English teacher starts new again

Pope takes his experiences into teaching to give life lessons


He and his brother are visiting his older sister in Phoenix over summer vacation. His parents pick them up from the airport, and during the car ride home, they announce that they had moved the family to a whole new city. He starts high school the next day. It’s a small town where everybody has known each other all of their lives, and he’s an outsider.

School wasn’t for him. He didn’t see the point of it. Outside of English and music, he thought what he was learning was a waste of time.

Then he became a teacher.

And, now, after nine years as an English teacher at Stagg, Sam Pope is starting over at a new school all over again.

“I decided in junior high that school wasn’t worth it. I didn’t think I was learning anything there.”

He didn’t fit in. He did poorly in his classes, but participated in jazz, concert and marching band as something to “hold on to.”

As soon as he graduated from high school, Pope recalls that he thought he knew what he wanted to do. Music had always been one of his passions, so he decided to major in music performance at Modesto Junior College, aspiring to be a professional drummer.

Failing all of his classes, Pope eventually moved on to the Santa Clara Vanguard, where he continued his passion for drumming and hung out with friends in, what he called, an “easier version of life.”

The time he spent there “tested” him, and taught him his limits. Then, “something weird happened.” He lost the passion he had for playing the drums.

“At that point,” said Pope. “I was really lost.”

Then, for about two and a half years, Pope worked at the “most boring job you could imagine,” making labels at a printing press company, and after, as a FedEx carrier. To him, these jobs lacked a purpose.

During some time he took “soul-searching,” Pope realized “the people who really seemed to help me were the instructors.” These instructors, the ones who enlightened his passion for drumming, and the good teachers he had throughout the years, helped Pope find direction.

“If I could do that for other people, then that would be cool.”

With newfound “drive, purpose and motivation,” he started taking classes at Sacramento City College, and earned exceptional grades.

“I wasn’t at school because people told me I had to go,” said Pope. “I wanted to learn — I wanted to be educated.”

Pope decided he wanted to major in English, and applied to several California Universities, with Davis as his goal. On that list of applications was one to UC Berkeley, which he applied to “sort of on a whim.” Pope ultimately was accepted into UC Berkeley, and decided to enroll there, taking on his favored major.

In his first year of teaching at Stagg, he was assigned to teach a web class by a mistake in his schedule. However, Pope and journalism advisor Don Bott were excited about the class, and asked the principal to keep it. The computer tech class taught students web programming, but, “didn’t have any computers to tech.”

Pope’s Multimedia class came later.

Both Pope and Bott thought  the  multimedia class could help integrate the school newspaper, the Stagg Line, into the web era, and the class even helped to start the Stagg Online website that is affiliated with the school newspaper.

“That was basically the start of my involvement,” Pope said.

Throughout the years, Pope has continued working with the journalism program and helping out with the website. He even recommends some of his English and Multimedia students to Bott and steers them to join the staff.

Within his own class, Pope said he “spent a lot of time thinking about turning language arts into something that’s engaging.” He frequently asks himself questions.

What gets into a high school student’s way?

Do students get the point of this?

“It’s been a slow process. It’s slowly evolved over the years,” said Pope, commenting on the way he teaches his class.

Pope noticed that a lot of students are under the assumption that if you just do the school work, you’ll get a good grade, get a job and be happy, but forget that the main purpose of school, is to learn.

He recalls that in his first two years of teaching he just wanted to get his students to “be quiet and do the work,” but realized that the point of English is communication, and this method did not fulfill the purpose of his class. So, he wanted to find a way that focuses more on communication than doing worksheets. The musician in him, he said, made him realize that in order to learn something, you need to have “constant feedback, and lots of it as much as possible.”

That’s when he started using methods such as socratic circles, which allow students to interact more with each other– focusing on different topics that engage them to ask and answer questions– other than the teacher. Pope says that students need to communicate with one another, and socratic circles allow them to receive more feedback from their peers than he could give them.

JoAnn Sagaral, who will be a junior, is one of many students that believes Pope teaches more than just standard English, but says his students are the ones to decide what exactly they get out of his English class.

“To really understand, you have to pay extra attention to what he isn’t telling you,” she said.

The extent to what Pope teaches in his classes goes “beyond the curriculum,” a graduated senior Jannetha Thon said.

“He really makes us think deep about what we’re reading, and helps us focus on the bigger picture.”

Sagaral feels pressured to go into a profession that is considered highly of, such as a doctor, and feels discouraged to pursue her real passions. She says Pope’s teachings relieves students from having to face and live up to those unrealistic expectations.

”It’s so relieving to know that we don’t have to become the perfection that most teachers rant about,” said Sagaral. “He reassures that it’s better to find yourself first rather than to live what others expect of you.”

“I don’t expect students to have a plan and know what to do,” said Pope. “ I didn’t, most others don’t, but they’ll figure it out.”

He gave Sagaral comfort, allowing her to realize that the whole world doesn’t lie on her shoulders, that she can still be something great without having to become a doctor. She can be great and be who she wants to be — a message that Pope tries resounding to all of his students.

“With students, there seems to be a lot of self-deception,” said Pope. “I want people to focus on just being honest with themselves.”

He will still be teaching his blend of philosophy with English at Roseville High School. His motive for moving isn’t work-related, but for his family. After a couple of trips to his soon-to-be new home, he realized it was a good place for a family, and with his two kids Olivia, 5, and Nolan, 3, starting school soon, he said the time was right to move.

He plans on keeping most of the aspects from the teaching style he has developed over the years, including socratic circles and literature circles. With the feedback he has received from his classes, he will continue refining his class. He’s excited for his plans on incorporating writing conferences to give more feedback on each individual’s strengths and weaknesses as writers.

All the excitement of starting at a new place with great ideas brings Pope’s nervousness about leaving his comfort zone and going to “a different place with different demographics.” He doesn’t know what to expect at his new job.

“I’m going from having friendships and good professional relationships to not knowing anybody,” he said.

However, Pope is no stranger to starting over at a new place as an outsider. Though, this time will be different. Pope is no longer the teenager who was unsure of what to do with his life. Now, he’s the one teaching those teenagers who are just like he was, and showing them that it’s okay to be unsure, as long as you always have the drive to figure things out.

“It took me a while, but I figured it out.”