English teacher Fiona Allan brings culture to the classroom

Greta Cifarelli

Living in multiple European countries as well as spending time in Mexico and Australia, Advanced Placement (AP) English Language and Composition and Essay Exposition teacher Dr. Fiona Allan is no stranger to contrasting cultures. Even though she has experienced many different lifestyles, she was born and raised here in Marin County and graduated from Tamalpais (Tam) High School. 

Allan first immersed herself in the world of teaching while attending Tam. She enrolled in a service trip to Ecuador through the Amigos de las Américas program and was given the opportunity to interact with the local community. 

“We taught English to the children in the village where I lived, and I loved it so much. Amigos actually propelled my life in a variety of different directions that all wove together in a really lovely way. So from that, I decided I wanted to travel, teach and write,” Allan said.

Because she was influenced into a career in education starting in high school, Allan adds personal anecdotes to her instruction to create more engagement among her students. Current student of hers, junior Sammy Wood finds her anecdotes very effective. Many of Wood’s teachers have not been able to share intimate experiences like Allan’s while giving lessons.

Courtesy of Fiona Allan
Allan explores her current home of Marin County.

“Most teachers give us the information that they know, but they don’t have the first-hand information,” Wood said.

Prior to teaching at Redwood, Allan applied to various graduate programs in hopes of studying creative writing—including the University of Glasgow in Scotland. While waiting to be granted a spot in the program, she taught in Mexico.

“I went to Mexico after Australia, and that’s when I started teaching more in an earnest and more serious way,” Allan said. “It really married all the things that I liked together: literature, being around people [and] writing. So in Mexico City, I actually taught English to the Mexican senate secretaries.”

Upon acceptance to Glasgow’s creative writing program, Allan was uprooted for yet another adventure overseas. Although she had already resided in multiple parts of the world, she found herself wondering what this experience would entail due to the varied portrayals of Scotland in readings and movies.

“Everything I read about Glasgow was pretty dark and some of the films that I had seen…it was heavy stuff. These things did not paint the brightest picture of the culture for somebody coming from Marin. So I thought, well it’s only a year. What happened was one year turned into 10 years,” Allan said.

Years in Scotland allowed Allan to expand both her personal and professional life. Not only did she meet her husband and have two children, she also spearheaded a creative writing program at the same university in which she received her graduate degree. In addition to earning her PhD, Allan was offered a teaching position. She educated her students on a variety of different courses, from writing to literature-based classes.

Her experience was not limited to her alma mater, as she instructed at some other colleges in the city as well, including a course at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow’s sister school. She also tutored students and helped with the University of Glasgow’s theater program.

Courtesy of Fiona Allan
Dr. Allan and her husband pose as he sports a traditional kilt.

Seeing the differences in education between the countries fueled Allan to pass her information onto her students. Wood found that hearing about Allan’s past was beneficial during their education unit.

“She tells a lot of stories about how [her husband] thinks America’s [education] system is so different and how we can improve. She [teaches] us [the] very big differences in the systems, and it’s kind of eye-opening,” Wood said.

After years of living in Scotland, Allan and her husband decided to settle down in her hometown. She was able to bring a hobby of writing travel guides for Fodor’s Travel Guide back to the States with her. 

“I checked in with [Fodor’s] and they said, ‘Yeah, if you move to San Francisco, you can write about San Francisco.’ So when we moved over here I knew that I had something in my pocket,” Allan said.

Beyond comparing countries solely during the education unit, junior Benjamin Cohen has learned more about worldly issues through Allan’s weekly discussions of current events. These conversations allow students to be in touch with the world around them, much like the experience Allan gathered from inhabiting numerous locations.

“[Dr. Allan] really wants us to know what’s going on around the world and not just in the little Marin bubble. I think doing current events really helps us because we get to hear stories that happen in China, in the U.K., with Donald Trump or with technology, and so we get a little bit of everything,” Cohen said.

Through Allan’s extensive travels, she has been able to experience the ways people live all across the world, something that she wishes everyone could have the chance to see.

“I think if you have the opportunity to see a different part of the world that you should embrace it,” Allan said. “To be able to understand the way other people live, to see and experience that, to taste the food and to hear the music and to make friends from different places enriches your life in ways that I don’t know if you can get by staying in the same spot.”