When history teacher Margaret Platt reflects on the series of circumstances which led to the beginning of her journey at MVHS, this is the first sentence that comes to mind:
“I just bumbled into it,” Platt said.
Come June 1, the door will close on Platt’s version of room C106 for the last time. The cabinet full of AP US History folders will empty, the Veggie Tales poster will vanish and the Al Capone mug full of spare pencils and erasers will disappear.
16 years after Platt first walked into MVHS as a history teacher, and 35 years after Platt first began teaching in a small school in Tulare County, Platt has decided that her teaching career has reached its inevitable conclusion.
“I still love what I do,” Platt said. “It’s a bittersweet decision. I know that’s trite, but it’s really true. I’m going to miss everyone, and the most important thing is, I’m going to miss my kids.”
When Platt began her undergraduate studies at Hartnell Junior College in 1973, she was still unsure as to what she wanted to pursue as a career. But the passage of Title IX in 1972, a federal law which mandated that every male sport in high school and college have a female equivalent, helped Platt decide what her teaching degree was going to initially be in: physical education.
“They had a girl softball team and a girls basketball team and we got uniforms, [we also] had a coach and a schedule, and we had competition,” Platt said. “And I thought, well, I think I’m going to try out for this, and I did, and I made varsity, and long story short, I also got involved. This whole new world opened up for me.”
Despite having a teaching credential in physical education, Platt was initially unable to find an open teaching position because of the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, which lowered property taxes. This resulted in many layoffs in schools across CA since the proposition changed the state of public school financing.
“I wanted to get a teaching job but no one was hiring,” Platt said. “So, lo and behold, I said, ‘Well, okay, I gotta do something in the interim’ so I got a job at Pepsi Cola Bottling Company selling Pepsi. I was the first woman hired in the San Joaquin Valley selling Pepsi Cola.”
Even though Platt made a decent income as an employee of Pepsi Cola, she still found that teaching was a more fulfilling career choice. As the economy began to recover in the early 1980s, she ended up finding a teaching position in Exeter, a city in San Joaquin Valley. She taught geography, physical education and even coached the varsity basketball team.
“After four years of teaching Physical Education and freshman Geography, which was a pain in the neck, I was like, ‘This is terrible. I gotta go make this official’,” Platt said. “So I took a year’s leave of absence and I went back to graduate school and I worked on a masters, and became an official history teacher with an emphasis in government, economics and history.”
Platt was then hired by Mendocino High School in Mendocino County, where she worked for over a decade.
“It was a great place to cut my teeth. I continued to coach. At one point I was an athletic director,” Platt said. “I worked, I taught government, economics. I didn’t teach World History but I taught US History. So those three disciplines. And I did that for about 14 years in this very small school. Most of the senior classes had between 60 and 70 kids graduate.”
Eventually, after a few years of teaching, Platt decided that she wanted to get married. Platt describes how she wanted to have someone in her life besides the world of teaching
“I met my husband and we began courting, but it was a long distance relationship. He lived in [the] San Jose area [and] I lived up in Mendocino County,” Platt said. “It’s a long distance, a good five hours. So eventually we said, ‘This is stupid. And we know each other well enough. We love each other. Let’s just get married’.”
Platt moved down to San Jose Sunnyvale, and she got married in the fall of 2001. While she was on her way to the gym in January 2002, Platt spotted the FUHSD office.
“Here I am in my gym clothes. I drive by and I see the FUHSD office. I’m like ‘Wow. Okay. You know, it’s time, I got to get in and start substituting’,” Platt said. “I hadn’t been working since I resigned a year ago, I had resigned in June 2001. Ehh, it’s probably time for me to get back. So let me go sign up to be a sub. So after I did my workout at the gym, here I am, I went in and said, ‘I’d like to sign up to be a sub’.”
Platt finished out the 2002 year as a long-term substitute and then began teaching the very next year, full time at MVHS as an APUSH, economics and government teacher.
Platt has made close friends with MVHS staff along her journey including AP Secretary Lisa Mueller, who have been friends for the last nine years. They initially connected over summer when they were scheduling for textbook distribution.
Mueller describes how she will miss the aura of positivity and joy that Platt brought daily to the office.
