A look at the lasting impact of Irvine teachers

Mr. Hanley helped put me on a path to become a CIA operative and FBI special agent and teacher

Jim Hanley was my history teacher at Woodbridge High School in 1995. Because of him, I majored in history at USC, which led to my becoming a CIA operative, an FBI agent and then a history teacher.

It wasn’t until I took Jim’s class that I felt more confident about my academic skills and found my love of history. His classroom made history come alive. It was full of historical murals, and he did trial reenactments of people, such as Andrew Johnson, with students playing the roles.

He included all students, not just the popular ones, and it transformed us as learners. After his class, I majored in history at USC.

After graduating in 2000, I joined the CIA as a special operative in counterterrorism. I worked in the Middle East and Africa and helped bring down two plots involving weapons of mass destruction. I then joined FBI counterintelligence, where I helped uncover two naturalized American citizens who were stealing nuclear submarine blueprints and sending them to China.

Woodbridge High alum Tracy Schandler Walder (class of ’96) says that history teacher Jim Hanley, above left, inspired her to dare to change the world. After joining the CIA and FBI, she wrote about her experiences in “The Unexpected Spy.”

In 2006, I got my master’s degree in history and began student teaching at Woodbridge High … with Jim Hanley. He taught me how important it is that students know you believe in them – and to love the subject that you teach.

Like Jim, I use experiential learning, and I’m as inclusive as possible. I tell my students: Never be afraid to go for anything – whether it’s a college, an internship or a job. And learn from a place of empathy and curiosity, not anger.

Last year, I published a book: “The Unexpected Spy: From the CIA to the FBI, My Secret Life Taking Down Some of the World’s Most Notorious Terrorists.” I’ve appeared on NPR, “Good America,” “Fox and Friends” and other national broadcasts.

I am an Irvine girl who joined the CIA, hunted down terrorists, and stopped weapons-of-mass-destruction plots before they could kill. I joined the FBI and helped catch foreign spies on American soil. I’ve taught in Irvine and Dallas for 14 years.

I’m a woman who is daring to try to change the world. And I’d like to thank Jim Hanley for making me feel like I mattered when I doubted myself.

– by Tracy Schandler Walder







A graduation dress and Knott’s Berry Farm: How Ms. Brooks showed me kindness

Linda Brooks was my homeroom and science teacher at Sierra Vista Middle School in the 1990s.

My dad was raising me and my brother, and money was tight. I think she knew. She went out of her way to make me feel like any other 14-year-old.

She came up to me after class one day and asked if I was going on the field trip to Knott’s Berry Farm. I said I didn’t know, and she said, “You are. I will take care of it. Just get your permission slip signed.”

She also bought me a new dress to wear to my eighth grade graduation.

She taught us far more than just science. She taught us that you can make a difference. She taught us to be kind because you never know what someone is going through.

She truly made our class feel like a family and that we could come to her with anything and she would do whatever she could for us.

As a parent, I now appreciate even more what she did for me. She took a kid who was struggling and made me feel normal at a time when I felt anything but. Twenty-seven years later, I can still say she made a huge difference in my life.

Marcella Verdon Richardson reflects on her middle school science teacher, Linda Brooks, at right (in 1993), who taught her how to make a difference.

– by Marcella Verdon Richardson