The teaching passion of Alison Manchester
Manchester at work: “I like having dynamic classes, and when we have the chance to learn about the world, I learn from their ideas.”
When visitors enter Alison Manchester’s English classroom at Sonoma Valley High School, they are greeted by an array of student artwork adorning the walls, bookshelves scattered about and the pleasantly faint scent of cinnamon. It is fitting, of course, that a teacher so passionate about her job would create an equally inspiring and passionate environment for her students.
“I’ve known since I was 18 or 19 that I wanted to be a teacher,” Manchester said in a recent interview. “I didn’t immediately realize that you could major in literature, so when I found that out in one of my college classes, that put the bug in my ear. So I became a lit major. I knew I wanted to teach, and I knew I wanted to teach high school. It was what I had to do. I wish I could say there was a logical path, but there really wasn’t. It was much more than an impulse … you could call it a calling, call it what you will, but I can’t really explain it.”
This year marks Manchester’s 30th year of teaching English, and she revealed some of the lessons she has learned from students. “I’ve learned to listen better, understand complex lives, be patient and manage your time. I like having dynamic classes, and when we have the chance to learn about the world, I learn from their ideas. Everyone brings something different to the table and it’s a great dialectic.”
In addition to teaching English, Manchester also serves as the newspaper advisor for the SVHS Dragon’s Tale. She explains that the newspaper is a primarily student-driven, production-centric class. “I’m like the guard rails on the side of the road – I just make sure the students stay on track.”
She also explained that no two years in the life of the newspaper are ever alike, whereas in English, the curriculum is more directed and “the path is quite clear.”
Manchester’s impact on students clearly lasts beyond high school, as she frequently corresponds with former students currently in college and beyond. “On a professional level, it’s great to have feedback from the college students in regards to what we’re teaching in high school. But I also love having students learn from each other. Former students often drop into my newspaper class and talk to my newspaper kids about college and things they wish they had known while they were still in high school. I think that cross-generational aspect is great, and it makes for a very rich life, not only for students, but for people in general. It’s important to have a broad palette.”
In addition to teaching English and mothering two children, Manchester also loves to read, write and listen to music. “I love being outdoors, hiking and swimming. Last week, my daughter and I hiked at Point Reyes, out to the beach and back. But I also feel a need to frequent San Francisco and Berkeley, where I grew up.”
Manchester’s passion for teaching is obvious as she scurries around the room, vividly interacting with each and every student. “I just really love teaching. I love my students,” she remarked with a glowing grin on her face. Rest assured, the students of SVHS are in good hands.