A collage of the teachers retiring.
A collage of the teachers retiring.
Vera Tanas

Faculty Farewell: A final goodbye

Although many teachers are leaving West, several will stay in the district, teaching similar subjects in different schools. Others will retire or move elsewhere for various reasons.
Ellen Robinson with mitochondria and vials.
Ellen Robinson

After working in Colorado Springs for many years, science teacher Ellen Robinson got into the teaching profession relatively later in life. In 2019, she worked in a small charter school in Colorado where she realized her passion for teaching.

“It was really a calling. It was that thing that was just sort of laid on my heart; what I wanted to do,” Robinson said.

As a City High alum, she decided to move back to Iowa City to be closer to her family. However, because she only had a substitute license in Colorado, Robinson had to complete her teaching license to get a job in Iowa City.

“I knew even when I started working as a science teacher [in Colorado] that I wanted to get a standard teaching license. So I worked in that job for three years and then decided to move to Iowa to live near my family,” she said.

Although Robinson has only been at West for one year, she’s already made memories that will last a lifetime while providing valuable experiences to students.

“I think just seeing students that have maybe been avoiding class come to class. In ways that I’m not really sure why, but hopefully, maybe I encouraged them to come and they came,” Robinson said.

Robinson will continue teaching science but is moving to Northwest Junior High.

Ellen Robinson with mitochondria and vials. (Vera Tanas)
Amber Austin surrounded by books and pencils.
Amber Austin

After graduating from college, English teacher Amber Austin got her first job at West in 2002. She started as a success center teacher and English 9 teacher but later transitioned to teaching U.S. Literature (what is now U.S. Literature and Culture) in addition to her English 9 classes.

She stayed at West for 10 years before getting a Master’s degree in Library Science and becoming a librarian at the Grant Wood and Alexander elementary schools. However, when COVID-19 hit, she decided to come back to West as a language arts teacher.

“I just felt like I needed a change and it wasn’t ideal being a librarian from home,” Austin said. “My heart was in the classroom, and in high school anyways, so I was able to get back in and teach online all of 2020 and then come back the next year.”

Austin’s favorite part of the job is the role she plays in young peoples’ lives. Although it’s sometimes difficult being that person, she loves providing mentorship and educating students to be successful in all parts of their lives.

“Working with students [and] getting to try to inspire and sometimes it’s rewarding and other times it’s frustrating, but I will take all the elements of being an educator and planting seeds, whether it’s language arts and academically related or just motivating [them],” Austin said.

She also enjoys working with the rest of the staff.

“I love my colleagues, they inspire me,” Austin said.

Austin particularly remembers when she lost her brother due to a motorcycle crash in the spring of 2004, the staff and students helped her both emotionally and with logistical issues.

“Anytime you lose someone or have a tragic event in your life, you feel like ‘how am I ever going to exist after this happened’ or ‘how am I ever going to move on from this,’” Austin said. “But the amount of empathy and care and efforts that people made; my students and the staff drove all the way to where I grew up unexpectedly.”

After this experience, she realized just how special West High is.

“You realize that these people are like your family,” she said. “I have that energy around me to kind of make me want to come back to work and go on with my life.”

She reciprocates that energy as well, letting her students make friendship bracelets for her before she leaves.

“I decided to bring a whole bunch of materials so that my students could make me bracelets so that I could physically be reminded that they’re a part of what I’m bringing to a different location,” she said.

Although West High has made her who she is today, Austin will transfer to City to be closer to her kids who will go there soon.

Amber Austin surrounded by books and pencils. (Vera Tanas)
Rick Hancox with basketballs and hearts.
Rick Hancox

Located in Temp 7, Rick Hancox is a special education teacher and sophomore basketball coach. He was working off-site with groups of students who would thrive in a smaller environment when the district reorganized. Now, he works with students who need extra help in completing assignments.

“It was a transitional program where we tried to work with kids on some of their social emotional issues and mental health issues and academic issues and then got them back to their home schools,” Hancox said.

In 2013, he moved to West. Similar to his previous duties, he works with students to provide social, emotional, academic and mental help so that they can succeed at school and in life.

“Academically but more so with mental health issues. That for me, that’s kind of it’s a really important thing. I think it’s the invisible barrier of why some people aren’t as successful as they could be at school,” Hancox.

Although many students feel like graduating is a given, Hancox’s favorite part of the job is seeing the kids he works with walk across the stage.

“Watching some of my kids walk across that stage when knowing when they came in as freshmen, this was going to be a challenge and watching them kind of go through that,” he said.

Outside of the classroom, Hancox enjoys his time coaching sophomore basketball. He particularly recalls when the team won three state championships in a row. Although he was the sophomore coach, he still took pleasure in watching the team develop.

“I didn’t play a huge role in that but to have guys that you’ve coached throughout the years, be able to to reach that amount of success,” Hancox said.

