This is the second installment of Coffee Chats, where The Paly Voice gets to know staff members over a cup of coffee.
The Paly Voice sat down with history teacher Adam Yonkers over a cup of Americano coffee to discuss the impact of switching careers and his experience teaching at Palo Alto High School.
Yonkers has been teaching at Paly for 10 years. He teaches U.S. Government and Contemporary World History for 10th grade, as well as Foreign Policy, an elective for upperclassmen.
Yonkers grew up in Washington, D.C., and majored in marketing communications and public relations at Colorado College. According to Yonkers, he pursued those majors along with law until his early 30s when he realized it wasn’t what he wanted to do in life.
“I was really unhappy because I didn’t like the nature of the work,” Yonkers said. “I kept on going to bed reading these big history books and I was like, ‘I want to coach and do something I’m more interested in.’”
After this realization, Yonkers applied to Stanford for a masters program while working across the street at Paly.
According to Yonkers, the transition from business to teaching was somewhat smooth because of his past employment experiences.
“For my marketing communications background, I was writing publications and internal memos for businesses,” Yonkers said. “That’s what I do all day long [now]; read students’ work and the news, and try to synthesize that information and then try to teach it.”
However, Yonkers was surprised by how different teaching was from an office job.
“There’s a lot of other parts of teaching that I was not prepared for,” Yonkers said. “I mean, I don’t think you can be prepared for it until you teach. The cool part is this, you guys [students], the human factor. But the hard part is all the preparation and the grading and then the performance.”
According to Yonkers, Paly has positively changed since he arrived 10 years ago. When he first began teaching, Paly started at 7:50 a.m. and there were only two block days a week. Since then, Paly implemented four block days that start 25 minutes later and eliminated the zero period. Yonkers says that this and other new administrative policies have helped to improve students’ mental health.
“I think that there are a lot more outlets for kids that are in trouble and the mental awareness are available and that administration is a lot more open to that dialogue, so I think it’s better,” Yonkers said.
He also said that most issues students currently face are associated with the competitive environment.
“You’re a talented group of teenagers and you don’t realize that you’re in an actually really good position,” Yonkers said. “Once you’re out of Palo Alto, you’ll realize that you’re totally well prepared. But it’s hard not to get caught up in getting compared to others within Palo Alto.”
One of Yonkers’ favorite parts of teaching is when former students visit after high school and have gained a whole new perspective on their lives because of new experiences.
“You can have people tell you it’s this way and that way,” Yonkers said. “But you won’t know exactly until you really go through it and go out into the world and start to see that you’ll be well prepared,” Yonkers said.