and even though there was no required freshman science class, I took the optional introduction to physical science anyway. English and history were harder for me because I had come from a public middle school, where we hadn’t done any analytical writing like at CPS. I actually think that students are on average more prepared for CPS-style English writing, so I think that in general, those subjects feel slightly easier to current students than they did for my grade.
Orhan: Was the 4-block schedule the same?
Jeff: Oh no, not at all! Each student had seven classes in total, and you had all of your classes every day. Each class was about 45 minutes long. We went through a lot of schedules when I was a student; it changed almost every year I was there. But it was always every class every day.
Orhan: Were Common Classroom, Assembly, and Advising happening when you were a student?
Jeff: Well, there was advisory, but no CAP, so all the advisories had people from every grade. They had just started having senior advisors, but there wasn’t much structure around it so they kind of just did their own thing. There were no Common Classrooms, so we had two assemblies a week instead. We also had meetings called forums, which were kind of like the collective Common Classrooms, where the school would bring in outside speakers or performance groups for everyone to watch. Sometimes they were really good, but sometimes they were really boring.
Orhan: What about clubs? Were you a part of any?
Jeff: There were definitely clubs. Not nearly as many as there are now, but there were still clubs. The only club I really spent much time with was Math Club. The clubs were a lot more transitive and showed or disappeared a lot so it wasn’t super consistent.
Orhan: What about the campus itself? Which buildings are still here from then?
Jeff: I came into the school right after the school had moved from its original campus on Claremont Ave.
Orhan: Wait so this is actually not the original campus?
Jeff: Yeah, so the original school was a much smaller plot of land near the Safeway on College Ave. During the 80s, the school was getting too big for the old campus, so a couple of years before I came to CPS they switched to the current campus. It was very different from how it is now, though. The only buildings that are left are the auditorium and the main administration building. The campus ended at the auditorium and A1 (the freshman English room). When I was a junior they built the N building and the music building, and when I was a senior they built the art building. It wasn’t until 1991, I think, when they built the gym. The whole parking lot used to be dirt, the gully was way bigger, and the whole campus was lined with eucalyptus trees, so in the mornings it was always really shady. The entire campus was really nice during spring, summer, and early fall. A lot of the trees got cut down though, because they dropped lots of leaves and acorns, which were a huge fire hazard and contributed to the Oakland Hills fire in 1991. It's good that they cut the trees, but on some level I miss it. In 1999, they built the science building, 15 years ago they built the Scott building which replaced smaller buildings in that area, and then the Hill project was the most recent.
Orhan: What are some of your favorite memories from when you were a student?
Jeff: I made some really good friends here that I’m still in touch with now. I enjoyed the material from my classes, but my best memories came from just hanging out. I would go and play cards with my friends at a special spot during open times, and we loved to just talk about all the stuff we were learning in our classes. Whether it was chemistry or poetry, everyone was excited and wanted to share what they were doing in their favorite classes. It was really nice to be in a place where everyone enjoyed the learning process. There were definitely times with high workloads, but overall I loved it.
Orhan: Are there any other major changes you have noticed now that you are back as a teacher?
Jeff: Well, I think that we have always attracted a large population of students who like to learn and are fascinated by something. It may not be all of their classes, but they are passionate about something. I don’t think that’s
changed a lot since I was a student. But when I first walked onto the campus, there were maybe five computers on campus and nobody had laptops. Calculators in the classroom were also kind of a new idea. The internet existed, but it was nothing like it was today. Overall, there’s been a huge shift technologically. Also, when I was a student here, the school was kind of squeaking by because it had just spent a lot of money switching campuses, so we didn’t have a full custodial crew and all the students pitched in to clean the campus. Also, the college counselor was also a bio teacher, for example. There was just overall less general staff, so most people wore multiple hats.
Orhan: What made you want to come back as a teacher?
Jeff: First of all, I was a little desperate. I was in graduate school, but not happy. When I came back just to visit, the science department offered me a one-year job since they had an opening, so I took a year off from school to see how teaching was. I had enjoyed being a TA in grad school, so I figured I’d try it. After enjoying the first year, I decided I would continue as a teacher, so I told my graduate program I wasn’t coming back and fully committed. The next year was really, really hard and a little miserable; I had gone from teaching two classes a semester to four, and I wasn’t doing much outside of school. I almost quit, but I decided I just had to stick with it. I slowly got more comfortable, figured out how to ask for help, and socialized more and more outside of school. Sometimes I thought about leaving for another school, but whenever I thought about what kind of school I would want to work for, it always seemed to be an awful lot like CPS, so I stayed. Teaching is a good fit for me, I think.