Hancox will semi-retire while working at the Linn County Detention Center. He hopes that this will be a new opportunity to work with kids, as much of his time now is spent filling out paperwork.

“It’s been more about the paperwork [here],” Hancox said. I think this opportunity that I’ll be moving on to will hopefully allow me to get back to what I think I’m pretty good at, and that’s the actual teaching and having those classes that I’ve missed doing here for a couple of years.”

Rick Hancox with basketballs and hearts. (Vera Tanas)
John Reynolds with hammers and saws
John Reynolds

While he was at the School of the Chicago Art Institute studying sculpture and drawing, John Reynolds worked as a carpenter to make ends meet.

“During that time, I worked in the sculpture department and learned how to use all the tools to make sculptures,” Reynolds said. “Then I ended up using my skills, using tools to start working as a carpenter.”

However, shortly after finishing school and realizing he likely wouldn’t be able to make money working as an artist, his friend offered him an opportunity to earn his teaching certification. Reynolds moved to Iowa City, enrolled in the University of Iowa and received his teaching certificate from the art education program. Shortly after, he secured a job as an art teacher at City High.

Around 2016, Reynolds transitioned to teaching construction at City High when he convinced the administration to add a shop to the school. To convince them, his class built a storage shed next to the track, serving as both a logistical solution and the driving force behind City getting a shop.

“We designed it and built it, and we proved that there is a need for this, whether you want to be an architect and engineer or even do the trades,” Reynolds said. “That [adding a shop] became a no-brainer.”

Reynolds became the industrial arts teacher at West a few years ago, but split his time between City and West last year. Now, he leads the student-built house project, the first house to be almost entirely constructed by students. The Instagram page @iccsdstudentsbuild shows students designing and building the house at 724 Ronalds Street.

“I had the job of being the main instructor coming in, working with students, knowing students, [building] relationships and how to be a good teacher and things,” Reynolds said.

As Reynolds retires, he plans on coaching the next instructor and helping students find their way through construction.

“I’ll probably still try to dabble in the world of training young carpenters and builders and things like that,” Reynolds said. “I’m probably going to be working on the next house, but not as an official teacher but helping the new teacher.”

While his motive for getting into teaching may not have been as “noble” as others, he credits his long tenure to the bonds he builds with students.

“I jokingly say that one of the reasons I got into teaching was for the summers [off], but truthfully, the reason I stayed is the relationships that I ended up forming with students,” Reynolds said.

John Reynolds with hammers and saws (Vera Tanas)
Brad Wymer surrounded by DNA and leaves.
Brad Wymer

After going to the University of Northern Iowa on a football scholarship, Brad Wymer got his first teaching job in 1994 at West and has stayed here ever since. He has taught many types of biology classes but currently teaches AP Environmental Science and Biology. He was also an assistant football and track coach during his time at West.

Growing up with a father as a teacher, Wymer would come to school early and hang out in a biology teacher’s classroom, fascinated by the specimens in the room. Due to this experience, he wanted to become a marine biologist.

“He had lots of preserved specimens around and lots of things to look at, and I asked tons and tons of questions that broadened my interest in biology,” Wymer said.

However, through several interactions with kids, he decided to become a teacher.

“I had some experiences working with teenagers in a learning environment. I was like this is pretty cool. This is fun,” Wymer said. “And so I changed my major and it meant that I didn’t get done with college quite as soon but I felt like I found a path where I could have the best of both worlds; being able to interact with people every day.”

After graduating, Wymer applied first to West and got the job offer, staying here ever since. He emphasizes that the best part of teaching is watching students grow over the course of a school year.

“They finished the year way better than when they started. And that’s why I do what I do; is trying to get everybody to grow throughout the year,” Wymer said.

One of the perks of his job has been going on trips to the Galapagos Islands with students so they can learn about biology in a different environment. Due to COVID-19, they haven’t gone in a while, but Wymer’s final time chaperoning the trip will be this summer.

“It’s been being able to run the Galapagos trip and take students on that trip and being able to see their eyes light up in a non-classroom learning environment where they just get enveloped in the experience,” he said.

Wymer acknowledges that being a teacher is difficult sometimes, but by having patience and holding students accountable, it will all work out.

“Being a teacher’s not easy, especially the first two or three years there’s a lot of work that needs to be done in order to develop that understanding and that experience and how to deal with all the moving parts of being a teacher,” he said. “Don’t lower the bar, hold the hold the bar high [and] get students to chase that bar.”

Although Wymer has enjoyed his time as a teacher, he’s exploring other opportunities to find something else he’s passionate about.

“I feel like I’m one of the luckiest teachers in America because I got to teacher here for 30 years,” Wymer said. “I don’t want to just have a job. I want to have something that I can get passionate about. And that way, it’s like what I do now; it doesn’t feel like I go to work every day.”

