A new face for the math department


Cindy Nguyen, pictured, lays out all the materials on her desk for Geometry and Algebra 2 before she teaches the class. (Courtesy of Claire Chu)

Claire Chu, Staff Editor

    Monte Vista’s math department welcomed a new teacher to replace Amy Christiansen for her maternity leave in late September.

    Former math department chair at San Jose High School (SJHS), Cindy Nguyen, found an opening to be a substitute for Christiansen, who will not return for the 2016-2017 school year.

    After giving birth to a daughter and son, Nguyen understands Christiansen’s situation.

    “I felt sorry for Mrs. Christiansen… I met Mrs. Christiansen, who reminded me of myself when I was pregnant, so I just took the job,” she said.

    Nguyen, originally from San Francisco, attended UC Berkeley and received her master’s degree from San Francisco State University. She proceeded to become a math coach in the San Jose Unified School District to explain certain topics, management, and disciplinary issues to math teachers. After one year, she became a math teacher at SJHS, teaching Algebra 1 through Calculus BC for 16 years. However, her hopes were not always to study in the mathematical field.

    “I actually wanted to be a doctor. When I was studying for my MCAT [Medical College Admission Test], I met up with my old math teacher, and [she] told me to teach while I earn money for my degree,” Nguyen said. “I realized that I cared too much about my students to worry about my own future, so I forgot everything I learned at UC Berkeley and couldn’t take the MCAT. I loved it and stayed forever [teaching].”

    Nguyen lived in San Jose, but she found San Ramon Unified School District to be a decent district for her kids and moved to San Ramon. Coincidently, Christiansen was almost due with her baby girl, which gave Nguyen an opportunity to fill in at Monte Vista.

    “Sometimes it makes me feel really sad to go from a department chair and math coach to being called a sub, and it is really difficult…, [but] everyone was very welcoming, and they tried to make the transition smooth, so that I really appreciate,” Nguyen said.

    So far, Nguyen enjoys the math department’s system at Monte Vista. With her years of teaching experience, she understands that when teachers leave, students feel that their academic success is interfered. Katie Harmening, an Algebra 2 student, has reflected this change.

    “At first, when Ms. Nguyen began teaching, it was overwhelming and made me a bit pessimistic,” Harmening said. “However, once I accepted that this was the way it’s going to be for the rest of the year, I became more focused and was much more successful. Now, I really enjoy her class and her teaching.”

    To benefit students, Nguyen continues to use Christiansen’s syllabus to ensure that the students are not distracted with a new set of guidelines.

    “There would be certain things that I would add,” Nguyen said. “Because the students are used to certain rules, regulations, and expectations, I didn’t want to change all that. I want to make sure the students are only seeing a different face, but have the same expectations.”

    Geometry student, Thomas Kelly, admires Nguyen’s commitments to teach in a method that he comprehends during his freshmen year.

    “Ms. Nguyen uses the same style of notes and board to display homework and what we do in class,” he said. “She has done her best to make the transition between her and Mrs. Christiansen the best that it can be.”

    Though Nguyen utilizes class notes the same way all the other math teachers do, she has her own opinions on their teaching style.

    “I like that the teachers here are very well organized. They are very supportive of students, where they have notes ready,” she said. “But that’s also the part that I don’t like because it’s too ‘babying,’ and I’m afraid when the kids go to college, they will not know what to do. It’s good for students who are struggling and need extra help, but not good for students who are college-prepping.”

    Harmening had a difficult time converting the teaching styles from group collaboration to a lecture based format with real life examples. After her realization that it will remain this way for the year, she became more open minded about this adjustment and understood why Christiansen chose Nguyen to teach for the whole school year.

    “Transitioning from one style of teaching to another was difficult for me and for other students,” Harmening said. “However, after an unfriendly start, I like that Ms. Nguyen knows what she is talking about and can always back it up with an explanation. I love that she cares so much about the success of her students and makes time at brunch, lunch, and after school so that we can do our best.”

    The promise that Nguyen has kept for herself and Christiansen endures as the year progresses. She hopes that her current students will be able to handle years of math independently without her help, and Nguyen works hard to train her students that each day.

    “I want to make sure that the students who pass my class are well prepped for pre-calculus,” Nguyen said. “Then, even when I leave, I would be able to answer to myself as well as Mrs. Christiansen that I made a promise and that I’ve kept it.”