Longtime English teacher set to retire

May 28, 2019 — by Marisa Kingsley

After teaching for 30 years at the school, English teacher Cathy Head has announced that she will retire at the end of this school year.  

During her time here, Head has taught a wide variety of grade levels: the freshmen through English 9 MAP, English 9 and English 9 Balance (which seeks to emphasize the importance of maintaining a healthy balance between academic demands and life by minimizing homework). In addition to teaching freshmen, she has also taught other grade level courses: English, AP Lit and REPoRT, an elective based on research and writing and presenting.

Head began her teaching career fresh out of college in 1977 in the small town of Mountain Lakes, N.J., which she described as “much like Saratoga.” When she moved to California in the ‘80s, she taught at James Logan High School in Union City for two years before coming to Saratoga High.

Prior to coming to Saratoga, Head taught a variety of courses: journalism, American Studies, a grammar elective and a “sad little course” called College Prep Vocabulary.

When Head started in the fall of 1989, the campus and student body were much smaller, and she said there were “extra rooms everywhere.” She distinctly recalls a portable building in place of the library.

“It was really close to coming down. The roof leaked, and it smelled like moldy feet,” Head said. “The room on the end was just empty except for our total discography of books.”

Over the years, Head has seen many physical changes come about at the school, including ones to the 800 wing, which is now home to the student wellness center and was once the library before it changed to its current location 20 years ago. She also seen a large shift in ethnic diversity in the student body, saying that there were initially “a lot of blondes.”

When it came to teaching the students here, compared to other schools she had taught at, Head felt as though she could really find a balance between teaching students life skills and the subject matter.

“I have taught at other schools like Logan where you’re dealing with so many social ills that the ability to teach subject matter was seriously reduced,” Head said. “And here, we can teach kids life skills and teach the subject matter at the same time, which is rare.”

Head said that there has a been a huge change in the way she approaches teaching due the evolution of technology and social media’s integration into daily life, and has employed more visual learning into her classroom.

“Literacy with the internet became an absolute necessity; the ability to read a visual than see it,” Head said. “I had already started that, but that would be a major change [looking back on it now].”

Furthermore, Head believes that the concept of research has changed dramatically since when she started teaching, saying that it used to be based in finding the information and documenting the information, but with the internet, it evolved into teaching students about distinguishing between credible and non-credible websites and information.

Head said that aside from teaching the students, she has cherished the relationships that she was able to make with the staff, administration and students.

“There’s a strong sense of collaboration here that has developed over those 30 years,” Head said. “This really is where my friends and my family are.”

The Saratoga community has also found this to be true.

Sophomore Grace Stuart, who had Head for English 9 MAP, said that she always wanted the best for her students.

“She was always in her room during tutorial to help with writing skills, and give them positive criticism to projects and papers,” Stuart said. “I will always remember how happy she was to see her students do well in her class, even if they were struggling a bit with grades.”

Additionally, fellow English teacher Meg Battey, who has known Head for 18 years, said that she considers Head to be not only a great colleague, but also a great friend who brings out the best in people.

“I think she has magical fairy dust; she brings out the best in her students,” Battey said. “Even when students who might be having a bit of trouble and maybe lost their way, she is able to work with them in a gentle but firm manner to really make clear structure and expectations. I also think she brings out the best in her colleagues as well. All of us in the English department has had great collaborations with her.”

Head also was Battey’s mentor teacher when she first started after working at Mission Hill Middle School in Santa Cruz as a long-term substitute and really helped guide her through the ins and outs of the curriculum and course expectations. In recent years, she was offered a position to teach English 9 MAP with Head, which Battey said was one of her “best professional decisions.”

Battey said that one of her favorite things to do is to sit down with Head and nominate freshman projects for SMASH’N, the annual MAP Oscars where all MAP students get the opportunity to share their projects and vote on which one they think are the best.

Similarly, Head said that some of the memories that she holds close have come from little moments.

“The most meaningful things to me are very small,” Head said. “When somebody stops by to say hello, or when a student who was struggling makes a turnaround in light of the many hundreds of students I’ve taught, those are some of my fondest memories.”

Although she is leaving, her impact won’t be forgotten by those who knew her.

Assistant principal Kerry Mohnike, who has worked with Head for 28 years, said that Head was one of the “best collaborators I have ever worked with.”

When Mohnike taught English, her and Head collaborated on countless efforts, including the creation of the integrated English 11/11 Honors MAP class and the Novel unit in English 9, hiring new staff and teaching classes on rubric development to colleagues in other departments.

Mohnike notes that Head’s caring personality and strong sense of ethics have served her over her teaching career, and that Head has greatly influenced and supported her.

“For years she taught both English 9 and AP Literature, and worked exceptionally hard at making sure student are able to go to the next level whether it be English 10 or college,” Mohnike said. “I will miss her camaraderie, her thoughtfulness and the acorns she brings me that remind me that students are the most wonderful seeds of possibility and every one of them deserves our attention and care.”  

After she retires, Head plans to volunteer at the local animal shelter or tutor at the library near her house in San Jose.

She said that she will miss the people here the most after she retires.

“When something happens and you think: ‘Oh I want to tell someone about that.’ I think about telling my colleagues or my students,” Head said. “I’ll hear something on the radio and think: ‘I’ll want to talk to my students about that because it’s going on right now, and I will miss that.’”

Despite this, Head said that she’s doesn’t want to be a teacher who lingers around and that she desires to build a community outside of Saratoga High.

“It’s impossible to replace such a stellar teacher,” Mohnike said. “Our only hope is that her influence will come through in curriculum and her dedication to the craft of teaching that she has modeled here during her tenure.”  

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