“She is always happy, she is always smiling and she is always positive,” Mueller said. “That is what I feel like I will miss the most. She comes through every day and walks during her breaks. … I will miss that a lot because a lot of times teachers don’t have time for that. I will miss that, I will miss that camaraderie whether hearing what she did over the weekend, what her plans are for the upcoming break and that sort of thing.”
Senior Gill Wang is currently a teacher’s assistant for Platt. She remembers her junior year APUSH experience fondly because of the sense of pride and victory that came with the class. She is inspired by both Platt’s energetic teaching style and the kindness she shows.
“I always looked forward to APUSH, I always looked forward to a new lecture she was giving or a video we were gonna watch or Commie quizzes,” Wang said. “Mrs. Platt was extremely nice and she would say ‘Thank you so much’ at least twice each day when I go in and help during my TA period. And I remember like every week at least one time she would give me like the big Kit Kats. I just really love Mrs. Platt.”
But, looking back on her career, Platt notes that the diverse population here, at MVHS, has also made her enjoy her teaching career even more as it has given her another perspective as a teacher, on the youth of America. She hopes to convey to her students that even though they all have their different backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures, they all have one thing in common— being American.
“I love where I teach,” Platt said. “I love for me, as a white person, that diversity, and getting to learn about you guys' cultures and hearing your stories but also recognizing that if we cut each other open, we all bleed the same red blood.”
With this commonality, a sense of camaraderie, that Platt has instilled amongst her and her students, another way she has reached out to her students is with empathy. She notes that MVHS has made her more empathetic and sympathetic towards people, through the challenges of attending MVHS, as well as personal problems.
“There are kids that I’ve had in class over the years that go through struggles that I can’t even imagine,” Platt said. “They face uphill climbs and challenges that I never faced, but I can sympathize with them, and in that way, I can encourage them. Teaching, I think has been a fulfillment of a calling. You don’t go into teaching to be rich. I really believe in my heart, it’s a calling. And so I think if I hadn’t answered the calling, I probably would have been incomplete. So in that way. I think that’s how it [teaching] shaped me as a person.”
Along with her ability to relate to the students, her teaching style will be another aspect that will be missed. Wang realizes that it was her teaching style which made her enjoy APUSH so much.
“For Mrs. Platt’s teaching style, it’s really engaging, and I think that changed me because it wasn’t just me listening to her talk,” Wang said. “It was me absorbing information, but at the same time also trying to process that myself. Listening to her lecture, I was able to process that and also think about the impact on history just in our lives, in the present.”
When discussing the points which made her want to be a teacher, Platt believes that God makes people to be certain ways. She describes how she believes that God gives people special gifts and talents, like encouragement, which she later began to teach. She knows that through her everyday actions, she knows how to help people when they need it.
Encouragement, a quality that Platt recognizes she has, is what made her become a teacher for 16 years at MVHS.
“I think I was I was born to be a teacher, I would have been a duck out of water doing anything else,” Platt said. “It’s not to say that there’s still more area for me to grow if I was to continue teaching. Teaching also I think shaped me in understanding how to be disciplined and focused and obviously, to be organized.”
But everything must come to an end eventually. Platt draws a parallel between her and the students here at MVHS in the sense that they are all tired. She mentions that the students drive for mastery is what energizes at work every day, but the decision she made to retire was bittersweet.
“Frankly, intellectually, I understand there’s an end to all things, everything for a reason, and I want to just end by knowing I gave it my all. If I slack, I won’t feel good about myself, ever,” Platt said. “I’ll always know that. And that’s, I think, why I wanted to know this is my last year so that I wouldn’t slack and I would give it everything I had so that I would never ever have any regrets.”
With the year slowly coming to an end, Platt reflects on her time at MVHS and mentions that the biblical phrase ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’ is something she would like to describe as her time at MVHS. Platt has no plans of coming back to teach and hopes that her life after MVHS will be filled with family, volunteering and establishing a new home for herself in Monterey.
“I’m just grateful to have been a teacher in public education for 35 years. MVHS has been the biggest blessing in my career, and I think probably, it’s in the top five as the biggest blessing in my life. I will miss people from MVHS,” Platt said. “I grew here, I prospered here, I think others grew and prospered in my classroom. I have many good memories and I plan to carry those into my twilight years. So thank you, Monta Vista. Forever a Matador.”