Voice of the Week: Erik Olah

Kate Marinkovich, Author

erik olah
Palo Alto High School science teacher Erik Olah poses outside his home at Paly, the science building. Photo by Kate Marinkovich.

This week The Paly Voice sat down with science teacher Erik Olah to talk about northern elephant seals, Prom and Twitter. 

The Paly Voice: Tell me a little bit about yourself. How would you describe yourself in three words?

Erik Olah: I hate questions like that. Describe myself in three words? Well if you know if someone repeats the question they’re totally stalling. We can come back to that.

TPV: What’s your favorite marine animal?

EO: Probably the northern elephant seal. There’s a difference between northern and southern elephant seals. There’s a big difference.

TPV: Why the northern?

EO: Well that’s the one I studied when I did my studying of marine biology at Santa Cruz. I observed and studied northern elephant seals quite a bit. They’re not that different than southern elephant seals, but they are the one’s that I’ve seen.

PV: How do you like teaching seniors?

EO: Oh, it’s interesting. Seniors are fine, I’m used to it. It’s my third year teaching seniors so you start getting used to the pattern.  You kind of see them fall out, some sooner than others, some depending on when they get into college. But usually by this time of year the vast majority are checked out, so it’s hard to keep them focused. But that’s why with Marine Biology [class] I do marine mammals now, because I think that’s the thing people are most interested in, so I try to do the thing people are most interested in when it’s most likely they will be checked out of the class.

PV: What do you like better, Marine Biology or AP Biology?

EO: That’s a tough question. Marine Biology is my class, I designed it, I’m the only one’s who’s teaching it. It’s my thing, so that would be the thing I am most excited to do and always thinking about. AP Biology is great too, I am really enjoying that.

PV: When you go to the aquarium what’s your favorite animal to see?

EO: I used to really like sea otters, but they are always there. I don’t know if it’s my favorite but I always like looking at the sunfish because it’s like what the heck, what is that thing? It doesn’t look like a thing that should be. I don’t think it’s my favorite, but I like seeing it and noticing how ridiculous it looks. Also, all the parasites that are on it usually.

PV: Any words on the Paly boys’ basketball season?

EO: Pretty good season. We had a lot of seniors graduate last year, so pretty much all the guys on this year’s team had zero varsity basketball experience. Expectations might have been a little bit lower, but they definitely way overachieved and they did quite well. I think they definitely overachieved. It was a fun year.

PV: You have a pretty popular Twitter feed that’s well-read among the Paly students. Anything to say about that?

EO: Is it that well-read?

PV: You were just featured in the Verde.

EO: I’m always featured in the Verde. I don’t know. My thing with it is I know some teachers use it as a teaching tool, and I’ve thought about that, but you have Schoology for all your work stuff and you can look for that there so I just try to use it as an outlet to connect with students in a more fun way. If kids think it’s funny that’s great. I try to say a few things here and there that are funny.

PV: What’s your favorite marine-biology-themed pun?

EO: Whale, I don’t know. Let me sea if I can think of one. I otter do better than that.

PV: You recently helped a student ask another student to Prom. Do you like to stay pretty involved with the student community?

EO: It was fun. I went to Gunn and I don’t remember people doing those crazy fun things like that, so I think it was kind of fun to experience that. I mean I didn’t ask the person, but it was fun to be a part of that experience.

PV: Did you go to Prom?

EO: I went to my junior Prom but not my senior Prom.

PV: Did you ask the girl?

EO: I don’t remember. I think I didn’t. I know one of the Homecomings, actually both of the Homecomings, I went to I didn’t, the girl asked me. I was kind of lazy about that. But to backtrack, I didn’t go to my senior Prom because my sister’s college graduation was the same weekend. It’s not because I couldn’t get a date, I’m sure there were plenty of offers. Back to the Prom thing, it was fun. It was fun because it was a student I really liked so it was fun to give her a funny experience that she hopefully remembers. But that’s not the only one I did. I did a pop quiz question for a kid up on the projector. Another kid came in and sang, but I wasn’t really part of that.

PV: If you had one thing to say to the Voice audience, what would you want to say?

EO: I know that Paly can be stressful and that high school is stressful, but try to find the things you enjoy and focus on the positive and get the most out of those things.

PV: Specifically to seniors?

EO: Good luck. For the seniors, I feel like the college process is so stressful that it takes the fun out of getting into college, but I hope once fall rolls around you realize what a great opportunity you have. It’s fun, and you have a good opportunity to learn a lot. There’s so much you can get out of college. I hope you can get past the frustrations that are happening now and get to the good stuff.

PV: That’s really nice.

EO: I can be really nice.

If you know a student (or student group) who you think should be interviewed, please leave a comment below.