Earlier this fall, Menlo-Atherton High School English (AP) and English Language Development teacher Marei Kane was named the 2013 San Mateo County Teacher of the Year by Superintendent Anne Campbell.
Marei has been at M-A since 1998 and is as comfortable with her AP composition students as she is with students who do not speak English. “[She] is remarkable for her many skills and talents, but in particular, for how she meets the needs of all learners, scaffolding rigorous and engaging lessons for students of all abilities,” said the Superintendent.
M-A principal Matthew Zito called Marei “a true innovator and educational leader.”
We caught up with Marei, a world traveler who speaks five languages, recently in her classroom at the school.
InMenlo: When did you decide to become a teacher?
Marei: I guess when I was in my early 20s. I was traveling a lot in Europe and had a few opportunities to teach speaking German and English. That planted the seed, even if it was some time before I was able to figure out what I wanted to pursue. For awhile, I worked in a law office working on cases involving immigration law.
That suited my background. I was born in Germany. My parents came to the U.S. in 1964 when I was seven. I spoke no English and don’t remember how I learned English.
InMenlo: Why did you decide to become a teacher?
Marei: I was struggling to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I’ve always loved learning and also enjoyed the teaching I’d done in Europe. It was the combination of those two things. As a teacher, you have to be a lifelong learner who is open and willing to try new things.
I also have a bit of an independent nature. Teaching doesn’t provide complete independence, but I am able to create things and appreciate that aspect of teaching.
InMenlo: What has been the most rewarding thing about teaching?
Marei: I’m a very student-centered teacher, and really enjoy the learning and growth that you see in students from the beginning of the year to the end. And, I really enjoy interacting with students.
InMenlo: How difficult is it to bounce between your AP English and ELD classes?
Marei: It isn’t easy. You just sort of adjust. This year I have an AP class, then two EL classes and then AP again.
They are so different. I’m teaching basics in EL and critical thinking and much more abstract kind of things in in the AP classes [11th grade].
InMenlo: What would your students find most surprising about you?
Marei: I used to sing in a Arabic Music Ensemble and also used to dance. I studied dance for a long time, first Alvin Ailey-style jazz, and later some African and Egyptian style dance.
InMenlo: Any final thoughts?
Marei: I think there is a huge expectation that students should be good at everything. Sure, there are a handful of students who are, but most are not. The kids feel this pressure. I don’t know where this expectation is coming from, but I think it’s hard on kids and not fair to them.
Photo by Betsy Snow