It was just another day in her 15-person seminar, studying the work of Thomas Pynchon — and English teacher Jessica Kaufman did not realize what had transpired until after it happened. That ‘it’ happened to be a day she will never forget.
The story begins at Kaufman’s alma mater, UCLA, where she was in her last quarter to earn her English degree. James Franco, film creator, actor and college instructor, happened to be in three of her classes during this time, including the small discussion-based seminar.
“Then he was in, and this is the one where I actually spoke to him, my senior seminar, which as an English major at UCLA required to take a 10 to 15 person class, and it’s very, very small,” Kaufman described. “He was one of them.”
In terms of her first impressions, Kaufman had nothing negative to say about James Franco.
“He seemed nice,” she said. “Kind of a little spacey, but in that really smart way, you know. But he was, almost too smart.”
In the same class, Franco approached her and asked Kaufman if she would like to go out for coffee some time, to which her response was, “No, I’m okay.” Not thinking much of Franco’s request, Kaufman later told one of her male friends about what had happened to her.
“It wasn’t until later when I was telling a friend that I talked to James Franco when he was in one of my classes that I realized, or that my friend, my male friend was like, ‘you know he was asking you out?’ and I was like, ‘No. I did not know,’” Kaufman said.
To this day, Kaufman sees this as a missed opportunity, although ultimately she was not attracted to him. She had no real regrets of rejecting him, despite Franco’s high profile status.
Now with every new set of students, they learn about how Kaufman had the opportunity to have a cup of coffee with James Franco. Last year in her class, former student and junior Manish Malempati asked, “Hey Ms. Kaufman, what’s with the James Franco pictures on your wall?” To which Ms. Kaufman replied, “There’s always one student every year that asks me about those.”
In terms of the impact this story had on the class, there was a positive response from her students and it was something that many of them never expected. Former student and junior Annie Yang had changed her perspective on the strict teacher. She started the year off with an opinion something entirely different.
“Oh, yeah, but after she kept going on her story, I was like, ‘Wow, that’s actually kind of cool,” Yang admitted. “She seemed intimidating, but she’s actually a really chill teacher … and if James Franco approached her, then she must be a really down to Earth person.”
Malempati described how stories like these helped him and many of his classmates grow closer to Kaufman and made her much more approachable.
“Throughout that year, it was her giving us ways and the tools for us to bond with her, and not just through literature, but through her stories as well,” Malempati said. “When the teacher memes around, that’s when you know [they are] god tier.”
With that being said, Franco is no longer considered to be the high profile superstar that everyone once idolized. In January of 2018, fresh off of a Golden Globe award win, five women came forward on social media to report multiple accounts of sexual misconduct against Franco.
When asked about the scandal, Kaufman described her initial reactions when the story first broke.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Kaufman said. “I wasn’t, not because it was him per se. It could have been anybody in that particular scenario because I felt like, a lot of stuff now is coming to the surface about sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior, especially with men and power.”
At the same time, Kaufman is of the mindset that she just does not know whether she would have experienced something like if she had gone out on a date with Franco.
“It’s really hard for me personally to say that,” Kaufman explained. “I feel like this makes a lot of assumptions about a person that you don’t have anything to base that off of. But it reinforced my decision a little bit, but in a way that wasn’t relevant to it. I didn’t say no because I thought that of him at the time.”
Math teacher David Greenstein rode a total of 3,815 miles on his bike between San Francisco and Los Angeles for the AIDS/Lifecycle. This bike ride through California was organized by the Los Angeles LGBT Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation (SFAF) in order to advance their shared interest in improving the quality of life for people living with HIV/AIDS.
Greenstein was inspired to participate in this week-long ride by his friend who had contracted AIDS after visiting the dentist. Having AIDS during this time period was almost equivalent to a death sentence and there was much political turbulence surrounding this topic from the Reagan administration’s crackdown on the virus, Queen’s member Freddie Mercury’s AIDS diagnosis and the Civil Rights movement. SFAF helped Greenstein’s friend live with the disease and Greenstein decided to participate in the AIDS/Lifecycle bike ride after seeing how SFAF had contributed to his friend’s welfare.
Greenstein’s passion for biking and his desire to help his friend motivated him to complete this ride six times, in 1998, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009. Greenstein hadn’t been fond of athletic activity as a child, but when another one of his friends dared him to run in the college’s gym, Greenstein was inspired to lead a fitter lifestyle.
To prepare for the competition, Greenstein rode his bike a lot on different terrains.
“You just have to ride a lot. You don’t have to be fast,” Greenstein said. “You just have to do a lot of it. The people on the ride are wonderful because everybody is giving. When somebody gets a flat [tire], two or three people will stop and help out.”
His close friend and colleague of 10 years, math teacher Scott DeRuiter acknowledges the difficulty of Greenstein’s physical feat. When Greenstein told him about his experience, DeRuiter was amazed.
