How many adults have memories of the difficult times they endured in middle school -- that awkward period of physical and social development for young people?
Now imagine being an eighth grade teacher, trying to get your students to focus on such technical subjects as science and algebra.
Somehow, Shaun Bunn seems to have mastered the technique. His students at Boulder Ridge Middle School in Menifee actually like his classes. Moreover, they learn -- not merely by memorization, but concept. They understand the application behind all those x+y=z equations.
And they do it in an atmosphere of fun and respect.
"Mr. Bunn is one of the best teachers around," said Kevin Wasikoski, one of Bunn's students last year. "He connects with all his students and understands them. He's a shoulder to lean on. He makes learning fun.
"He incorporates stories into his lesson plan and adds humor, making one of the best classroom environments I've ever been in. Who thought an Algebra 1 class could be so fun?"
One could hardly think of a more worthy recipient of the Menifee 24/7 Teacher of the Month Award, sponsored by Massage Envy.
Bunn received a certificate and a gift card to Massage Envy, located in the Countryside Marketplace. He also received high praise, not only from students, but administrators.
"Shaun has a passion for what he does as well as a passion for his students and their success," said Susan Scott, director of pupil services for the Romoland School District. "He holds high expectations for his students and is willing to do what it takes to help them reach their potential.
"Shaun does an outstanding job building rapport with his students. At the middle school level, it is vital for teachers to make connections with their students. Shaun does this very well. His love of what he does, his love of his students, shows daily in his commitment to his profession."
Bunn, who has been with the district for seven years, said he learned long ago what it takes to engage middle school students about complex subjects such as Algebra.
"Math comes with a stigma that it can be difficult, dry and boring," he said. "My approach is different than the typical one. I make the students justify their answer and explain why the equation is solved the way it is."
Bunn does this with humor and storytelling.
"Once there was a land where all numbers lived together," Bunn gave as an example. "Then the rational numbers decided they were the elite group and turned against the irrational numbers. The kids eat that stuff up."
More than that, Bunn said, he truly cares about his students. At least once a week, he takes 15 minutes out of class time for "circle time," in which students sit in a circle and get to know each other better. The students are hesitant at first, Bunn said, so he shares his own personal story of escaping from war-torn Cambodia and coming to the U.S.
"At first, in September, they're holding back," Bunn said. "By May and June, they walk out of the room crying. It's like a big therapy session.
"I tell them that life is difficult, but there's always a window of opportunity. It amazes me how some of these students get up every morning with a smile on their face, come to school and complete the work. But I tell them to think of it like we throw all our problems into the middle of the circle. Would you rather take somebody else's problem?
"In order for the students to buy into this, you have to be able to believe in them and they have to trust each other. I care about them. It's something I can't teach; it's just part of me."