Teachers were students once, and most say they didn’t feel nearly the same pressures as today’s teens

March 22, 2017 — by Lina Kim and Alexandra Li

Teachers share high school experiences. 

As a teenager in the 1990s, history teacher Jerry Sheehy spent his typical days in classes at St. Ignatius High School in San Francisco. Following class, he often headed the boys’ locker room to get ready for basketball practice. After three sweaty hours of practice, he arrived home to begin his large pile of homework and projects.

This busy schedule felt normal to Sheehy, who was used to balancing the large commitments to academics and basketball. But once he finished the four stressful years in high school, he realized that he was always focused on what he was doing in the moment, instead of considering his future.

When you’re in the moment, you don’t look too far ahead, which sometimes can be a bad thing because you don’t really see the big picture,” Sheehy said. “And then you get to college and you realize the world’s bigger, and you meet people from different places and broaden your horizons.”

From what he has seen in his 18 years of teaching here, Sheehy sees similar tendencies in his own students.

“Sometimes students spend more time building a resume than pursuing what they’re passionate about or what they like,” Sheehy said. “Some Saratoga students try to do it all, but you have to make some choices or you’re going to burn yourself out.”

In trying to maintain his commitment to his sport and his studies, he had to make sacrifices.

“In order to play basketball, you had to have certain grades, and I wanted to go to college, so I had to keep my grades up,” Sheehy said. “I was always busy, and there wasn’t a lot of time to think about other things.”

English teacher Carrie Bohls, who graduated in 2007 from McAllen High School in McAllen, Texas, has found some similarities between her experience and the students’ that she now teaches, including the scramble to go off campus for lunch. “When I was in high school, going off campus for lunch was a super ‘hip’ thing to do, because it meant you had money and a car, so it was always something you wanted to do,” Bohls said.

While many aspects of her high school career mirror those of her students, she said athletes, and especially football, was a centerpiece of the culture at McAllen, a team that sometimes competed for state championships.

“At my school, football was everything,” Bohls said. “It was a pretty diverse school, and we were really good at football, so there were a lot of kids looking to make football their way out.”

In addition, Bohls has noticed higher expectations set on current high schoolers compared to her experience. While her school was more mixed than SHS both racially and socioeconomically, she notes that their honors classes were around the equivalent of the college preparatory classes here, and it was also quite segregated.

“For the most part, it was white kids in the honor classes, and non-white kids in the non-honors classes,” Bohls said. “It inspired me to do something to change the system, but I ended up here and really liked it.”

French teacher Elaine Haggerty, who graduated from Leland High School in 1983, has also noticed the difference in rigor and expectations that her students face.

“I took [AP U.S. History] as a junior, and then I took Calculus and English as a senior, and that was it,” Haggarty said. “There are just so much higher expectations now. You guys are expected to not sleep.”

The pressure for students to attend a dream school has grown, according to Sheehy, partially because there is roughly the same number of colleges compared to 20 years ago, yet the number of applicants has mushroomed. Still, Sheehy believes that it’s not where one goes to college that matters, but what one will attain from the process.  

“You'll make your experience, you'll make yourself, whether you go to San Jose State or Harvard,” Sheehy said. “You can get a good education; you're the one who makes the experience.”

Haggerty recalls how she once got caught up in the process of attending her dream college, Stanford University. As a high school student, she pushed herself to achieve straight A’s, as well as to receive the honor of being a National Merit Semifinalist. But when six students from her school were accepted into the prestigious university and she wasn’t one of them, she realized that she was going to have to switch up her game plan.

She ultimately made the decision to attend San Jose State, where she became involved with the French program, leading her to study abroad in France for a year and realize that teaching French was her passion.

Although it wasn’t exactly what she had dreamed, it led her on a path that worked out for her.

“When your plans don't work out, don't be too discouraged,” Haggerty said. “You don't really know where this new path can take you, and it could be somewhere great.”

1 view this week