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An Interview with Middle School English Teacher Amanda Angle

By Ellie ’24

Ellie: Hello and thank you for joining me today for this interview! I am so glad we found a time that worked out for us to meet! Let’s get right to it! First of all, what is your name and what do you do at Harvard-Westlake?

Ms. Angle: Hi, my name is Amanda Angle and I am an English and Creative Writing Teacher and English Department Chair.

E: How long have you been working at HW?

A.A: I started working at HW in 1997 but took a full year off when I had both of my children, so around 22 years of teaching.

E: Wow! So Ms. Angle, what is your favorite part about teaching? It can be in general or something specific.

A.A: I think my favorite part is connecting with kids and seeing their eyes light up when they talk about a certain scene in a book. Those little “Aha!” moments and bursts of magic is what really keeps me going and makes me feel lucky that I do what I do.

E: What is your favorite book that you have taught?

A.A: Ellie, I knew you were going to come in with a favorite book of all time type of question! I’m just such a reader and believe in reading all types of books and what you connect with. Because of this, I have never been someone who says “hands down my favorite book is The Book Thief or To Kill a Mockingbird.” I mean yes, those are up there but I wouldn’t say one specifically. Wow, what is my favorite book I have taught? I have never really thought about that a whole lot. I think I get most excited when I bring in something new and I think that “it’s working” (referring to the book being a success). Like for you, I think of The Girl in the Blue Coat and actually, this year is the first year all of team 7 (7th grade English teachers) is going to teach that book. So that’s a recent book.  Another book that’s recent that I’m bringing to Team 9 you will read later this year is called The Ten Thousand Doors of January. And that just came out about a year ago and I’m really excited.  It’s a lot to grapple with. I think of [the book] like a “Harry Potter for grown ups”.  It has this magic feel to it but it deals with huge issues like power, race, and class so there’s going to be a lot to that one.

E:  Yeah, I have all the books up here in my book shelf and I started flipping through it.  The cover is actually really beautiful. I love the book cover.

E: Did you always want to be a teacher and if not, what prompted you to become a teacher?

AA: I don’t think I had that clear in my mind. I think it was a little bit more, kind of in high school and college of like, “Well what should I do?  I’m not sure….” but I always loved books, I’ve always loved reading and writing and I’ve always loved working with kids. So, I think probably what influenced me were those community service projects when I was in middle school and high school and got to work with younger kids. In NYC what was pretty cool is how easy the geography is. I went to a tiny private girls school on the Upper East Side but it was also very near Harlem and so the ability to work with kids with different types of backgrounds and help a different type of community and get to know other kids that were not in the private school world.  I think that influenced me a lot.

E:  Nice.  What do you miss most about teaching in person?

AA:  ugh… Everything.  I miss real laughter.  That’s such a part of why I’ve stayed. Not that many people grow up saying “I want to be a middle school teacher!” So many more people either, I think, grow up knowing they love teaching little kids in elementary or high school or college, and then I feel like no one knows that joy that I feel is that sweet spot for middle school.  There’s just so much laughter in my day. And I feel like not everybody has that in their job. I guess that one thing I really miss. Human contact- I’m so old school- the feel of real paper and books in my hands.  That kind of stuff.

E:  Uh hmm.  And I also think that specifically for English classes, a big part of it is discussion.  So it’s really hard to be able to connect with your classmates, especially because I have new classmates coming in from other schools.  Being able to connect with each other in a Zoom Room is difficult right now.

AA:  Absolutely. And so much is on class discussion and establishing that sense of trust and respect that we can say things that we’re not sure if it’s going to come out the right way and that no one’s going to attack me if I didn’t say exactly what I meant and to have that is really difficult over Zoom.  Even just knowing who’s going to speak–whether you use the old school hand or the raise the hand icon.  Sometimes, I want to be recreating the more organic type of discussion that happens. It’s a challenge.

E:  If you could sum up HW in three words just as an entirety, a community what would they be?

