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From Pupil to Pedagogue | Annie Lu and Amy Cheng

From Pupil to Pedagogue

(or CCA ex/teachers)

by Annie Lu and Amy Cheng

Check out this link to some of our very own teachers playing the Newlywed Game for our sakes!

Mrs. Melkonian and Mr. Van Over

“I did it! I did what I said.” For Mrs. Melkonian, becoming a high school teacher was a promise fulfilled. From even before she was Mr. Van Over’s world history student here at CCA to the day she became a CCA teacher, Mrs. Melkonian had always known she wanted to go into teaching. She said she thought she was going to teach elementary school “all the way up until I had Mr. Van Over’s class, which is what changed my mind… I wanted to be a high school history teacher after that point.” Mr. Van Over fell silent for a moment at this admission. “That’s the greatest compliment you can get as a teacher,” he said.

Like many students of our district, the four-by-four schedule was what sold Mrs. Melkonian on coming to CCA to receive a high school education during a time when Torrey Pines’ popularity was at its peak, and CCA was merely a set of building foundations and trailer classrooms. There were only 380 students in the first class, and they were always the oldest class in the school since new students started in grades below. This was “fun for some things,” Mrs. Melkonian said, but resulted in students lacking “upperclassmen to teach [them] how to navigate things,” so they looked to staff for guidance more than ever. Both teachers agreed that students and teachers were closer during those early years, thanks to smaller class sizes.

Mr. Van Over recalled Mrs. Melkonian as being “quiet, a little reserved, definitely—” “Shy,” Mrs. Melkonian mock whispered with a laugh. “I don’t know that I’ve heard you refer to me by my first name, actually,” Mr. Van Over realized, even since Mrs. Melkonian became a teacher. “I avoid it,” she said candidly. Each teacher has only praise for the other, from Mr. Van Over being Mrs. Melkonian’s catalyst for becoming a teacher to him saying “she’s a real[ly] strong teacher… Since I often get the product of her teaching, I can see that they’re well-prepared.”

To date, Mrs. Melkonian has the license to say “I told you so.” She explained, “My senior year, when [Mr. Van Over was going to become an assistant principal at another school], I said, ‘You’re making a big mistake. You need to be in a classroom with kids!’” He came back six years later—though he lasted that long, at least. Mr. Van Over chuckled at the memory and conceded that his rightful place is at the head of a classroom.

Mr. Happ and Mr. Shay

“It was the summer of ‘09.” The history of Mr. Shay and Mr. Happ starts off like a pleasant campfire story. Mr. Shay was first Mr. Happ’s Calculus 2 teacher at Grossmont College during a summer class. Since it was a college course, there was “more lecturing and less face time with students,” preventing the two of them from really getting to know each other.

Mr. Shay described his recollection of Mr. Happ as being among the top students in the class, though he doesn’t remember much personality beyond knowing his name. “Every day he came to class in basketball shorts and a T-shirt.” Mr. Happ defended his fashion choices, stating that he came to class “comfortable, ready to learn.” His memory of Mr. Shay was not so shiny. “I feel like he was a good teacher from the start,” he offered. “I’ve had some better and some worse, you know.”

Mr. Shay blurted out. “BETTER??”

“No no no, I’m saying—”


“I’ve had good and bad, you know what I’m saying, like you know when you’ve had like a class where you think, ‘This class should be good,’ or something…”

When Mr. Happ eventually finished his teaching credentials, the two fatefully reunited in a summer fellowship program where Mr. Shay was a mentor for newer math teachers like Mr. Happ. “So we spent the summer together, did a bunch of math together,” Mr. Shay recounted. “I remember walking in the first day, seeing [Mr. Happ] roll in, and going ‘I know you!’” Evidently, it wasn’t difficult for the two of them to adjust to a different dynamic, since “everyone in there [was] pretty much calling [each other] by their first names, as colleagues.” They got to know each other better then, said Mr. Shay.

Since Mr. Shay was already working in the San Dieguito Union High School District several years earlier, he let “[Mr. Happ] and some other teachers know that the district was hiring.” After a recommendation (from Mr. Shay) and an interview, Mr. Happ became a teacher at La Costa Canyon for a few years. When they dropped enrollment there, there happened to be a spot open at CCA, where Mr. Shay recruited him to teach. And the rest is history. “Here we are, back together,” laughed Mr. Happ.

Mr. Brown and Mr. Black

“The only thing that separates us is the difference in the color of our last name,” Mr. Black joked about his relationship with Mr. Brown. “Apart from that, we’re the same person.” Mr. Brown used to be a student at Earl Warren Middle School, where he went on school trips organized by his then-English teacher, Mr. Black. On Mr. Brown as a student, Mr. Black said, “He’s always where he needs to be when he needs to be there. He’s incredibly conscientious.” Mr. Brown’s impression of Mr. Black years ago was equally warm and fuzzy. “Mr. Black had a way of making every student feel cared about… That inclusiveness and warmth of character was what stood out to me as a seventh grader.”

During those years, Mr. Black used to joke that Mr. Brown could probably run those trips himself as a middle schooler; now, they really do run them together. Though it took Mr. Brown a while to get past calling Mr. Black “Mr. Black,” Mr. Black said, “now we’re good buddies.” To him, that the two of them can now travel together with their own students is part of “why you become a teacher… you hope to make connections with your students [on that level]… And then to travel—it’s what we always did together. I’ve seen more of the world with Mr. Brown than I have with anyone in my life… To be able to see [Mr. Brown] choose this vocation, to be good friends, to share his successes personally, it’s just amazing to see that as a teacher. You hope in your career that you make a connection with a student or two in that way.” He described how a passion for interacting with young people can be more important than an affinity for a subject itself. Mr. Brown agreed, mentioning his teaching philosophy of safety and inclusivity.

Mr. Brown brought up the push for wellness CCA has been trying to implement in recent years, and how both he and Mr. Black plan to teach the college application seminar class next year. Their goal for the class would be to make sure departing students really enjoy their senior year, rather than using “college apps” as a “six-month excuse not to do anything” with friends or family. To Mr. Brown, the application process “should be fun, life-affirming, like ‘this is who I am, this is what I want’… Not ‘this is all the stuff I did because they asked me to, because I thought they’d want me to do it.’” Mr. Black would be delighted to share this class with Mr. Brown. “Basically, we’re trying to have the same exact job for the rest of our lives,” he quipped.


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