Ms. Dennis brings a new element to DVHS Chemistry


Elisa Fang, S.H., and Kavin Kumaravel

In the 2016-17 school year, Ms. Karen Dennis debuted as the science department’s newest addition, taking on Chemistry and Honors Chemistry classes.

Her teaching career began in Plano, Texas in the 1970’s, the city where she was raised. From there, Ms. Dennis accumulated 10 years of teaching experience before delving into the business world, but has currently returned to teaching.

On Jan. 10, 2017, the day back from winter break, her third period Honors Chemistry class learned about combustion problems, and Dennis brought enough explosive energy to match the subject.

“Hello, hello? Earth to third period! There’s no one answering,” she said, holding an imaginary microphone in front of her. Seeing as there were still no hands up, she chuckled, and continued with renewed gusto: “Hello! Hello!”

“I think I decided to teach because of my own Chemistry teachers in high school,” Ms. Dennis stated. “Ms. Horn was the first [teacher]…she had that horn voice, and it was just so perfect, so she really encouraged me. And then Ms. Ham was the AP teacher in high school, and she was great because she’d let us make coffee in beakers and then drink it, which I thought was so cool.” She laughed before continuing. “Nowadays, we can’t do that because of laws. Back then, it was ok.”

When asked why she enjoyed teaching, Dennis responded, “I love the experience of students getting something and going ‘Oh, now I get it’ … It’s that moment of things falling into place and you know what once was an incomprehensible blur of junk falls and makes sense, and I love that feeling.”

Although Dennis has had experience teaching Chemistry and AP Chemistry back in San Antonio, Texas, Dougherty Valley High School (DVHS) peaked her interest with a job opening advertised as an 80 percent job, meaning she would teach only 80 percent of a full school day.

“With my responsibilities at home, because I spend a lot of time with my grandsons, I thought 80 percent was what I wanted to do. So they hired me at 80 percent. And then the week before school started Ms. Sawyer, the AP [Chemistry teacher], that left said, ‘how would you like full time?’ and I said ‘Ay ay ay, let me think about that,’” Dennis commented on how her job developed. “So I went from teaching 4 hours a day to teaching a full day and starting at 7:30. It was quite the surprise. It was not my plan, but I think life works out as it’s supposed to, and I’m very happy doing it.”

Transition into the life lessons pls everything sounds cliched

If one takes the time to ask, DVHS’ newest chemistry teacher has an abundance of stories to share about her life.

She has had breast cancer, which she has overcome. After a nasty fall down the stairs, she endured a subarachnoid hemorrhage, causing a temporary limp and trouble with her speech that has thankfully disappeared.

“You know that stupid phrase ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’? It’s kinda true, because things just always work out, one way or another. They might not work out the way you wanted them to, or you thought they would, but they’ll work out, and you’ll be really happy with the results,” Dennis summarized, stating the greatest lesson she took from her own life.  “In fact who would’ve thought, you know, three years ago, I lived in Texas, I was in business, and two years later I live in California. I love my daughter and her children, and I teach in this great high school. It’s just weird, it’s amazing, it’s wonderful.”

“She’s really nice and brings a lot of positive energy to class,” said Isabel Lee, sophomore, “and makes Chemistry a little bit less confusing.”

Overheard from other fellow students of Ms. Dennis, the statement seems to stick.

“What am I bringing unique to Dougherty?” She thought for a moment. “Maybe my sense of humor. A sense of the big picture-what’s important, what’s not-when you’ve lived a longer time, you tend to have a better picture of what’s important.”