By Annya Kong, Contributor
As Payton welcomes the class of 2026 into the building for the first time, it also welcomes a new cohort of teachers. This year, there are 22 new staff members joining the WPCP community! I met with Ms. Momchilov, a new science teacher at Payton to hear her story.
Paw Print: So, to start – could you give a little background on yourself before you ended up here at Payton?
Ms. Momchilov: Mm-hmm. Well, I was born and raised in Chicago. I went to college at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Science for Molecular and Integrative Physiology, and then I got a job in a contract laboratory, right out of college, as a chemist. I worked there for a couple of years… then I moved to Wrigley Gum Company and worked as a chemist for them for a couple of years – quality assurance chemistry lab. Then I went and got my teaching certificate and I became a teacher! I taught at Clemente, I taught at Schurz, I taught at Disney II Magnet… and now I’m here.
Paw Print: So, what ended up drawing you to teaching?
Ms. Momchilov: Well, when I was a chemist – obviously, I enjoyed it, but there was a lot of downtime … it didn’t give me a sense of purpose, you know; I wanted to feel like I was making a difference in people’s lives, and I wasn’t getting that working in the lab. So, I decided to see if I could go get a teacher’s certificate, and at the time, I came across a program that was a really rapid, intense way of getting your teaching certificate if you already had a Bachelor’s and were working in a field. So while I was working full time I was going to classes for three hours every night on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and then for four hours on Saturday mornings, for two semesters – and then I student taught, and then I became a teacher.
Paw Print: How has your experience been at Payton so far? Anything you enjoy, are critical of? Anything that surprised you?
Ms. Momchilov: I’m surprised by how much I’m enjoying it! At first I was nervous, because Payton has such a strong reputation as such a wonderful school…and so I had my own sort of sense of imposter syndrome, where I felt like “maybe I’m not good enough to be here”. But now that I’m here, and I’ve been here for a couple weeks, I have found nothing but really strong support from my colleagues; the other teachers are so knowledgeable and so helpful and everybody’s willing to make sure that I feel supported as a new teacher. I don’t feel isolated in any way. And then the students are just fantastic; everybody’s so motivated and willing to learn, and I appreciate that so much. So, I really have no complaints – well, sometime’s the humidity is a little high and it gets a little puffy.
PawPrint: So, I know you have a sort of adversarial view of homework as a teacher – could you explain your position on that?
Ms. Momchilov: I do think that the way we do school has changed over the decades, and, in a time when homework was more traditional, I think that the hours that students spent at school were shorter. It was more likely that a student would be in school for maybe only five hours or even less, and so they had more time to do things like homework. They might have gone to school and had strictly academic and lecture-based exposure to content, and then would have gone home to do practice on their own. I think that in more modern society, students have huge responsibilities and so many things to do with their own lives in terms of extracurricular activities, jobs, sports, music interests, taking care of siblings, helping parents out around the household – all this other stuff. So I think that the view of how we do school has changed, and then the hours have certainly changed – I think the time that you’re supposed to be in school is much longer, and I think there’s no reason why I should send you home to do more homework when you’re already so limited with the time that you have. So, I always tell my students, “My homework assignment is, go be with your family.”
PawPrint: What’s the impact you hope to have on your students? What do you want them to take away from your class?
Ms. Momchilov: The most important – if we’re talking about the four C’s of Payton – is curiosity. Never stop being curious, never stop being interested, because, if you are interested, you become interesting to other people; they will see that, they will pick up on that, and they will, in turn, spread that to other people. So having a curiosity about science and never taking things at face value, constantly questioning and exploring more and wanting to know more, and always asking “why, why, why, why,” will lead you down a path of craving your own education more.