Ready to Leave the Nest

Retiring AHS Teachers Reflect on the Past and Anticipate the Future

Caroline Lee

Staff Writer

As AHS prepares to bid farewell to its seniors, the school is also saying goodbye to longtime teachers Mr. Toft and Mrs. Sykes, both of whom are retiring this June.

Mr. Toft has been at AHS for twenty-six years and in that time he has taught ESL, 10th and 12th grade English, and Drama.  Teaching even before current AHS students were born, Mr. Toft remembered the time when the walls at AHS were nonexistent.

Mr. Toft talks to his fifth period English 12 class about George Orwell’s Animal Farm, while they work on a writing assignment.  Mr. Toft only started teaching Drama four years ago, but he said he spent almost as much time at AHS as at his own home.  “I plan to move, so I won’t be coming back here a lot,” Mr. Toft said. “ It’s strange though because I’ve been in this room [301] since the fall of 1995.”  PC: Caroline Lee
Mr. Toft talks to his fifth period English 12 class about George Orwell’s Animal Farm, while they work on a writing assignment. Mr. Toft only started teaching Drama four years ago, but he said he spent almost as much time at AHS as at his own home. “I plan to move, so I won’t be coming back here a lot,” Mr. Toft said. “ It’s strange though because I’ve been in this room [301] since the fall of 1995.” PC: Caroline Lee
   “I used to teach in the 700 wing,” Mr. Toft said.  “I wouldn’t go through the rotunda; instead, I would walk through the theater.  Thankfully, I didn’t have an open classroom or I would have been out of here already.”

Despite his dislike of the school’s design, Mr. Toft has come to love the people that he has met and worked with at AHS.

“I’ve always loved this place particularly because of the culture of the staff,” Mr. Toft said.  “Still, when I think of the students I’ve taught, my heart fills with love.  I’m going to miss feeling part of something really good.  I’ve always been an outsider; I don’t join things.  I really feel like I’m part of this staff and part of something I care about.”

Mrs. Sykes, who has been teaching science at AHS for eighteen years, also has that same affection for the AHS community.

“American has the best kids in the district‒‒in Alameda County actually,” Mrs. Sykes said.

After teaching at such schools like Mission San Jose High, Kennedy High, and Newark Memorial High, Mrs. Sykes found her home at AHS where she has shared her love of science with her students.

“I wanted students not to be afraid of science, but to love it; not by making it fun, but by making it accessible,” Mrs. Sykes said.  “I wanted my students not to cringe at hearing Chemistry and instead to say, ‘I’m majoring in English, but I enjoyed Chemistry.’”

Students who have had both teachers recognize the positive spirit Mrs. Sykes and Mr. Toft have brought to the school.

Mrs. Sykes discusses the materials and procedures of a lab with her AP Chemistry students.  Though she has been teaching both Honors and AP Chemistry for many years, when she first arrived at AHS in 1996, she also taught Integrated Science, which included Earth and Physical sciences.  “I started teaching here when the seniors were born, so we are all graduating together,” Mrs. Sykes said. PC: Caroline Lee
Mrs. Sykes discusses the materials and procedures of a lab with her AP Chemistry students. Though she has been teaching both Honors and AP Chemistry for many years, when she first arrived at AHS in 1996, she also taught Integrated Science, which included Earth and Physical sciences. “I started teaching here when the seniors were born, so we are all graduating together,” Mrs. Sykes said. PC: Caroline Lee

“Mrs. Sykes is definitely very passionate, especially about things like Reuse [Club], recycling, and chemistry,” senior Shantanu Patel said.  “She puts a lot of energy into everything she does.  Mr. Toft might be old enough to be our grandfather, but when you talk to him, it’s like talking to your peers.  He has a lot of interesting things to say.”

Though many retired teachers return as substitutes, both Mrs. Sykes and Mr. Toft have plans of their own.

“I’m going to surf a lot,” Mr. Toft said.  “Since I’m part of a band, I plan to spend more time playing music.”

Mrs. Sykes will also follow her passions, but she does plan to come back to help with the AHS science clubs.

“I’ll probably work with Education Outreach and continue helping Reuse [Club],” Mrs. Sykes said.  “Right after graduation, I am going on a cruise to Alaska and then I am going to the New York Maker Faire.”

No matter what happens next for Mr. Toft and Mrs. Sykes though, AHS will not be the same without them.

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