Diving deep into the pasts of Redwood teachers

Emily Block

For many students at Redwood, teachers’ lives outside of the classroom remain a mystery. However, every teacher has a unique path before arriving at Redwood, and their stories can offer compelling insights into the unpredictability of life and the various directions in which careers can unfold. In fact, it is important to recognize that with their diverse backgrounds, teachers bring valuable life lessons and advice into the classroom.

Mrs. Kniesche

Prior to her career teaching science, Mrs. Kniesche worked in fashion. Photo courtesy of Kelsey Kniesche

After discovering her love for science in a high school Advanced Placement (AP) Biology course, Living Earth teacher Kelsey Kniesche decided she wanted to pursue a career in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Later, she was a student athlete at the University of Denver, playing DI lacrosse while also on the premedical track. One of Kniesche’s professors advised her to look into public health programs, which led to her attending The University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) to get a masters in Public Health, Environmental Health Science and Epidemiology. There, Kniesche did research in neuroscience, but found herself questioning her career choices. “I hit a wall in science. I thought about it a little bit longer, did some interviews with doctors, and it just didn’t sound like a path I wanted to pursue anymore, even though I had been set on it for so long. I had this moment of asking myself what I wanted to do with my life,” Kniesche said. Kniesche had always been interested in fashion and found that this was a passion she wanted to pursue. She started working at a Nordstrom and for a personal stylist as a freelance consultant. But after a while, Kniesche decided she wanted to work in a corporate office and moved from Texas all the way to San Francisco. There, Kniesche worked at Athleta as a merchandiser and enjoyed the creative aspects of the career. “It was great getting to work with people who were innovative and liked to learn about customers, look at trends and analyze numbers. It was an always changing, very reflective, but also forward thinking industry,” Kniesche said. Once Kniesche started a family, she made a pivot in her career and decided to pursue education. Kniesche enrolled at Dominican University and got her teaching credentials. After graduating, Kniesche worked as a science teacher at Kent Middle School before making her way to Redwood. Kniesche advises her students to not overthink their future careers or life decisions, but rather utilize more opportunities.

“I think for some people they just know forever what they want to do and for other people it’s a very scary realization that maybe life is going to be very different from what you planned, but it turns out okay in the end,” Kniesche said. “It never hurts in life to have a diverse set of skills. I think it’s important to be open to new options and experiences and utilize any opportunity you have to learn about what somebody does.” Mr. Ryan

Mr. Ryan 

Before coming to Redwood, Mr. Ryan worked in a variety of technical jobs. Photo courtesy of Jeff Ryan

Right out of high school, English teacher Jeff Ryan’s earliest job was as a landscape gardener. Shortly afterwards, he moved to California and worked in a variety of technical jobs for many years, such as a job in a mailroom, an operations manager and a technical recruiter. After experiencing a wide range of careers, Ryan then went to Dominican University to get his teaching credentials while working at Trader Joe’s. After receiving his credentials, he was hired at Redwood and has been teaching English for 20 years. “I like to talk about books and writing. I think I am a fairly good communicator and an empathetic person. I think that combination of skills lends itself to this type of job,” Ryan said. Ryan believes that his diverse career path has been an asset to his teaching career, as it has provided him with interpersonal skills that have taught him how to deal with people of all backgrounds and states of mind. “I learned to not get too hung up on ego because teenagers can sometimes present [themselves] in a certain way in the moment when they are feeling defensive or vulnerable. I think having been through a whole bunch of different personalities with all those types of jobs, I don’t get too thrown by how students act,” Ryan said.

Happily posing with her daughter, Dr. Allan traveled to new places during her career at Redwood. Photo courtesy of Fiona Allan

Dr. Allan

From a young age, Fiona Allan’s love for traveling led her to explore global opportunities, from traveling to London and falling in love with writing, to crafting a bid for volunteers at Australia’s Olympic games. Allan first discovered her interest in traveling after a service trip to Ecuador through the Amigos de las Americas program following high school. This program allowed her to meet a new community of volunteers and experience a culture different from her own. With each place she visited, Allan gained greater appreciation for her life. “My favorite part of traveling is meeting new people. I have met some of my best friends from traveling,” Allan said. “Here in Marin people get really disappointed about certain things, but when you go and live somewhere else, you see the hardship or lack of resources. You realize that sometimes some of the disappointments we have here are really less significant than we think they are in a worldly environment.”

Allan gained this perspective after completing graduate work in Scotland. She wrote for a travel guide out of Scotland and then San Francisco. Eventually, she wanted to pursue her career in teaching and instill some of those worldly values in her students. “When I’m selecting texts to teach I try to make sure all the protagonists are bringing a new perspective to the students, and that the book takes us to a different place in the world,” Allan said.

The transformative paths that these teachers have followed illustrate the lessons and experiences that come out of curiosity and spontaneity. The route that one follows is distinctive to each individual, but ultimately it is those steps that lead a person to their passion.