AA: Ellie! You’re going with the difficult questions!  But…. Well pointed to an English teacher… Um… Let’s see I only get three.. I think I already have said, 1) Joy; 2) Intelligence because I get to be around all these super bright people all the time, both kids and adults; and 3) I’ll say family because literally for me, this is a weird year when for the first time, our entire Wimbish family, all four of us, are at Harvard-Westlake. I was little more than other people, a little freaked out by thinking “I hope that goes well…” People are always saying, “Oh that’s amazing!  You all can carpool!” and I was thinking, “Oooh… that could be a little claustrophobic…” at times for people.  I grew up where my mother worked at my school when I was in Middle School. I had been there since 1st grade and she came when I was in 8th grade.  She became the Admissions Director at my school and I was NOT happy.  I was really bratty.  When she asked me if I would be ok with it, it took forever and I finally said “I guess so if it’s better for you, if your job’s so important” and then it ended up being fine.  So I have that [memory] in the back of my mind that [our situation] could have some bumps and little hiccups but overall, so far it’s ok. We’re all in our home right now.

E: On to some non-school related questions, what do you like to do in your free time, if you have any?

AA:  That’s a great question.  I feel like I wish I did more.  I thought I would spend my “Covid” taking up super cool, random, different things, and I’m just not someone who does that very easily. I thought I should learn a new language or take up some cool obscure art form…but I didn’t. I think overall, my free time is mostly reading, some binge watching–I tend to watch series more than movies–and trying to get outside and exercise.  I do live near a trail on Mulholland so I try to get up there and hike when I can because that makes me happy. 

E: Relating to that, what is a TV or movie series you particular enjoyed watching during quarantine?

AA: Oh my goodness…you see Ellie, I’m also one of those people who can’t remember titles of things to save my life. I get laughed at all the time by my family.  They’re like, “What? You don’t even know if you’ve seen [it]?” I’m the type of person who’ll put on a movie again and be like, “Oh yeah, I have seen this. I just didn’t remember the title.”  Let’s see… I think the most recent series that I watched with my husband, you know he’d probably be very embarrassed if I was admitting this, was called The Morning Show. I was just fascinated by how much I wanted to know.  It was just so scandalous and so high drama. And so much was based on the reality of what morning shows are like.  I had never thought about it because I was never someone who grew up watching Good Morning America or anything like that. So that was one.

E: What is an activity that you and your family have particularly enjoyed during quarantine?

AA: Well.  Definitely, I think for me, when you say a series or whatever, I should’ve said immediately what comes to mind is that we watched insane amounts of The Office. This was the time my daughter Lila was old enough to appreciate the adult level shows or movies.  She’s always been our person of, “No no no.. that’s not appropriate for me, Mom”. And I’d be like, “Ok.”  But [the family] became obsessed with The Office so we watched a ton of that. I’d say our main thing was it is hard to get everybody to get outside and do stuff which is important to me and to Jon but we definitely spent some time in the pool and some at the beach as well. 

E:  Last question, if you were interviewing at HW, what three words would you use to describe yourself?

AA: UGH! [Laughs] Ellie, you’re killing me here.  I’m not going to get hired at all! I wouldn’t hire me with that response.  Let’s see… I think I’m going to use the word caring is the first thing in all aspects because I care a lot about my work as a teacher and how I teach but I also have that caring of connecting with students is super important.  What else.  I would say what’s important as a teacher… can I do a phrase or does it have to be a word?

E: No, whatever you’d like.

AA: That’s allowed…I can manipulate the question.  I think for me, as an educator and an English teacher, it has always been super important to me and my biggest goal is to spread a love of reading and writing. I’ve helped to bring into the curriculum more YA type of books like, “The Girl in the Blue Coat ”, that wouldn’t necessarily be a traditionally taught book and to help students find the book that they connect with, that’s a big thing for me. So “Spread the joy of  reading” would be my number 2. What did I say number 1 “Caring” and I need a 3? I think I would need some word like “Committed” or “Determined.”  I’m not someone who’s going to slack off on the job. I care and probably spend way too long reading. If I’m planning I might want to do a short story. I’ll probably read 20 before I decide on the one.  I wish I could be more efficient with time, but it’s also sort of [that I’m] determined to make it work best for the school and the students. 

E:  Thank you for your time

AA: That’s it?

E:  Yes, that’s it!

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Tags: , Last modified: September 4, 2020