Brad Wymer surrounded by DNA and leaves. (Vera Tanas)
Matthew Harding with soccer balls and physics equations.
Matthew Harding

Matthew Harding has worked at West High for 24 years, teaching Physics, AP Physics and AP Physics Two. 

One of his favorite memories is a special homecoming assembly that took place on the front lawn of the school due to construction in the gym, and how he thought it was cool to see all of the school in one place. Harding enjoys coming to work every day and seeing moments when students finally figure something out or try something new.

“Coming to work every day, particularly in classes where the kids are willing to push themselves and try to learn new things. That’s been very rewarding.” Harding said. 

Harding is heading to Liberty High, where he currently coaches the varsity boys soccer team. He will continue coaching there as well as teaching physics.

Outside of school, Harding enjoys repairing pinball machines and playing guitar in English teacher Nathan Frese’s band, Plastic Relations.

Harding’s parting advice includes: “Don’t be afraid to try something new, there are so many different activities and clubs and groups that you can get involved in here, and now is such a great time in your life to do that. Those opportunities are fewer and far between once you leave high school.”

Matthew Harding with soccer balls and physics equations. (Vera Tanas)
Jamie Sandhu with music notes and a speech bubble.
Jamie Sandhu

Jamie Sandhu has taught Spanish at West High for 17 years. Before working here, she taught at City High, Xavier and Linn Marr. Sandhu was inspired to teach Spanish by her high school Spanish teacher and loves her career to this day. 

“I just love Spanish and teaching; it’s so great. I’ve said to many people that I’m so lucky that I chose a career that I am still in after 30 years and still love it.”

Since her daughters went to West, Sandhu frequently hears stories from them about classmates who remember her.

“Whenever they run into people that they went to school with here, everyone always says, ‘How’s your mom?’

Outside of school, Sandhu enjoys singing and participating in local productions. She had a very musical family growing up and first started singing in church choir. 

Sandhu will be teaching an ELL class at Northwest Junior High next year, remaining in the school district. While she will miss her colleagues, students and teaching Spanish here, she is ready to try something new. 

 “I’m looking forward to that new experience and a new challenge.” Sandhu said.

Jamie Sandhu with music notes and a speech bubble. (Vera Tanas)
Andrew Durham with footballs and weights.
Andrew Durham

Andrew Durham has taught at West High for three years and has been in the Iowa City School District for 13. He spent three as a traveling teacher before moving to Garner Elementary, where he worked as a P.E. teacher before finally coming to West. Even before teaching here, Durham was involved at West High. He spent 16 years coaching West’s football team, as well as a basketball team. 

“Getting all the kids and seeing them succeed in the future is probably the best thing about what I do.”

Some of his favorite moments from his time here include playing the dome for football, as well as two football and four basketball state championship games he’s experienced. 

Outside of school, Durham enjoys sports, spending time with his family and reading. 

“I absolutely love anything that has to do with the brain, with sleeping, essentially towards health.” Durham said. “I tell kids in my class that anything you read is knowledge you gain and no one can take it away from you.”

Durham is currently reading “Deep Work” by Cal Newport and enjoys other books by Malcolm Gladwell.

Durham is moving to East Lansing, Michigan, and will miss the people of West High. 

“I will miss almost all the relationships that I’ve built, the solid students, all the teachers, the coaches that I’ve worked with, just everybody’s had an impact on my life whether they know it or not. I think that’s one of the great things about a teacher too is I can impact a kid that I might never know.”

Andrew Durham with footballs and weights.
Emily Carrizales with math equations and cats.
Emily Carrizales

This is Emily Carrizales’s third year at West High teaching AP Pre Calculus. She previously taught at Solon for five years and Liberty for three. Carrizales is a proud West alum, and that fact has been one of her favorite parts of teaching here. 

“It’s just been cool to come back and work with the teachers that I had as teachers,” Carrizales said.

Another favorite part of her job is doing math every day and hanging out with the students.

“It’s always interesting to see what kids bring at you, the stories they have and stuff they do. It never makes sense and it’s always entertaining.”

Outside of school, Carrizales enjoys baking, reading, watching TV and spending time with her family and her three cats, Luna, Lousie and Oscar.

Carrizales will be moving to Kansas City and hopes that people will appreciate Iowa City.

“Enjoy your time here. I’ve enjoyed all my time here.”

Emily Carrizales with math equations and cats. (Vera Tanas)
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About the Contributors
Yaya Orszula
Yaya Orszula, Sports Editor
(she/her) Yaya is a senior and this is her second year on staff. She is the sports editor and enjoys running cross country and track, making bracelets and rock climbing.
Vera Tanas
Vera Tanas, Copy Editor
(she/her) Vera Tanas is a junior, and this is her second year on staff. She is the copy editor and art editor for the West Side Story website. Outside of journalism, Vera enjoys playing soccer, listening to music, working on art projects and spending time outdoors.
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