New SCHS Special Education teacher Jeffrey Katz is ready to tackle the barriers of distance learning


Courtesy of Jeffrey Katz

Katz has taught in Mexico, San Mateo, Calif., and San Francisco, Calif. He hopes to keep his students engaged this year.

Special education teacher Jeffrey Katz is one of the new faculty members joining the Bruin community. Growing up in New York and New Jersey, Katz struggled in middle school until eighth grade, when he had two teachers who made a particular impact on him: Mr. Destefano and Mr. LaGreca.

“They sort of allowed for normal mistakes, and they weren’t overly punitive in their approach.” Katz said. “I was engaged for the first time in a while.”

Katz attended the University of Michigan, where he earned a bachelors in English Language and Literature. He said he worked a few menial jobs before beginning his 24-year teaching career. One notable job was working the night shift as a baker in Colorado, where he developed his hobby of snowboarding.

“I had the pass. It was cheap then: $300 for the whole year. I got around 180 days of skiing and snowboarding,” Katz said. “I was working nights at around 12-7 a.m., then I would snowboard. I would come home and go to sleep at around 3:30 p.m.”

Katz earned a masters degree in special education and a Special Education Credential from San Francisco State University. At age 28, Katz started working as a general education teacher in San Francisco but felt unprepared for the variety of learning types in the classroom.

“In San Francisco, there was a real diversity of language… and you throw in second language learners and all those guys have different acquisitions with it,” Katz said. “It would serve almost every public school teacher to have a special education credential.”

Along with teaching in San Francisco, Katz has taught in Mexico and San Mateo, Calif., where he taught at Sunnybrae Elementary prior to SCHS. Joining Santa Clara this year, Katz hopes to keep his students engaged in the material.

“You could create the greatest lesson plans in the world and you can be totally organized with your lessons and material as a teacher, but if a student’s not engaged, if they’re tuned out, if they’re not able to follow the lesson, what’s the point?” Katz said.

Katz believes much of the struggle to maintain student interest is an overall problem in education, especially during distance learning.

“I think the pandemic has just highlighted it and really stuck it into parents’ faces, the difficulty in getting students to engage with whatever that material is,” Katz said.

Katz believes he has been a successful teacher. He recalled a run-in with a former student who was working as a cashier and learned she was attending graduate school at San Francisco State.

“It happened so quick for a couple seconds at the register she was working, but when I was driving home from the store, I got a lot of nostalgia about her and that particular class,” Katz said.

Katz said he has had to deal with many issues this year as a special education teacher since some of his students have physical disabilities that inhibit them from accessing the technology. So far, Katz has arranged virtual field trips and virtual parties to keep his students engaged, which he feels is working well.

“Everyone is really friendly with each other,” Katz said.

Katz has enjoyed the SCHS environment even though he has not experienced a day of in-person school.

“I have a good vibe, and a lot of the other teachers that have been here for a while seem to really like it (SCHS),” Katz said. “I haven’t heard anything negative from any of the teachers, and everyone seems very positive about the school.”