Four key experiences made me who I am now and led me to my latest work. I graduated from Stanford’s neurosciences program in 1996 knowing that lab research was not the right path for me. I had that insight part-way through graduate school, and I was smart enough to start teaching as much as I could while still at Stanford. As I finished my PhD, I landed a job teaching Brain and Behavior and Chemistry an at excellent independent high school, Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco.
Becoming a full-time classroom teacher was a leap of faith, and I have never worked harder in my life, but I loved it and thrived. My students were amazing people—I realized even back then that these young people would be running the world one day (ie, now in 2018) and we would be better for it! I only half-joked, “If I ever need a job someday, I can always apply to work for one of you.”
I got a lot out of teaching both science classes, and Brain and Behavior was especially enjoyable because it was in my field and it related to my students’ lives. I taught all aspects of basic psychology, and I became really interested in the psychology of self-defense. One of my students, Lacey Mamak, recommended the new book The Gift of Fear (and later, Protecting the Gift) by Gavin de Becker to me, and that gave me new awareness of all the signs that we could learn that would help us prevent trouble before it escalated to physical violence. I assigned the book to all 3 of my “B&B” sections the next year, and discussed it with students in the school’s NOW chapter, which I advised.
I was happy to share this knowledge with the students before they graduated from high school, and at the same time, I felt concerned that these students, who seemed so powerful and worldly, traveling and doing community service around the world, actually had a hard time setting boundaries in relationships. I really understand much better now why it’s so hard to turn down honestly someone who asks you for a date, “I don’t want a relationship with you,” versus taking the softer position of “I don’t want a relationship right now….” Letting someone down easy can feel kinder and may even be safer in some instances, but I was really frustrated that my students felt so unable to set clear boundaries in their personal relationships. What would it take to help them do so? I set off on a journey that would lead me to Kidpower.
See what happened next in part 2 of “Where I am coming from.”
How did teaching shape me? After almost six years of struggling with the fact that I was not cut out to be a lab scientist, that it was a path that would never make me happy, it was glorious to find a job that I was good at and learn that I was a teacher at heart. This is a fact that I carry forward with me to this day, whatever I do, I am a teacher.