“It’s not something I think I could train for and be able to do,” DeRuiter said. “But it shows dedication to have a goal. He can dedicate himself to it and follow through on it.”
DeRuiter has seen evidence of Greenstein’s dedication to his goals not only on the 545 mile bike trip, but also through the innovative and time-consuming ideas Greenstein developed for the APCS class.
“One thing that I’ll say about working with Mr. Greenstein is that I am sure that [he] has made me a better teacher, just because he’s so knowledgeable in the subject matter that we share,” DeRuiter said. “So if he weren’t around, I know that I would be poor for it and I know that my students would be poor for it too.”
One of Greenstein’s students, sophomore Siddhant Patel, mentions that Greenstein’s bike rides also show his adventurous personality. Greenstein’s school website boasts pictures of him sitting with a panda in China and posing with his family in Cambodia and Israel.
“I do think he is a bit underrated — people only really know him for being [the] APCS teacher, but … he’s had tons of years of experience outside of teaching,” Patel said. “Inside the classroom though, many students love him. I love him.”
According to Patel, another facet of his personality includes Greenstein’s positive energy to the learning environment. For Patel, Greenstein’s happiness is infectious. Biking not only positively impacts his health about also impacts his teaching as it gave him more time to develop ideas.
“After the ride I was totally exhausted and I couldn’t see myself doing this again,” Greenstein said. “All I thought about was, [that] it was a great experience.”
During her sophomore year of college at the University of California, San Diego, science teacher Julie Choi decided to visit her hometown, Cupertino, during winter break along with three friends, Gerry Chen, Masa and Suzy. The four took Choi’s Toyota Camry, and though their drive to Cupertino was smooth, their drive back to San Diego took 18 hours.
On the way back, when Choi and her friends were near Bakersfield region, they faced an unusual weather condition — snow. Because this is something that rarely happens in this part of California, Choi and her friends faced many complications such as snow-covered road signs and closed gas stations. By the time they refueled their car and were about to continue their drive back, fatigue hit Choi, so she decided to let Chen drive, but due to a power outage in the area, Chen had taken a detour road that Choi described to be “sketchy.”
“It was one of those farm roads,” Choi said. “It’s almost like where you would imagine rice fields to grow and it was just weird. It was almost like one lane only for [cars driving both directions], and we basically couldn’t see anything.”
Shortly after, they approached the aftermath of a car accident on the side of the road, but nobody was there. The group felt it was unsafe to continue driving down the road considering the unsafe conditions, so decided to do a U-turn and drive back to the gas station.
However, what came next had Choi’s life flashing before her eyes. While in the middle of their U-turn, another car that had been driving very fast in the same direction as them was approaching with no signs of slowing down. The other car skidded and “miraculously stopped” in a perpendicular position directly in front of Choi’s car.
After each party acknowledged that the other was alive and unharmed, they shared a sense of relief and continued their own ways.
“[The moment] definitely felt slow. I saw pictures flashing by, like a reel of my entire life, just watching that,” Choi said. “But I think I just didn’t have time to process everything because I kind of knew what was coming, and I was too absorbed in the world of all my life flashing before my eyes to absorb [my surroundings].”
Choi’s reaction in this situation didn’t come as a surprise to her student junior Jiani Tian. Tian believes that based on her experiences with Choi, as both her friend and her student, Choi would handle stressful situations like these in a very calm manner.
“I think she would definitely stay calm and collected until she figures out a proper solution to the situation at hand,” Tian said. “I think it’s normal [she reacted this way], since her brain chemicals probably were kicking in and putting her into a state of shock.”
On the other hand, though Chen claims that both he and Choi would say that he is a very calm and collected individual, while this incident brought out another side of him she had never seen.
“Almost getting hit was quite scary, [and I even] yelled out some profane curses,” Chen said. “I had to react quite quickly or we would’ve been hit. Not to toot my own horn, but I clearly was the MVP, the hero, whatever you want to call it. But at that point enough was enough. I became worried about liability and insurance and let Julie take back over .”
In their group of friends, Chen is supposedly the type of person that the rest like to blame for everything — it’s a “joke” that exists amongst the group. In this particular situation, Chen was jokingly blamed for the incident, but they all understood that it was merely a circumstantial issue.
Chen agrees that in their group dynamic has always been this way.
“In this case we were all more frustrated at the situation and not necessarily at each other,” Chen said. “And in regards to me blaming myself, that seldom occurs. But that’s when I really acknowledge that I’ve made a really egregious mistake. Julie loves blaming me though, FYI.”
Choi developed a small fear of driving after the incident, but her friends felt rather excited since the news had spread among their fellow UCSD students. Choi admits that she didn’t like driving to begin with, but the incident taught her a lesson about lending her car to other people.
