Q&A: Honoring Retiring Teachers

Bob Avzaradel — Instrumental Music Teacher

El Vaquero: When did you start working at Irvine High?

Avzaradel: I student taught here in 1986, and was hired to work here in 1993.

El Vaquero: What made you want to become a music teacher

Avzaradel: I have a passion for people and kids and seeing them develop and grow. I also have a passion for music, so that came hand-in-hand. I had such great experiences in music myself, and what I experienced growing up in bands and orchestras and I felt that it was something that I should share with others.

El Vaquero: How has Irvine High changed since you first started working here?

Avzaradel: There was a real interesting shift in terms of the people that created the culture to start with, and as they were leaving, I took it upon myself with others of my age range of trying to maintain whatever values that they brought in. In life, things are going to evolve and change—we didn’t have the internet in the 1990s so teachers and students crawled through the walls to run the cable for us to be the first school district to have internet. It speaks of the types of people that were here and I think all that still exists here—it’s just exhibited in a different manner. So far it’s changing with the times, it’s changing for the better but it’s a matter of us all making sure we maintain our values.

El Vaquero: What do you teach and what do you enjoy most about teaching?

Avzaradel: So I teach two orchestras, the Philharmonic and Concert Orchestra, the Symphonic

Meghaa Saravanan

band which is the middle band, Jazz Ensemble 1, a piano class, guitar class and marching band. I like all of them because in all of them, you see growth, you get a sense of what potential there can be and then you see what people want to aspire to be.

El Vaquero: What is a memory that stands out to you while teaching music or at IHS in general?

Avzaradel: One of the first times we had a jazz festival here was an El Niño year, so when we showed up, the entire parking lot was under water. I had a student that said, “I got you, Mr. A,” and went out there and cleared the leaves from the drains. It was just one of those character things that’s quite memorable. It was also pretty crazy to be in the opening ceremonies at the Olympics in Australia, taking 111 of our Irvine High kids and performing at the opening ceremonies in the 2000 Olympics, that’s a pretty big highlight for sure.

El Vaquero: What are your plans for retirement?

Avzaradel: My plans are to get bored, which I know will happen very quickly, and then get into hobbies that I’ve always had. I’m looking forward to going to Alaska again, I would like to go down to the East Coast—I’ve never fished there—so a lot of that. Spending time with my adult kids—my oldest is a teacher and bought a house up in Oregon so I’ll probably go spend weeks up there—and not have to worry about when I’m coming back. Of course, I’d still want to stay involved in music and education, so I’ll hopefully be a music coach at schools that are interested in having me; I’ll judge and do that kind of stuff. I’ll do it all on my terms, not on anybody’s schedule.

El Vaquero: What is one piece of advice you’d like to give to a high school musician or a student who is learning to play an instrument?

Avzaradel: There is no app that will make you better. There are apps that will provide you with good information and feedback, but anything worthwhile—whether it’s athletics, your studies or an instrument—nothing will replace putting in the proper amount of time and understanding that it’s not easy. But with proper commitment and dedication, you will improve.

El Vaquero: Lastly, is there anything you’d like to add?

Avzaradel: Kids need to not allow themselves to be defined by their grades or by the colleges they get accepted to. Way too much emphasis is put on those things and i think students need to start speaking up for themselves and realizing their mental health is the most important thing. Be a good human, be nice to people, don’t be a slacker and you’ll be fine, cause every college you get accepted into is a good college.

Cora Peck — Social Science Teacher

El Vaquero: When did you start working at Irvine High?

Peck: 1989

El Vaquero: What subjects have you taught?

Peck: Originally I taught a class called Modern U.S. History, but we also had a class called European Civilization at the time. I did one semester of Modern U.S. History and then shifted into European Civilization. Because we had two classes for World History: European Civilization and World Cultures, I originally did both of them until we shifted to World History, which was combining the two classes. Then I started teaching AP European History, along with World History most of the time.

El Vaquero: What made you want to become a teacher?

Peck: I had teachers who were inspirational when I was in middle and high school. Originally I wanted to teach P.E. because I thought I’d get to play softball and racquetball all day long. But when I had my history teacher, Mr. Sorder, when I was a sophomore, I decided I wanted to teach history.

Angela Rebolledo

El Vaquero: How has Irvine High changed since you first started working here?

Peck: Technology has changed almost everything that we do. Kids are still generally the same, but they’re much more knowledgeable in some areas, like how to use technology. But in other areas, not as much. Kids don’t come to us with the same base of knowledge that they had originally when they didn’t just have to google things. They had to know things on their own.

El Vaquero: What do you enjoy most about teaching?

Peck: Getting to teach a subject that I love. I’ll miss the history part of it, it’s what I missed when I was on leave. And interacting with students—they’ve kept me feeling young, though I don’t get the music or the Marvel movies. I guess I’ve just aged out of that. But I couldn’t have asked for a better situation in terms of kids and parents and staff. It’s just been great.

El Vaquero: What memory stands out to you?

