McCrystal retires after 22 years in the science department

December 12, 2020 — by Shama Gupta and Christine Zhang

After teaching at the school for 22 years, science teacher Jill McCrystal will retire after the fall semester. She had planned to retire in June, but she opted for earlier to spend more time with her twin sister, who was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor in October and is immuno-compromised.

McCrystal began her career teaching chemistry as a one-semester substitute at Palo Alto High School. Afterward, she moved to Menlo School, where she taught chemistry, physics, biology and marine biology for the next 10 years. After that, she joined Saratoga High’s science department, where she has taught chemistry, marine biology, astronomy and environmental science. McCrystal suspects the school will hire a one-semester substitute teacher for her chemistry classes and another one for her marine biology class.

Among other activities in retirement, McCrystal plans to get back into playing the guitar, trail running, mountain biking, kayaking and rock climbing. She also plans to purchase a travel van to drive through deserts and mountains with her husband and continue her jewelry business that she started on Etsy in 2006.

Some of McCrystal’s favorite memories from her time at SHS are her educational field trips with students, especially kayaking and going on the annual field trip to Catalina Island. 

“The chance to see them in a different environment and to play with them rather than teach them was so much fun,” she said. “[Even in the classroom], students provide an endless supply of daily entertainment. I would love to tell some stories, but I don’t want to embarrass anyone!”

Senior Darwin Chow, who is in McCrystal’s chemistry class, called her class entertaining and energetic.

“You can always be yourself around her, which is something I never had with any of [my previous] science teachers,” he said. “She made being in online Zoom class really fun, which gives back to a senior year I lost.”

Before she started teaching, McCrystal had never imagined she’d become a teacher, but now, she said it’s “a career that I wouldn't change in a million years.”

“I love the diversity of the classroom, not just ethnic diversity, but the diversity of characters,” she said. “I take so much pleasure in the various personalities; I think I would just die if I were in an environment where everyone was the same. For me, there is nothing more satisfying than being constantly challenged to reinvent my view of the world through other people's eyes, and kids are really good at providing that for me.”

Cochrum said that one of McCrystal’s greatest skills has been incorporating new ideas and teaching methods into her courses and staying current with the times. 

“She is famous for doing exciting labs and demos — mystery black box, flaming chemicals demo, glow in the dark day  and star gazing nights on the football field,” Cochrum said. “Her students love how exciting she makes chemistry.”

For her part, McCrystal  said she has been “so lucky to have been part of a science department that gets along so well and works together so well.”

  While McCrystal said she will miss lesson planning and coming up with better ways to explain concepts, she will miss most the banter of the classroom and the relationships she has developed with students. 

“Thanks for being such a wonderful part of my life, SHS,” McCrystal said. “I was never bored! How many people can say that about their jobs?”