Teacher Feature – Amy Serrano


By Nicholas Evans, Reporter

This week on The Daily Chomp we’re doing Teacher Features; interviews with different teachers all around Greenwood High School. For my interview, I picked my English teacher, Mrs. Serrano. She’s one of the nicest teachers I’ve ever had, and I wanted to know more about her. So, without further ado, here’s our interview:

So, I guess a good start would be to ask how long you’ve been teaching.

I have been teaching for twenty-two years January 8th.

What school did you start at?

My first ten years, or, eight-and-a-half years, I taught at Eleventh Street Alternate School.

Where is that?

It is in Bowling Green on, well, it’s on Eleventh Street. I think it may be called Jackson Academy now? But it was a school where… you know how when somebody does something at school that’s really, really, really bad, and instead of expelling them, they send them to this alternate school for forty-five days? So it was just an alternate place for students who had either violated a district board policy, or had significant behavior issues and were not able to be successful in a regular classroom.

Yeah, I think they also call that Lighthouse Academy now. How was that?

No, Lighthouse Academy is where people go who are academically struggling, and then that way they can go ahead and get credit recovery or graduate early. This was strictly, like, behavior intervention.

Oh, my bad. Well, either way, how was that?

I really, really liked teaching there. Most of the kids that were there struggled academically, so, like, there’s a point in a student’s life when they struggle with basic reading or math skills, so it’s easier to act like a jerk than it is to don’t know, and a lot of the kids we had there were the ones who were probably four or five grades below the reading level they should’ve been at. And the class sizes were really small; they were like the size of classes during COVID. So, they got more help and more things. But then, they hired a supervising teacher that I did not share an educational philosophy with, and I had to go find somewhere else to work, because, I couldn’t… I couldn’t work with someone that wanted to expel all of the kids instead of wanting to help all of the kids.

Can you tell me a bit more about that? Like, what were their issues; what do you mean ‘educational principles’ and expelling everyone?

Well, so, the headteacher the last year I was there… well, I don’t know– Nicholas, it’s one of those things where it’s like– and, you’re young, but, there’s going to be people you’re going to meet that… they don’t really work, but they just walk fast with a clipboard so that they look busy, but they aren’t actually busy. Does that make sense? So, she was that kind of person. She didn’t interact with the students, she didn’t teach classes, she stayed in her office all day, and she complained about everything; but the part that I struggled with was we were working at a school with kids who had some behavior issues. Some of it was related to home life, and a lot of times it would be explosive. So, you know, you could see when somebody was coming in that they were having a bad day, and if– you know those teachers that you have that if they say ‘hello’ to you and you don’t say ‘hello’ back, they chase you down and give you a hard time because you didn’t return a greeting?

I have not had a teacher like that, but I know what you’re talking about.

So, it would be that kind of situation. So, you know, a kid would come in, and his hood would be up, and he would be all huddled in on himself, and everything about him said, “Don’t bother me today, I’m having a day.” And, she would, on purpose it seemed like because it happened all the time, she’d somehow engage them or ask them with something, and then wouldn’t let it go so that they would get angrier, and then they would explode. Like, at one point I think she had gone up in their face and da-da-da-da-da until they would lose it, and then with the fight that she had instigated, she would take that student in front of the Board of Education and request that they be expelled from school. And it used to just make me so angry because, I mean, this is where we’re working, and, like, you could see he was not in a good mood, and why would you start something like that for that endgame?

Yeah, I can see why you left, that’s awful.

Yeah. And, well, there were only five people in charge so she made it very difficult.

Right. Well, you seem to be pretty passionate about doing teaching and stuff like that. Why did you start? Did you have any inspirations or personal influences?

Well, so, my original degree from the university was for speech and communication disorders, so I thought about speech therapy; but it wasn’t really speech therapy that I wanted, I wanted to teach at a deaf school. But I was stupid and got the wrong degree. I don’t know really what inspired me to be a teacher; I went through every same thing I think all young girls went through, like, “I’m going to be a veterinarian, that would be great,” and then I took biology and I couldn’t dissect a worm without getting sick, so then I think, “being a veterinarian’s not for me.” And then the movie Children of a Lesser God came out, and [the main character] was a teacher at a deaf school, and that classroom interaction piece really appealed to me. I was always a really good student, I liked school, it was the only thing I did when I was younger that made me feel successful. Like, I couldn’t fit in with social groups and I didn’t have a lot of friends, but I was good at school, and I had good relationships with my teachers. So, after I got my degree in speech and communication disorder, I got a part-time job as a speech therapist, and I spent two months thinking, “I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m stealing these people’s money.” I substitute taught for the rest of that year and really, really liked it, and went back to get certified to teach. And I think, in retrospect, I think I’m a teacher the some way people are priests. It’s who I am. Like, it’s just part of who I am. It’s not like a career, it’s not for the money, it’s just… I like sitting and talking to kids, I like listening to what they have to say, and coming up with creative ways to get kids who struggle to at least try and engage with the stories. I like stories.