“[It was] definitely scary, a little eerie,” Choi said. “I don’t know if life changing is the right word, but it’s kind of interesting to be at the brink of almost dying and kind of coming back, so you’re given a second chance to do something. I didn’t really look at that and be like, ‘Oh, yeah, like I’m gonna turn my life around.’ But I think it was interesting to be in that perspective.”
Is my girlfriend worth it?
At the bottom of a spiral staircase of scaffolding 150 feet high, English teacher David Clarke thought about what he was being asked to do by his future father-in-law.
“It’s like, ‘What the heck do I do?’” Clarke said. “Because I have a horrible fear of heights. This was one of those moments, like ‘Are you man enough to do this?’ So I did it. I went up there, and it was one of the most frightening experiences of my life. And everyday we would drive in there and get to the base of that thing and I would continue to have to do that and it didn’t get any easier — ever.”
For the next three months, in the middle of a massive car factory, Ford River Rouge Complex in Dearborn, Mich., Clarke would work with fellow ironworkers to sheet the roof by standing on 12 to 18 inch wide beams with no protection. To Clarke, the steel complex — whose only living inhabitants were humans and rats — felt like a “dystopia.”
But the story starts in Yosemite, where he was working over the summer of 1984. It was there that he met his future wife, Maureen Johnston. They worked together and backpacked Half Dome, courting for about a month and a half before Clarke followed her to upstate Pennsylvania, where she was finishing graduate school.
Johnston said that the small town they lived in had little opportunity for work, so her father stepped in, saying, “Send him out here, I’ll put him to work.” And with his then-girlfriend still at school in Pennsylvania, and after dating for only a couple months, Clarke moved to live with her family in Michigan, working for her father at the River Rouge plant.
“My father had been [iron-working] since before I was born and my brother was doing it, so it was just something that guys did. It didn’t have the same kind of resonance or import [to me],” Johnston said. “It was only really later when he was telling other people that I heard more of the tests that he had to endure by going up. I knew he had to save face and do the thing of impressing the girlfriend’s father.”
The experience was very different for Clarke, who had been raised upper middle-class in California by two college professors. This contrasts with Johnston’s background, whose father didn’t graduate high school. Johnston remembers being nervous about this difference, and about what Clarke would think living with her family.
“I learned that he cared very much about me — that he was willing to go through these things that were incredibly foreign to him,” Johnston said. “Part of what I learned was how courageous he was, of even going and living with them. And what he did, climbing up and working with iron workers, [it’s] a very different kind of world than David was used to. I was nervous about him seeing that world and judging me about it, but he didn’t. If anything, it seemed to help broaden his understanding of the world.”
Clarke echoes this sentiment, remembering how most of the iron workers at the plant didn’t have high school educations. He said the experience served to humble him, and that he learned from the people around him.
“I was a complete outsider,” Clarke said. “You just gotta shut up. You can’t act like you’re superior because you’re not, and [the iron workers are] kind of defensive because they expect you to act that way. I learned a lot culturally. I think I kind of gained the respect of my future father-in-law, at least they didn’t kick me out of the house. But it was a strange experience, being up there.”
Sometimes, Clarke will tell his classes these stories and the lessons he learned from them. Senior Anjali Thontakudi, who had Clarke for both sophomore World Core and senior AP Literature, says that these short anecdotes from his life provide interesting perspectives she’s not normally exposed to.
“They’re pretty insightful and they’re fun to listen to because growing up in the Bay Area, we don’t experience most of these things, like living as a steelworker — a low paying job that’s mostly hard labor — most of us would not do that or could not even imagine doing that,” Thontakudi said. “But the fact that he’s done it and he’s here teaching us about it, I think that’s pretty amazing.”
In 2008, “Twilight” blew up as a cultural phenomenon. The love story between a high school girl, Bella Swan, and immortal vampire, Edward Cullen, swept through the country, with the movie grossing $393 million in the U.S. alone. Where Edward Cullen enters this story is a bit more complicated.
In the same year, English teacher Melissa Wright started her sophomore year at University of California, Santa Cruz. In September, Wright and her roommates threw a party at their on-campus apartment about a week before classes began. Wright wanted to have one more chance to hang out with all her friends before classes began.
About 20 people came to her apartment — not a high budget party or anything crazy. She doesn’t recall if rap or alternative music was playing, but she knows her roommate must’ve been in charge of selecting it. Wright lived with five of her best friends, one of whom, Tina, had a life-size cutout of Edward Cullen that she would periodically move around the apartment.
Another roommate, Keely Murphy-Kern, who is now also a teacher, did not think fondly of the cutout.
“Oh man, I hated that thing,” Murphy-Kern said. “It freaked me out every time I walked down the stairs.”
By the end of the night, Tina and another girl ended up talking to strangers from the balcony, using Edward Cullen to try to coax people to come inside.
