Teacher Feature: Margaret Pai

Teacher Feature: Margaret Pai

Published on May 8, 2023
Margaret Pai with her students’ artwork at the de Young at the 2023 Citywide Youth Arts Festival

Margaret Pai with her students’ artwork at the de Young at the 2023 Citywide Youth Arts Festival

Margaret Pai’s journey as an art teacher began when she was an SFUSD student. As a Longfellow Elementary School student, she created artwork that was displayed at the Youth Arts Festival in the de Young Museum at Golden Gate Park. Now, her Hoover Middle School art students are displaying their art work for the same event at the de Young.

“At Longfellow School, teachers would do a little bit of art, starting in kindergarten. But we didn’t have specialized elementary art teachers like we do now. It depended on the individual teacher to include art in their curriculum,” said Margaret. “My third grade teacher Mrs. Maurino made it a point to include art for her students, and my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Purgalis specialized in art for the school. She not only taught art to her own class, but switched classes with other teachers to provide an art experience for more students. Longfellow School also had their own annual student art show where some of my artwork was displayed.”

“One art piece I made with Mrs. Purgalis was a paper mache parrot sculpture. I started out with a stiff tailed cat and my teacher said it reminded her of a parrot. I was inspired to morph my cat into a parrot and it was eventually displayed at the Youth Arts Festival at the DeYoung Museum. I also remember a stitchery project that was displayed at the DeYoung the following year. These experiences helped encourage my interest in art."

Margaret Pai's parrot sculpture from when she was a 4th grader at Longfellow Elementary
Margaret Pai's stitchery project from when she was a 5th grader at Longfellow Elementary

Margaret’s 4th and 5th grade artwork from her own school days

Margaret was inspired to go into teaching because of her teacher aunts, and the teachers she had in elementary and junior high school (Aptos Middle School). “My junior high school teachers knew how to reach out to students to help us explore our full potential. My teachers introduced me to new experiences which gave me the opportunity to try a variety of different things. Junior high/middle school teachers teach at a crucial point in students’ lives.”

With her Hoover students, she enjoys teaching group mural work, sculpture, drawing, painting, and some digital work. “I think students enjoy mural work because they get to work collaboratively as a team and see their work on public display, drawing and painting lessons because they learn specific steps that build skills for personal pleasure, and digital work because it is current and they get immediate satisfaction,” she said. Her students also worked on backdrop and set paintings for the school’s musical theater productions created by chorus teacher Mr. Koppes, and STEAM teacher Mr. Aringo, whose students built the set pieces. For herself, she enjoys watercolor and photography (her major in college).

Margaret has taught at Hoover since 1994. She was previously a substitute teacher in the district and at San Mateo Union High School District. She worked at Armstrong High School and Charles Armstrong School teaching art classes, supporting students with dyslexia. She estimates she’s taught between 3,000 to 5,000 students during her time at Hoover.

“When I taught high school, students would tell me about their positive art class experiences while they were still in high school. In middle school, a teacher might not hear a student articulate this, until later in their lives. I’ve had chance meetings with multiple former Hoover students, who as adults have told me how much they appreciated their middle school art classes and how it gave them an outlet to be creative and a way to express themselves.”

This page was last updated on May 8, 2023