HAPPY RETURNS, PART 2: Ex-administrator now science teacher Mason Morris aims to build chemistry with his students
New science teacher Mason Morris likes to keep the chemistry going between him and his students.
That’s why in each of his chemistry classes, he usually likes to start off with a joke or inspirational quote – whether it’s related to science or not.
“I was going to tell you a joke about sodium and hydrogen but decided, NaH,” Morris recalled telling his classes during the third week of school. (NaH represents a chemical compound that stands for sodium and hydrogen – elements on the periodic table.)
One of the motivational statements he has shared with his students focused on the self: “If it is to be, it is up to me,” commonly attributed to William H. Johnsen.
Within the first month, many of Morris’ students have appreciated how the instructor mixes humor with chemistry or an inspirational quote from all genres.
“When I heard [the NaH joke], I actually thought it was funny,” said sophomore James Sy, who is in Morris’ first period Honors Chemistry class. “His daily jokes or inspirational messages made me comfortable with him by the end of the first week of school.”
Morris’ fifth period Honors Chemistry student, sophomore Cayenne Bagnol, agreed with Sy.
“I was kind of surprised when I first heard his jokes,” Bagnol said. “He’s funnier than other teachers and is interactive in class, which motivates me to do well in his class.”
Morris’ efforts to make a connection with his students isn’t anything new – he made an effort to talk with students during break or lunch when he was an administrator at Sunny Hills from 2016-2020.
In fact, from 2017-2019, the then-assistant principal dressed up as Santa’s elf during final exam week before winter break and sat on one of the hallway roofs during the break period.
“It was to give students something to laugh or smile about between their stressful finals,” Morris said.
But rather than continue as an assistant principal and perhaps aim toward becoming a head administrator some day, Morris said he made a decision to go back to the classroom as a science teacher.
“I wanted to have my summers back again with my family,” he said. “So I gave my notice that I wanted to go back into teaching right before COVID hit, which was around February of 2020.”
THE MOLES OF MORRIS’ EDUCATIONAL JOURNEY
Morris attended Sonora High School in 1987, and one of his key life experiences came from his own chemistry teacher.
Morris said he recalls Dr. Hawkins, his chemistry and life science teacher at Sonora High School, first introducing him to the excitement of the subject that Morris now teaches.
“His positive and kind influence made me interested in pursuing the career of teaching and education,” he said. “His dedication to students is something I strive for in my job as an educator.”
After graduation in 1991, Morris said he decided to major in psychology at California State University, Fullerton [CSUF]. However, he didn’t forget Hawkins’ impact on him as he also pursued a minor in chemistry.
Eventually, Morris said he earned a bachelor’s degree in CSUF in 1996, education credential for chemistry at National University in 2000 and an administrative credential from CSUF in 2005. Right after that, he started his first teaching job as a science instructor at Sonora, his alma mater.
“I felt as if there wasn’t as much demand for jobs teaching psychology,” he said. “So when I was first hired, I ended up getting my credential in science because I felt it was more of a passion than psychology.”
After teaching at Sonora for 17 years, he ended up transferring to Sunny Hills when he was given the opportunity to become an assistant principal of student services, working under former principal Allen Whitten. Before returning to the classroom, Morris said he also gained experience as an administrator overseeing student affairs and pupil services.
ONCE A LANCER, ALWAYS A LANCER
Instead of advancing his career as an administrator, Morris said he decided to return to the classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago. He was offered a position as a chemistry teacher at La Habra High School, his alma mater’s rival school.
After he taught there for two years, principal Craig Weinreich asked him last month before the start of the 2022-2023 school year if he wanted to return to Sunny Hills. A teaching spot opened when chemistry teacher Walter Haberaecker decided to resign because he and his family had decided to move out of state.
“I got to work with him at La Habra the last couple years, and he is an exceptional teacher,” said Weinreich, referring to his time there as an assistant principal before getting hired here to be the new principal in the middle of the spring semester. “He’s funny, gets great engagement from students and makes them really enjoy chemistry, which is a tough subject for anybody to take.”
Because he just started to warm up to La Habra, Morris said he struggled to decide between the two schools.
“It took me some time to choose at first if I really wanted to move to Sunny,” he said. “La Habra is a really good school, but in the end, Sunny Hills was a very special place to me.”
Sy said he has a unique style of teaching, which made Morris one of his favorite teachers.
“He was very energetic, and he does things teachers don’t do,” he said. “He tells jokes, and he even has inspiring quotes of the day, which makes him an adult I can easily talk to.”
Sophomore Kaylin Fichtelberg, also part of Morris’ first period Honors Chemistry class, shares the same feelings about the instructor’s humor.
“I like that he makes it fun, and he does more experiments than most other teachers,” Fichtelberg said. “The time passes a lot faster in his class than [in] other [classes].”
BUILDING ON THE ELEMENTS OF HOME LIFE
Outside of school, Morris said he enjoys doing outdoor activities with his two sons, ages 13 and 17, as well as coaching baseball.
“We enjoy mountain biking, hiking, boating, [going to] the beach,” he said.
Back in the classroom, Morris said he aims to teach Sunny Hills students as effectively as he did at his previous two campuses.
“I want to understand Sunny Hills more as a teacher than as an administrator,” he said. “Being in the classroom on a daily basis will help me understand and make better connections with our positive, bright and hardworking students.”
Besides chemistry, Morris said he wants his students to see the bigger picture.
“High school is a quick four years in your life – it is huge and memorable,” he said. “But it is not ‘end all be all.’ So, in other words, you need to have a little fun, and at the same time get the work done that you need to.”