Well, I know– of course, I went to Alvaton, and you used to work there. First off, what did you do at Alvaton? Because I still don’t know.

Yeah, so, at Alvaton I was a special education teacher. It was kind of the same thing Mr. McCoy does here, except probably more interactive. So, for kids who had a learning disability, which means that their IQ was normal, but their performance in a subject area is below normal. Like, say, my IQ is 100, that’s average, I should be doing really well, but I can’t seem to learn how to read, or I can’t do math calculations, I would provide interventions or modify the work, or the assignments, or the instructional piece in a way that would help those kids access the general education curriculum while going back and building their deficits, because usually it takes someone forever to qualify to get special education or special services.

So, I’m pretty sure after that you went straight to Greenwood, why did you make the decision to become an average, standard English teacher at Greenwood, rather than, say, a special ed teacher at Greenwood, or a normal teacher at Alvaton?

So, one, I’m only certified to teach reading at an elementary school level, and at Alvaton, everybody teaches almost all the things; does that make sense? Until you get into fifth or sixth grade, I think. So, the reason I looked for another job was kind of multi-faceted. So, one, that last year I was at Alvaton, my mother passed away, and that was a huge life change. Even when you’re forty-eight and your mom dies, you feel like you’re lost in the mall. Like, if you’ve ever been lost and you can’t find your parents? That feeling is the same, except it lasts forever. And then [my son] Isaiah was in sixth grade and was going to be leaving Alvaton, so, I… I wanted to be a teacher because I wanted to teach, and special ed feels a lot like tutoring, and I just wanted to get back in a classroom. And, I had never taught in a regular, general education setting, and I wanted to see if I could do it. But I only applied at Drake’s and Greenwood because I knew Isaiah was coming here, and there would be a limited place that I could go to get him to and from school because we’re out-of-district. So, I applied, and, for whatever reason, Mr. Woods did not even call me in for an interview, but Mr. Dunn did and offered me a job, and I took it.

Were your early years at Greenwood a little difficult trying to adjust from elementary school to high school?

It wasn’t that difficult because I had almost ten years of experience teaching at a high school level, except that at Eleventh Street I had ninth through twelfth grade in the same classes all the time. But, I had enough kind of material that I could pull on. I think the years that I worked at Alvaton made me a better high school English teacher, because a lot of the engagement strategies that they use in elementary school… a lot of teachers in high school don’t use, but I think that they’re effective, and I think that being able to incorporate those things make me a better English teacher. But my first semester was a bit overwhelming, because I had sophomores, freshmen, and seniors, so that was a lot of new material to try and sort of master; but I get better every year!

Okay, well, that’s definitely… good… I’m sorry, I’m not really good at responding to stuff like this.

It’s okay, I’m a teacher, so we like to talk about ourselves a lot of the time. It’s what we do.

So, complete topic change, where did you grow up as a child?

I spent most of my childhood and adolescent years in Cadiz, Kentucky, which is in Trigg County; it’s about eight miles from here. And there was a brief foray into California during my fourth grade year, because my mother was a lesbian, and growing up in a small town in Kentucky in the 70s and 80s when you have an alternate lifestyle isn’t necessarily where you can be who you want to be, the way you want to be.

It’s still not really accepted here now, but I’m guessing around the 70s it was definitely a lot worse.

Well, even in the 80s. It’s way more accepted now than ever when I was in school. So, we lived a little bit in Missouri, and I think my mom had just moved to Calfornia because California was always supposed to be that place, and supposed to be that place where you can ‘blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah,’ and we had went there, and it was nice. It was like an eight month tourism kind of thing, but it wasn’t my mom’s place. Like, you just find geographical places where you feel at ease and comfortable, and it’s where you feel at home, and she never felt that there, so then we moved back to Cadiz.

Well, not to sound like an armchair psychiatrist or Freud or anything, but how was your childhood? Like, what did you do, what were some achievements?

Okay, well, I’m a middle child, I have an older sister and a younger brother. I was born in 1969, and it was one of these things when people would ask, “what was it like to grow up with a mother who was gay?” And the only answer I would have for them was, “it was like growing up with a mother,” because I didn’t know anything different. Like, the first memory I have of my dad is he and my mom sitting us down and they were going to say they were getting a divorce. He didn’t live at home because he was a carpenter, so he wasn’t at home when I was little. But, we were poor, we didn’t have a lot of money, but we always found a lot of things that were interesting to do that were cheap or free. So, we had a lot of memorable experiences. I don’t have anything that I regret, or I’m sad about, or feel cheated from when it comes to my childhood. It was the childhood I needed to be the person that I am today, and, um, I don’t totally suck today, so I can live with it.