Peck: I don’t know if I have just one—there are lots of different things. Doing Comedy Sportz was always fun. When I was involved with the softball team, they went to the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) semifinals in 2011. The CIF football championships that we won. The kids who went to the Olympics in ‘96 and 2000. Amanda Beard and Jason Lezak. Coming over to this building and opening it. That was exciting because the history department had always wanted its own building. Lunch with people in the department, both on and off campus. The retirement dinner they threw for me was nice. I don’t have just one thing that sticks out—I have lots of great memories.

El Vaquero: Can you tell me about your favorite moment from Comedy Sportz?

Peck: Getting brown-bagged for making comments about Jamie Lynn Spears. Brown-bagged is when you get a penalty for saying something inappropriate. Mrs. Freed was the Honors British Literature teacher and being with her, she couldn’t do Comedy Sportz to save her life. But she went out there and tried. She was just always hilarious.

El Vaquero: What are your plans for retirement?

Peck: People keep asking me and I always tell them the story of running into a former teacher one afternoon. He was sitting in the nice afternoon weather, reading a book and drinking a cup of coffee. I was so envious. That’s what I want to do! To take it easy and read with a cup of coffee on a nice afternoon.

El Vaquero: What advice do you have for students and teachers?

Peck: It’s high school. You don’t need to stress yourself out. You don’t need to take 20 AP classes. You’ll still go to college. Whatever helps you get to where you want to be in life is okay, whether it’s IVC or Berkeley. For the staff, try not to get too down about what’s happening right now. Teachers are currently being attacked. They’re being told, “Don’t say this,” or “You can’t say that.” I think those things will pass eventually but it may take a while. Don’t give up. We still make a difference, even if we’re not appreciated as much as I thought we would be after COVID-19. Keep hanging in there.

El Vaquero: Do you have anything else you’d like to share with students?

Peck: It’s been great to teach here. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to work at. I’ve been lucky; to have spent my whole career at one place is kind of amazing. I’ve spent over half of my life here and I haven’t regretted it.


Mandy Tucker — Visual Arts Teacher

El Vaquero: When did you start working at Irvine High?

Tucker: 1996 or 1997.

El Vaquero: What subjects/sports have you taught?

Tucker: Mostly Beginning and Advanced Photography. I actually started the AP Art History class here; I was the one who created it and the first one to teach it. I created the Computer Graphics class a long time ago as well. I’ve taught academic seminar, and in terms of coaching I coached [girls softball] from 2009 to 2011.

El Vaquero: What made you want to become a teacher?

Tucker: It wasn’t really something I was thinking of, although I come from a lot of teachers in my family. Early on in my career I was thinking more about making money which seems a little silly. Then I went into art, working in the photography industry for commercial photography. I actually ended up doing a lot of training and teaching other people; I found that I liked teaching others. It just so happened to be a period where we were going into a recession, and the commercial lab that I was working for was looking to lay off people. I kind of volunteered so I could go back and get my teaching credential. It was definitely the right decision.

El Vaquero: How has Irvine High changed since you first started working here?

Tucker: What I teach has changed tremendously. It was much more loosely run; teachers had more autonomy. Personally, I still feel like I have a lot of autonomy, but I feel like a lot of the other areas—even for AP Art History—[teachers] are now told what to teach. It wasn’t like that when I first started at all. The teacher was trusted to be the expert and come in and create their instruction. Technology was huge because it was all darkroom and we had no computers whatsoever. We did a competition in order to get three donated Mac desktop computers, so we started with three Macs. At that time we were all trying to figure out how to use the Macs, and it was the beginning of Photoshop. There were no layers, no history. Obviously a hundred updates later or more, it’s very different.

Angela Rebolledo

El Vaquero: What do you enjoy most about teaching?

Tucker: About teaching photography, one of my main goals is to get kids to slow down and pay attention to what’s around them—to be more conscious. I think it’s because after they’ve taken a semester or two, most students pay more attention. They look at things differently and I think that’s a skill that can be applied to other things.

El Vaquero: What’s your favorite thing or favorite memory about the darkroom, and how does it stand out from a normal classroom environment?

Tucker: It would definitely have to be every time that I teach kids how to make photos in the darkroom for the first time. It’s like that magical moment when they put their picture into the developer, the chemicals and paper react, and the image appears. It’s like, “Oooh!” Everybody’s amazed. A lot of times when I’m telling them, “You’re going to take your film out, and you’re going to go in that closet with no light whatsoever,” and all these things, they’re thinking, “I can’t do that, I don’t know what’s going on,” and then they always do.

El Vaquero: What are your plans for retirement?

Tucker: My plan is to first, rest. Once I feel rested, my intention is to do a lot of the things that I never really had enough time or energy to do—write, make art and travel. My husband and I live in our RV a lot and travel that way, so we’ll definitely be traveling throughout the country and especially along the Pacific Coast. I also have a little lakehouse in Indiana that I’m going to spend the fall in to be near [family]. I have one granddaughter and one grandchild on the way.