Checking in with Claire

Oct 11, 2019 | Features


he hot July sun beat down on the San Mateo campus as Claire Yeo approached her new office, feeling a tinge of nostalgia for her many years as an English teacher, when summer vacation lasted deep into August. Though she was eager for her new work to begin, it felt a bit strange to sit at her unfamiliar desk overlooking the still empty school hallways. 

Yeo taught English at the Upper School for the past three years and served as the 12th grade dean last year. It was thus a surprise for many when it was announced that, starting in the 2019–2020 school year, she would instead take up the role of Assistant Division Head, a title most previously held by Dan Cristiani.

The role entails creating the master schedule, the year’s worth of weekly arrangements of classes for the entire Upper School, while also factoring in each student’s and teacher’s needs and requests. Beyond this, it involves adding more interdisciplinary connections to the curriculum, particularly with trips and school wide initiatives.

Taking on such a role seemed daunting at first, and Yeo said that she felt a bit nervous at the beginning. 

“I didn’t really feel like I fit in,” Yeo admitted. “I just didn’t know where to begin; I felt a little overwhelmed.” 

However, once school started and the halls 

It made me feel that I’m looking forward to this new role and that it does enlist a lot of things I love doing after all.

Claire Yeo

Assistant Upper School Head

were full of lively faculty and students, Yeo realized that her role was really about people and places—something she’s very comfortable with. 

For 25 years, Yeo has shared her passion for English literature with her students, and in turn many of her past students have expressed their appreciation for her as their teacher. 

Steven Kao ‘20, who had Yeo as an English teacher last year, noted that she truly cared about what she taught. Kao immediately used the word “passionate” to describe her as a teacher. Another former student, Isabel Alvarez ‘20, said Yeo left her with a lasting impression of how to connect one’s own background to literature.

“The best thing you can do is to take your own context and experience into what you’re doing,” Alvarez said.

While Yeo cherished her years of teaching, as she became more comfortable as an English teacher, she realized she wanted to move out of the classroom and work behind the scenes to support the community in a different way.

She also enjoys tackling problems that require vastly different skills from the ones she used as an English teacher, observing that it was “refreshing” to be a learner again. Working on the summer schedule with her team was a “really steep learning curve,” and she was surprised by how much she enjoyed it. 

I see it as stepping back into something a little more of a service.

Claire Yeo

Assistant Upper School Head

Creating the spring schedule is something Yeo is already looking forward to, and she wants to make the scheduling process smoother for everyone. 

“’I’m looking forward to speaking with faculty and students about how they found the experience, and incorporating their suggestions to transform the process,” Yeo said. 

She has also discovered new aspects of the school that she hadn’t previously seen. Whereas before she only got to know juniors and seniors in the classroom, she now meets the whole student population.

“Putting faces to names has been a delight,” Yeo said.

While the first few weeks of school have been very busy for the new assistant division head, especially with the fall schedule and course change requests, she is still enthusiastic about her role.

“It’s been such a crazy time,” Yeo said, “but am I crazy to say that I love it?”

Changing roles, however, has also made Yeo realize the inevitable separation between the administration and faculty. 

As a teacher, Yeo was so occupied by her busy teaching schedule that she never got to know the administrative faculty or positions. To her, so much of the administrative work seemed to be meetings, emails, and dealing with

I see it as stepping back into something a little more of a service.

Claire Yeo

Assistant Upper School Head

crises, should one arise; but though that is a component, Yeo realized that the most integral part of her role is interacting with people in every part of the community.

Yeo is also looking forward to returning to the classroom for a different reason this year: to observe the faculty’s teaching practice as part of a feedback process.

 “It will be my pleasure to be in an exhilarating Nueva classroom seeing how our faculty and students work together to explore their material,” Yeo said.

Yeo may have started on a new chapter in her career, but the experience she’s had interacting with others and the dedication she applied to teaching will accompany her into her new role. 

“I really look forward to seeing how this role can be an expression, not only of me and of my values, but of humane and intellectual values,” Yeo explained, “and how this role can affect the emotional and intellectual life of the school for the better.”