Irene Matthews
Irene Matthews

Former Orange High School teacher Irene Matthews enjoys walking around Old Towne and bumping into former students, including Orange Council member Arianna Barrios.

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Irene Matthews

Irene Matthews knew she always wanted to teach.  After graduating from Orange High School in 1961, it wouldn’t be long before she would find herself back there as a teacher until she retired in 1998.

“I just always wanted to be a teacher,” recalls Matthews.

While a student at Orange High School, she met her husband Edgar.  They graduated the same year and quickly began their family of three sons while Irene also pursued her teaching credential at California State University, Fullerton.

Matthews began teaching English and journalism at Yorba Jr. High School in 1972, where she oversaw the student newspaper, The Yorba Horn.

By 1977, Matthews had moved over to Orange High School where she continued teaching English and journalism, taking over as faculty advisor for the student newspaper, The Reflector.

“We went on ‘write-offs,’” says Matthews.  “We would all pack in my blue bus, and we’d go to another school and do a write off competition.”

After each issue of The Reflector was published, Matthews would have the students over to her home near the high school (where she still lives today), and they would watch a movie and have a discussion.  “It was like a little party to end the event,” she recalls.

Matthews was active with the student body and was known for the assembly skits.  She always dressed for Halloween.  She and Nancy Kiddie, who did the annual, and Diane Erickson all roamed the halls dressed up as witches.

Matthews’ three sons would all attend Orange High and each had their mother for their teacher at one point.

Eldest son Bryan recalls the year he had his mom as his teacher.  “Everyone knew she was my mom and thought she would give me a free ride,” he says.  “She didn’t work that way.  I was getting an A and mom said if you do the final you’ll probably get an A but if you don’t do the final, you’ll get a C.  So, I skipped the final and took the C just to show everyone that my mom was fair and honest.”

Matthews taught local historian Phil Brigandi.  “He was an excellent student,” she says, also noting that she taught Mayor Pro Tem Arianna Barrios and her sister Sarah.  “We say hi to them in the neighborhood. She still calls me Mrs. Matthews.”

Matthews taught a total of 27 years.  She doesn’t know how many students she taught, but there was a time when she would send and receive nearly 500 Christmas cards.

“Being a teacher is not an easy job,” says Matthews.  “You need to be with the students and understand them and talk to them.  You can’t expect everything will just happen if you teach but don’t get to know them.  That’s not how it works.”

Irene Matthews  /  [email protected] 

Article Published in the
Mar / Apr 24 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review
Written by Sheri Ledbetter Photo by Kristin Smetona
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