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. (Courtest 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.

Courtest Margaret Bennett and Todd Wangsness

QuaranTeachers: an immersive Q&A

June 15, 2020

We know it’s summer, but you probably still feel isolated from your teachers and want to know how they’re doing during quarantine. Talon’s got your back! We interviewed some of your faves to give you a look into what it’s like to be on the other end of your Zoom calls.

Note: The responses were edited and condensed.

Mrs. Moran

Nancy+Moran+is+the+acting+and+Broken+Box+teacher+at+Los+Altos+and+is+currently+quarantining+with+her+family.+Moran+has+accomplished+some+impressive+feats.+Putting+on+an+entire+virtual+play%2C+Check+Please%2C+during+quarantine+is+just+one+of+them.

Courtesy Nancy Moran

Nancy Moran is the acting and Broken Box teacher at Los Altos and is currently quarantining with her family. Moran has accomplished some impressive feats. Putting on an entire virtual play, Check Please, during quarantine is just one of them.

How do you plan to facilitate a unified class environment for incoming students next year?

Teaching over a computer screen from the first day of school is going to be challenging. I’m currently brainstorming with other drama teachers across the country to adapt improv games, acting exercises and lessons that will still allow students to interact, create characters and learn about staging scenes. I really want to avoid turning the class into theater history or acting theory and keep the interactive aspect at the forefront.

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

I have gotten to know my students on a deeper level. We see into each other’s lives a little more: I take time to ask how they’re feeling, what is working for them with distance learning, what they’ve baked or built or how they’re taking care of themselves. If anything, this has taught me to take even more time when we return to the classroom to ask questions, more than just the cursory, “How’s everybody doing today?”

I miss my colleagues. I was on campus the other day to grab something from my classroom and it was like time stopped. Posters still on the walls, the Writer’s Week sign still hanging in the quad. It seemed surreal. I’ve shared room 410 with Ms. Oliver for almost 20 years and not seeing her every day is like missing my right arm.

What has been the biggest challenge as a teacher during distance learning?

Depression and loneliness have been very real issues during this time for adults and teenagers. Humans need that interaction. I just keep reaching out. I make phone calls and I try to reassure students that we will get through this. While the classwork or homework is important, it is not as important as one’s mental health. I hope what I’m doing is working, even if I reach just one student.

Mr. Chaffee

Matthew Chaffee is a math teacher at Los Altos and is currently quarantining with his wife, who is a special education teacher in another district, and two young daughters.

Courtesy Matthew Chaffee

Matthew Chaffee is a math teacher at Los Altos and is currently quarantining with his wife, who is a special education teacher in another district, and two young daughters.

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

I’ve been super grateful for the messages that I’ve been receiving from kids about how appreciative they are of my teaching style and my relationships with them. Obviously, spending lots of time with my family has its benefits and its drawbacks. I’ve been grateful that with my work, I pretty much just have to check in every once in a while to see if I’m getting emails from people to respond to them, so I’ve been able to help my daughters a lot with their schoolwork.

What has been the biggest challenge as a teacher during COVID-19 to keep students engaged?

I think for a lot of kids with pre-existing anxiety or depression, a time like this has the potential to exponentiate their mental health dealings. Also, missing the human interaction of actually going into a classroom to interact with other people has been hard, and the work can get monotonous.

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

In the beginning, we were pretty good about rallying everybody to go for a bike ride or for a walk, but that only lasted like a week or two. I’m lucky that we’re really close with two of our neighbors, so we’ll all pull a table outside of our garage and have dinner together sometimes. I think that’s kept a lot of us from going slightly insane. Some communities are definitely coming together more than maybe they would have in the past. Even though everyone has to be physically distanced, people are making a point to say hello and be a little bit more friendly.

Ms. Bennett & Mr. Wangsness

Husband+and+wife+duo+Todd+Wangsness%2C+a+history+teacher%2C+and+Margaret+Bennett%2C+an+English+teacher%2C+are+used+to+working+at+the+same+school%2C+but+with+the+shelter-in-place+orders%2C+they%E2%80%99re+now+working+in+the+same+house.+Wangsness+and+Bennett+also+have+two+sons%3A+Luke%2C+who+is+a+rising+junior+at+the+University+of+California+at+Davis%2C+and+James%2C+who+will+be+a+freshman+at+Princeton+University+this+fall.

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.

Mr. Murray

Scott Murray is a math teacher at Los Altos spending his quarantine with his wife and daughter.

Courtesy Scott Murray

Scott Murray is a math teacher at Los Altos spending his quarantine with his wife and daughter.

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

I am extremely grateful that I have my family here with me. I would have a difficult time if I were by myself. More importantly, though, I am grateful that I have a job, especially one that allows me to have a positive impact on my students. The interaction with my students, whether it is through Zoom or over email, has been really important in getting me through my motivational lapses.

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

Wow, what a question. I wish students knew that we are struggling with the same issues: motivation, isolation, fear and frustration that they are, but also know that they are one of the driving forces that keep us going. I spend a lot of time in front of my computer, working on new material, reviewing homework or waiting for students in office hours. It almost feels like being back as an engineer at Intel at times. So, when a student shows up for office hours or responds to an email, it really makes my day.

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

Ever watch “Groundhog Day”? Seriously, though, I have been doing a lot of much-needed housework: installing a new doggy door, working on the yard, cleaning the garage, painting, bike repair and then really getting started with the lesson planning for the new Computer Science class that I am teaching next year.

Leave a Comment

The Talon • Copyright 2020 • FLEX WordPress Theme by SNOLog in