This is the third installment of Coffee Chats, where The Paly Voice gets to know Paly staff members over a cup of coffee.
The Paly Voice sat down with math teacher William Friebel over a latte to discuss his transition from student to teacher at Palo Alto High School on Jan. 14.
This is Friebel’s third year teaching math to students of all grade levels. Following in the footsteps of his mother, Friebel grew up in Palo Alto and was a student at Paly, along with his brother. Many of Friebel’s teachers are still a part of the faculty today, including the current instructional supervisor of the Math Department, Radu Toma, who was his former teacher adviser.
He was also taught by current math teachers Scott Friedland and Arne Lim and history teacher Steve Foug, according to Friebel.
Despite the fact that Friebel was a former student, he says the Paly staff has created a welcoming environment.
“Everyone else treats you like you’re a regular colleague,” Friebel said. “We were all peers instantly and so it was never weird. Even the first day it wasn’t weird.”
Friebel says he also enjoys how collaborative and caring Paly’s Math Department is.
“The math department is very supportive of each other,” Friebel said. “It has a very family feel, which you might not necessarily know as a student, but as a teacher it honestly does feel like everyone does care about you and you can talk about whatever’s bothering you.”
Friebel maintained an interest in math during high school, however, attending Whitman College in Washington allowed him to discover that he was fascinated by philosophy. After studying the subject for a few years, Friebel realized that the career path didn’t align with the life he had imagined.
“Philosophy is very analytical and argument based and it seemed appropriate for a law-type profession,” Friebel said. “I started interviewing and after a while I realized it wasn’t something I wanted to do. It didn’t seem like it was for me.”
After college, Friebel decided to continue studying math and earned his teaching credential as well as a master’s degree in education. After tutoring elementary school kids as well as working at a juggling shop, he began teaching as a volunteer seventh grade math aid. According to Friebel, serving as an aid was how he discovered his passion for teaching.
“When I was in the classroom actually seeing what goes on, it made me realize it was something I seriously wanted to pursue,” Friebel said.
He started as a full-time teacher at Orchard Middle School in San Jose before switching to Paly. Friebel realized he prefers teaching high school students because he is able to make more of a connection with them.
“The students have real interest,” Friebel said. “You can talk to somebody [in high school] and you don’t have to talk to them so much as they’re a little kid. I’m still the adult in the relationship, but it’s closer to being on the same playing field.”
Outside of teaching, Friebel enjoys rock climbing, juggling and continues to be passionate about philosophy.
“When I was in school and read Descartes, one of the most influential thinkers of his time, he had such a crazy, radical idea,” Friebel said. “He did this thought experiment and came up with his famous quote: ‘I think therefore I am.’ And that was his first truth: I exist.”