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7 Things About Damian Barnes

What inspired you to do this kind of work?  Actually, I didn’t want to be a teacher and resisted the call for years! I wanted to travel and write, originally.

After my graduation from Santa Clara University, I joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and worked with disadvantaged youth and families in Brooklyn, New York. I worked as a community organizer helping Head Start moms put resumes together and practice interviewing. I also set up teen centers and after-school programs, and was a summer school principal. This work made realize that I enjoyed working with students, and when I moved back to California, I landed a job as a Campus Minister in Santa Clara. I reenrolled at SCU, and obtained a teaching credential. Ten years later, I finished my Masters in English at Holy Names University, in the Writer’s Craft program. I can happily report that I really do love teaching!

What is your position here and how long have you worked at O’Dowd? I have been at Bishop O’Dowd High School since 2011, and in addition to teaching in the English Department, I also run Student Publications (the Quarterly Crozier Newspaper, the Annual Mitre Yearbook, and the Annual Muse Literary and Art Magazine). I also supervise and tutor after school in the library on Tuesday nights, run an English 1 Smart Session on Wednesday evenings, as well as advise the Disney and Shanti (Indian) Clubs.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received (generally – it doesn’t have to be related to O’Dowd)? About four years into my teaching career, I wondered if maybe I should have entered business, and decided not to sign my teaching contract for the next year. It took a long time to find work, but when I did it was with Caterpillar, the heavy equipment company. I was a file clerk, starting at the bottom, preparing paper contracts for long-term web storage. It was mind-numbing and took months, but when that was finished, I had no other work. They hadn’t anticipated that I would be so fast!

I began to miss teaching. I’d walk out to the yard and got the trainer to teach me to use the big Excavator and bulldozers, but still I was bored. When I teach, I do a billion things at once; in the Cat Business Office, I felt so underutilized. It was then that the bookkeeper, close to her retirement, told me one day during lunch, “don’t get good at something that you don’t want to do.”

Shortly after Pope John Paul II died that spring, I received a call from Immaculate Conception Academy in San Francisco to come in and do a demo teaching. I got the job and moved back to the bay to start teaching in high schools. Thank God!

What is your favorite thing about your job? My favorite part of my job is working with kids. I think that I have a fun job, exploring ideas all day, and working on self-improvement. This job is very growth oriented, hope-filled, and good for the world. I feel like I am doing something for the world, and that is good.

What about your field or position do you think would surprise people the most? I became an English teacher thinking that I could devote my life to reading and writing…NOT! You would be surprised to know that I really only read for pleasure in June, and writing is even rarer. Turns out that there’s a lot of grading in English!

What is the most interesting or surprising thing about you? I spend most of my time when I am not in class, outside. I read, talk on the phone for hours, work on my garden, and grade in my backyard. I love my tikis, beach signs, flamingos, plants, vegetables, and flowers. It is very peaceful.

If you could rescue only one thing from your burning office, what would it be? I don’t have an office, but I’d try to rescue my American Flag from my burning classroom. I got it in Molokai, when I went to visit my namesake and patron saint, Fr. Damien. The flag has hibiscus stars and stripes. I have a bulletin board in my room that has tchotchkes from many of my travels. It would be hard to lose any of them!

Bonus Questions

What is your favorite kind of music/what are your favorite bands? When I am at home grading, I listen to the Don Tiki station on Pandora. It is full of exotica sounds and vintage music that always transports me back to the Big Island of Hawaii (my favorite place on Earth). When I am in my car, I am usually listening to NPR, but I’ll sing along with Madonna, U2, Michael Jackson, Adele, Mary J. Blige, or Coldplay. I really like the Weekend right now, and CAN NOT WAIT for Adele’s new album!

What is your book or who is your favorite individual author? Some of my favorite books: 1. The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse 2. The Bone People by Keri Hulme 3. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver 4. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho 5. The Harp of Burma by Michio Takeyama 6. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel 7. The Harry Potter Books by J.K. Rowling 8. The Soul of Rumi: A New Collection of Ecstatic Poems by Coleman Barks


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