New Teachers look forward to 2019-20 school year


Nikki Suzani, Features Editor

On Aug. 13, Gunn will open its doors for the 2019-20 school year, welcoming in many new teachers across several departments. With different goals and challenges they’re hoping to overcome, some coming from the district and others from across the country, each of the teachers hope to integrate themselves into the community and create an amazing experience for their students.

Math teacher Danning Wang, a recent UCLA graduate with a focus on being a social justice educator, is hoping to be able to connect with her students. “I think my biggest goal is definitely to build a relationship with my students, especially because [geometry] A is mostly freshman students, so my goal is to create a relationship with them and help them ease through their high school years,” she said.

Geometry teacher Brenda Chen, who recently moved from Palo Alto High School (Paly), understands the difficulty in her class, but wants students to ultimately feel that they can achieve any goals they set within it. “I think geometry students have a love-hate relationship with the class, and I hated that class when I took it at Gunn,” she said. “As an adult, I had a fresher take and thought, this is really fun. If I could get the students to see the purpose behind geometry, which is really about logic, I think it’s really accessible. There’s parts of geometry where even students who might not feel the strongest about algebra can still find success.”

For science teacher Elizabeth Bogardus, fostering love of the subject is key. “I want my students to be curious about science and passionate about being able to solve problems,” she said. “If I can show them a lab that they really have a lot of fun in, if they can get a chance to experience the magic of chemistry, then I think I’ve done my job.”

Math teacher Florina Limburg is hoping to see how the transition from middle to high school affects students’ independence and their willingness to take charge. “I’m actually more interested in the community events and seeing how students take more control and ownership of those because it means more to them than it does to their parents,” she said. “I’m interested in seeing how student voice becomes more of a factor in determining how those sorts of activities go.”

Social studies teacher Greer Stone, former JLS teacher and Paly graduate, is most nervous about getting his history students excited about the subject and willing to participate. “When I was a student educator at JLS—I mean at least middle schoolers are still kids and will laugh at your jokes—but I would get a lot of blank stares,” he said. “One of the reasons why I wanted to become a teacher is to make learning fun and enjoy the experience of school, and make that for my students. I’m just hoping that my classes are willing to have fun and engage, and if they give a little bit we’ll all have a good time together.”

Chen used to be a student at Gunn and appreciates being able to explore the differences between when she graduated and today. “I want to see everything at Gunn just because Gunn is a very different place from when I graduated from here,” she said. “I’m just curious and I think there’s a lot of programs in place that I think are great for students, but I don’t know too much about it.”

Meanwhile, Bogardus, who comes from Stony Point in Texas, is hoping to integrate more inquiry-based learning into her classes. “Instead of having a lab where we have a procedure that you’re following, you are creating your own rules,” she said. “That’s what I’ve done in the past at Stony Point and I’d like to do more of those type labs.”

As a teacher, Limburg believes her strengths lie in organization, helping make her classes smoother and on pace for her students. “Historically, I’m a really organized teacher and I really like knowing what my plan is and spending some time over the summer to figure out where I am today and what am I trying to accomplish over the course of the year and how I make sure that happens for myself and for the students,” she said.

Stone’s goal is to create a community within his classroom where his students feel at home. “I think I generally succeed at creating a comfortable class environment where students feel safe and welcomed, and I do a lot of icebreakers, welcoming and get-to-know-you activities with a community in the classroom,” he said. “I hope my students know they are welcome there and I enjoy them being there not just as my students but also as human beings and community members. I also try to empathize with my students a lot—it wasn’t that long ago when I graduated from Paly myself—so I know the Palo Alto community well, the pressures that are placed on Palo Alto kids, and recognizing that you’re all trying to deal with a million pressures at once is important. There’s a difficult balance between trying to push students without asking too much of them, which I hope to resolve.”

Wang also wants to use her own strengths as a teacher, as well as topics she learned in her teaching program, to create a space for students to learn but also be open and share their experiences. “I want to be telling students on the first day that anytime you want to talk, I’m here. I’ll just be there for them and create a safe space in the classroom and be inclusive.”

Helping students feel safe is also a major priority for Limburg, who wants to work with her students to create the best environment possible. “I really believe in giving a student space,” she said. “If I know a student is hav- ing a bad day and they tell me they need some space, I’d be willing to give that, particularly on the expectation that the student knows it’s a bad day and they will fix it later on, it’s just that in that moment they can’t. I understand in high school it’s really hard and things can be overwhelming.”

Stone decided to dedicate time to teaching after being an attorney and an elected official in order to be able to make a difference within student’s lives. “I went into law because I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives and step into a moment in someone’s life where they need help, but as an attorney you’re fixing a problem that’s already occurred, rather than working to prevent it,” he said. “I’ve always really believed that education is the panacea for all of society’s problems and woes. I started to realize that I can make a greater difference in the lives of many people by being an educator, and it’s nice to be able to give back to the community in this way, maybe even creating that one classroom that makes students excited to come to school each day.”

Chen believes learning concepts also comes with a willingness to be wrong and to expand upon that willingness to improve. “As a teacher it’s all about connections, making the students feel like there’s no mistakes,” she said. “We make mistakes so we can learn from it.”

Stone believes he can help teach students to be confident in themselves and reach for whatever they want in life. “I want to teach students to follow their dreams and do what they want to do,” he said. “I think a big part in Palo Alto is that we put on these pressures by our family, by peers or even by our schools and what we perceive as to what our community expects of us. I felt those pressures going up, and at the end of the day I want to teach my students that they should do what makes them happy, because it is their life and their decisions.”

Each teacher emphasized values and mind- sets they hope their students come into the class with. Limburg echoed Chen’s sentiment about not always being right, but always try- ing hard. “I want students to bring their best self and we’ll take it from there,” she said. “Sometimes your best is going to fall short because concepts might be slightly challenging for you or you might not be at your best. And that’s fine.”

For Bogardus, respect ranked high on that list of values. “When I am working with students, I try to build relationships where we have a trusting relationship because I think it’s important to have respect and to have an appreciation for each other,” Bogardus said.

Wang chose to emphasize openness as something she hopes her students can bring to the classroom. “For my students, come in with an open heart, don’t be timid about how much you share with others and you share with the teacher because if they’re kind of timid to take the first step they’re definitely going to see me open up a lot to them and hopefully they’re going to get used to that.”

Stone believes that students should always come in ready to be learn. “Come in with an excitement for learning and a willingness to push yourself both intellectually and just out of your social comfort zone,” he said. “If my classes are willing to engage, have fun and laugh at my horrible jokes, I think we’ll have a great time and they’ll get a lot of out of it.”

Chen also spoke about how she hopes that students will consistently communicate with her. “Honesty is big and if something is really happening, I’d rather that they tell me instead of staying up all night, three nights in a row, doing something just to make it work,” she said. “Even if they’ve never struggled in math and excelled, eventually they’re going to hit some roadblocks and I want to help them tackle that and deal with that and speak up and ask for help.”

At the end of the day, teaching is about supporting others in building an ideal curriculum. “I’m just really excited about being here at Gunn, it seems like there’s an amazing Gunn family and I’m really happy that I’m joining,” Bogardus said.