That’s a plus, yeah. I guess a similar question, but just skipping to the present day, how’s your home life? What do you do in your free time, do you have any specific hobbies?

No, I’m a… I’m a loser, Nick. So, my husband, José, is a first generation immigrant from El Salvador, we’ve been married for twenty-three-and-a-half years. We have two children together, Elijah and Isaiah, and then he had two children from previous forays into the romantic region. One is Mr. Serrano who teaches Spanish here, and the other one is Kevin, and he… well, you don’t know him. Anyway, for the most part, I work, and then I think about work, and I’ll mentally plan, and those kinds of things. And then I’ll read, I still play Candy Crush, (don’t tell anyone, don’t tell). I binge watch TV shows if I can find one that I like that has several seasons, and I’l just watch that until I’m through with all of the seasons; I now hate commercials because of streaming services. And then usually, I work and do ESS in summer school, but most of that is saving up for trips and vacation. So, I like to travel, it’s just expensive, and I want to go to new places that I haven’t seen before.

What are some places you like to travel to?

The favorite places that I have been– I really like South Dakota… because of the grasslands; it’s this huuuge sea of grass, and it helps you keep into perspective how small and unimportant you really are in the major scheme of things. It also reminded me of Mark Twain’s short story about ‘who’s got my golden arm,’ which was a scary story my mom used to tell us all the time. One-hundred percent, I’m pretty sure it took place in South Dakota. Last summer, the summer of 2019, we travelled to Europe; we went to France, England, and Scotland, and, one-hundred percent, I could live in Scotland, and I’d like to go back in the Winter so I can see the stars because it’s pretty far-north, it didn’t really get that dark in the summer, so I was totally upset that I couldn’t see any stars when we were there, even at 2 o’clock in the morning, because it was still relatively light in a weird way. The Grand Canyon in Arizona is interesting but I wouldn’t want to live there. That’s about it– I’ve been to forty out of the fifty states–

What states have you not been in?

I have not been in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Michigan, Wisconsin…, Louisiana, Hawaii, and Alaska. Maybe that’s thirty-nine states. But those are the states I’ve not been in.

Earlier, you were talking about how you binge TV shows so much to the point where you hate commercials. What have been some of your favorite shows to watch recently?

I just finished watching Showtime’s The Affair, it was okay. It’s got Dominic West, who was also in HBO’s The Wire, which, if you want to see a thing about institutional racism, it will open your eyes in a new way. I really enjoy Regency, like, period romance. Like, Pride and Prejudace by Jane Austen, Emma, that movie’s on HBO Now, I like those period dramas an awful lot. I like that time period an awful lot. I’m also watching His Dark Materials, which I think is based on the Golden Compass series, which is on HBO.

You watch a lot of HBO stuff.

Well, yeah, because it doesn’t have commercials. Like, if you watch Hulu, if you don’t have the right subscription, it has commercials. And then, the only thing I watch on, like, real TV or satellite television is CNN, and I just like to watch now and then to see if I should panic about anything. But I cancelled that whole service– like, we don’t have TV in the bedroom, so I only watch news maybe every other day, and I have found that it has really alleviated my stress level.

Right. Okay, well, uh, jeez, as much as I have been able to improvise questions today, I can’t think of anymore. Is there anything else you’d like to add or maybe tell to whoever might read this?

Like, your parents who are going to be reading it since you wrote it?

I suppose my parents, at least.

Well, I would say that… I’m at best in a social situation awkward, but I am who I am, and I’m okay with that. So I try to let every single student that I have be their true self, and if anybody disagrees with who or what that is, to… to defend them. Because I never felt like I fit in– like, I spent most of my teenage years worried about someone finding out about my mom and that being a huge thing for me at school, but that feeling of not fitting in and not being apart of a thing, I think everybody feels somehow, and I, just, I don’t know– want my students to know that I don’t care what other people think they are, I don’t even care what mistakes they’ve made. Everyday in every semester is a new slate, and you get to decide everyday who you want to be in my class, and I’ll just accept whoever that is. Does that make sense?

Yeah, it does.

So, that’s… I don’t know, other than trying to come up with engaging lessons, I think that’s the only other core foundational… the heart of my body biography [eluding to an assignment we did earlier that day] as a teacher, and it’s just… in twenty-three years, I’ve never had a student that I didn’t like. I had students who annoyed me; but there’s something valuable, and likable, and lovable in every single person, and you gotta keep your mind open to find it, instead of shutting it down and not looking.