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Ms. Bennett & Mr. Wangsness

June 15, 2020


Courtesy Margaret Bennett and Todd Wangsness

Husband and wife duo Todd Wangsness, a history teacher, and Margaret Bennett, an English teacher, are used to working at the same school, but with the shelter-in-place orders, they’re now working in the same house. Wangsness and Bennett also have two sons: Luke, who is a rising junior at the University of California at Davis, and James, who will be a freshman at Princeton University this fall.

Ms. Bennett

Was it difficult to adapt to online learning? What challenges have you faced?

As teachers, we’ve been piloting our ships through uncharted territory, all the while being battered by torrential rains and winds and fighting a pandemic that is spreading through our crew and passengers. And now there is so much fear, worry and anguish about what is happening in our country with the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing events.

As teachers, we are trying to plug leaking holes in our ships while cruising toward our final destination. It is so hard to captain a ship when you are also trying to keep it from falling apart, but I am proud of our teachers because we’ve done just that! We’ve never lost sight of our compass or our final destination. We’ve kept our ships together and have managed to make some unforgettable memories for our students in the process.

What is something you’re grateful for as a teacher during this time?

I am so grateful for my family, my friends, my colleagues and my students! Those relationships have kept me going and have given me hope. So many of my students stayed engaged and most really did quality work this past quarter and kept on learning. For me, teaching is all about the people, so I have really missed the in-person interactions, but I am thankful that so many people were willing to maintain relationships via technology.

What is one thing that you wish students knew about the experience of being a teacher in quarantine?

It has been so hard and time-consuming. A couple of students said early on, “Well, now you have all of this extra time,” and I just laughed out loud! What downtime? I was working 70+ hours each week before the shelter-in-place, and that continued even during the shutdown. However, I do not miss my two hours in the car commuting every day! It has been great to use that time to do other things I enjoy, such as hiking. I am looking forward to a little bit of downtime this summer, although there will be lots of planning meetings as we try to figure out what school will look like in August.

Mr. Wangsness

How has your relationship with your students and co-workers changed due to quarantine?

Particularly with the teachers, we’re all sort of in the same boat, so there’s a degree of empathy and connection. The experiences aren’t 100% identical, but I think there’s a sense of professionalism and a willingness to work together to try to improve remote learning. The worst-case scenario is if we’re in the same distance-learning situation in the fall, but then we’ll want to work collectively as teachers to make sure that this is a better experience for our students. I know that the connection with their peers and teachers seems to be one of the biggest missing pieces for kids, so that’s still a problem.

What is an activity you’ve been doing in your free time (any new hobbies)?

I’ve been cooking dinner a lot more often because, of course, we’re not really eating out at restaurants anymore. It’s also been nice to go on hikes in the middle of the day; we weren’t able to do that when we were working at the school from 7:30 AM to 4 PM every weekday.

Is there anything unique about having two Los Altos teachers in the house?

Well, most people — our family included — don’t have their homes set up to be home offices, so it can be hard to have four different people who need to be online and on Zoom calls throughout the day. This means that someone will have to do work in the living room sometimes. Something positive is that Margaret and I get to bounce ideas off of each other in person. We’ve talked about a lot of different issues that have come up, whether they’re directly related to teaching or not.

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