“[The party] was going great. And then two of my roommates drank a little bit too much and started yelling at people outside,” Wright said. “She was talking behind Edward Cullen and doing all these ridiculous things and my other friend was yelling at the other window, just asking people, ‘Hey, what are you guys doing?’”
Their voices caught the attention of the security guards, who had been patrolling the Knoll, a large field where people often went to smoke marijuana. Since school hadn’t started yet, Wright thought they would be safe from those watchful eyes, but her friends’ screaming gave the otherwise low-key party away.
Before they could get everything back in order, the security guards were knocking on the door. At this point, Wright knew that she could not hide. As the hosts of the party, Wright and her roommates opened the door while the others hid in the bedroom to avoid being written up.
As a penalty for having a party with illegal substances, Wright and her roommates each received tickets, were placed on academic probation, had to talk to the provost and were required to attend an alcohol awareness class.
“It made us much more cautious with what we did the rest of the year as we were certainly under a microscope,” Murphy-Kern said.
The class was filled with other college kids, and while Wright acknowledges attending the class was a logical punishment, it felt futile since drinking is such a common occurrence on college campuses. However, she and her friends were deterred from partying after this.
“We definitely didn’t throw any parties after that,” Wright said. “We did not want to get caught. It wasn’t like this huge rager party. It was just our close friends and we just got too loud and attracted too much attention.”
As a teacher, it can be hard for students to see a side of them outside of school. Senior Sureena Hukkoo, who is in her Mythology and Folklore class, believes that Wright’s personality shines through even in the classroom.
“I can tell she has a very big personality and that she has very strong beliefs,” Hukkoo said.
As a girl who never got detention or in any sort of trouble at school, being caught for throwing a small-scale party was a new experience for Wright, and a valuable memory at that. The group of friends believe that the experience, which seemed devastating at the time, ended up bringing a lot of people closer together.
“It’s a valuable memory,” Wright said. “I don’t regret it. It’s a valuable lesson.”
He would open up his jacket and he wasn’t wearing anything. He flashed me. [...] I didn’t know what to do. I [just] laughed.”
Spanish teacher Norma Abarca recalls her college years in Barcelona fondly. An exchange program at University of California, Berkeley allowed her to study Spanish Literature and Art History in the Spanish city. Alongside her two new friends from University of California, Santa Barbara, Abarca indulged in Barcelona nightlife.
“We would go out to the dance clubs ‘cause that’s what they did [in Barcelona],” Abarca said. “We would hang out with our friends and we would stay [in the city] until around five or six in the morning, sometimes later.”
Living in the nearby city of Tarragona, Abarca’s commute to and from Barcelona took place on the Renfe, public transportation similar to BART. The Renfe back from Barcelona quickly presented Abarca with more than just a means to get to and from home — that is, when another passenger had different intentions for the ride.
“There was this guy that would walk up to us — I was the only one awake though — and he was wearing this black long trench coat,” Abarca said. “I thought it was kind of weird. I guess he would just stand there and look at me multiple times. He would open up his jacket and he wasn’t wearing anything.”
Abarca remembers countering the indecent act with a laugh, a reaction that stemmed from her surprise. To that, the man reacted nervously, closed his trenchcoat, and took off from that section of the train. However, that didn’t stop him from returning weekend after weekend to flash Abarca and her sleeping friends.
Abarca later moved from Tarragona to Barcelona after picking up a job teaching English to businesspeople. No longer aboard the Renfe, Abarca expected to leave the exchanges with the flasher in her past. Wildly enough, that wasn’t the case.
“I was in the city and I was going to catch the metro and I see this guy and he looks so familiar,” Abarca said. “So it was about to walk up and say hello to him. Like, ‘Where do I know you from?’ And I realized it was the flasher guy at the metro station with his clothes on.”
Relieved that she realized the man’s identity before her approach, Abarca fled the scene and finally left the man in her past, only fondly recounting the memory as a staple of her exciting college years abroad.
As far as Abarca’s classes go, the Spanish 1 and 2 teacher doesn’t find the opportunity to present the story often, especially to her freshmen students. As a result, students like senior Ishaan Kavoori view Abarca solely as an educator in her classroom environment.
“I only knew her when she was teaching the class,” Kavoori said. “[My biggest impression was that] she was professional.”
However, guidance counselor Monique Balentine wishes to encourage closer student-teacher relationships, understanding the value of teachers sharing personal stories. But she understands why some teachers are on the fence about doing so.
“I think that teachers probably want to share more or feel like they could,” Balentine said. “At the same time, what is that student going to glean from the conversation in? Are they going to take away all the bad things that we don’t want them to necessarily do?”
While Abarca’s outlandish experience with the man on the Renfe mainly stays between her and her friends, the professional figure presented in class is far from being the sole chapter of Abarca’s story. Her thrilling college years stick with her until this day — even her memory of a laughably persistent flasher.