From 48.5 Print: Departing Teachers Share Favorite Memories Continued

May 12, 2022

This collection of stories is an online extension and reproduction of the Coat of Arms 48.5 print edition. This package includes the original articles from the 48.5 News section and a few additional stories that highlight the careers and impact of departing Menlo faculty.

Rachel Chou

Upper School Mathematics Teacher Rachel Chou has been teaching math at Menlo since the fall of 2002. After over 19 years of teaching, Chou plans on leaving Menlo at the end of the 2021-2022 school year.

Chou has enjoyed much of her career at Menlo, but has especially appreciated the experience of teaching teenagers. “It’s like I’ve had the perfect job all of these years. I get to hang out with interesting teenagers all day and do math. What could be better?” Chou said. 

Rachel Chou works with students in a math class in 2015. Photo courtesy of Pete Zivkov. (Pete Zivkov)

Chou also believes that her time spent teaching at Menlo has helped her grow as a person. “When I first got to Menlo, I don’t think I was that engaged of a learner. I loved math, and I loved teaching, but I didn’t love to read and learn new things, but at Menlo […] I feel like I’ve learned a lot,” Chou said.

Menlo has also made Chou a better learner. “When I set out to be a teacher 25 years ago, I didn’t really appreciate how much being around other educators and […] adolescents would really make me a more curious human being,” Chou said.

 Chou recalls a memorable experience when her students all stood on their desks and celebrated upon learning the answer to a complex math equation. She also looks back fondly on the experience of seeing students learn things they believed they would never understand.

Chou’s experiences with other faculty at Menlo have made her feel incredibly fortunate to be a part of the Menlo community. She believes that the colleagues and students that surround her have enriched her experiences at Menlo. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to have worked alongside so many gifted educators and with so many amazingly dedicated, hard-working, thoughtful, goofy and fun students,” Chou said.“I will truly miss the school.”

Beth Bishop

Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Beth Bishop is leaving Menlo after eight years at the school to return to Northampton, Mass.

Before she came to Menlo, Bishop worked at Deerfield Academy for 17 years. There, Bishop served as the Dean of Admissions as well as a college counselor. Bishop spent 34 years in Massachusetts where she raised her two sons and worked at her alma mater, Phillips Academy Andover, along with Deerfield Academy. After her time on the East Coast, Bishop moved across the country and began her current role as Director of Admissions and Financial Aid at Menlo.

Beth Bishop watches the 2016 Homecoming Parade. Photo courtesy of Pete Zivkov (Pete Zivkov)

Bishop always looked for students with high character as part of her job in admissions. “I’ve looked for kids who are kind and inclusive,” Bishop said. “I hope that Menlo is always a place for smart, motivated and kind students.”

Bishop also hopes to leave a lasting legacy on the diversity in the Menlo community. “I have worked hard to enroll students from up and down the Peninsula and from a wide range of socioeconomic, racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds,” Bishop said.  

While Bishop has only been able to admit a small percent of applicants each year via Menlo’s low acceptance rate, she hopes that Menlo can extend its resources beyond the small percentage of admitted students. “Whether it’s through summer opportunities for kids or a program [that gives] access to what’s here, I hope [Menlo] continues working on serving more [students],” Bishop said. 

Back in Northampton, Bishop plans to continue her career working for an education non-profit. “I hope to [do] something with low income kids and helping [first generation] kids with their college applications to help fill the education gap,” Bishop said.

Rebecca Mouser

Spanish teacher and former Foreign Language Department Chair Rebecca Mouser is retiring after 18 years at Menlo and 33 years teaching Spanish, where she has had the opportunity to share her love of Spanish with younger generations.

Prior to her time at Menlo, Mouser taught Spanish at La Jolla Country Day School, an independent school in San Diego, Calif. However, living near San Francisco had always been on her bucket list, so she started looking for Bay Area jobs. “I had just started looking for a job and a colleague in San Diego had worked here at Menlo,” Mouser said. “So that’s how the connection happened.”

Rebecca Mouser delivers a speech at the 2015 Student Achievement night. Photo courtesy of Pete Zivkov (Pete Zivkov)

After five years as a Menlo Spanish teacher, Mouser was named Foreign Language Department Chair, a position she held for nine years. According to Mouser, the role was limited prior to Head of School Than Healy’s arrival in 2013, when the job expanded to curriculum development. “That was the biggest change and what I liked best about that role. It was challenging and satisfying to look at the whole program, nine through 12, in all languages and work on integrating the methodology as a group instead of looking at individual classes,” Mouser said.

Mouser is most proud of the changes made to the Spanish curriculum after the Foreign Language Department’s program review in 2017, where she consulted outside observers to suggest improvements to the curriculum. As a result, instead of planning courses based on specific skills that must be learned, they’re now designed to fulfill “what a student should be able to do after each level of the language.”

Four years ago, Mouser decided to leave the position of Department Chair in order to spend more time with students. “I liked the curriculum part of [the role], but I like being in a classroom more than anything else,” Mouser said. “My high point as a teacher is making continued relationships with students.”

Mouser said that her decision to retire has nothing to do with Menlo, but rather to provide her with ample time to travel. “I want to retire while I’m still young enough and healthy enough to be able to travel,” Mouser said. “I lived in Spain for six years, so I’d like to go back and spend more than a month there and not be limited to [the summer].”

Julie Hammack

Julie Hammack has worked in Menlo’s Academic Office as the registrar for over 19 years. As part of her job, she monitors grade reports, transcripts and creates student schedules. In her time at Menlo, she has changed offices from the Stent Hall attic to the B Wing. Furthermore, she has overseen the transition from mailed transcripts to emailed transcripts, which has increased the speed at which students receive their grades and ease of access for administrators. “The way that we’ve shared documents and information with people, it’s night and day,” Hammack said. 

Hammack dresses up for Halloween at Menlo in 2019. Photo courtesy of Pete Zivkov. (Pete Zivkov)

Some of Hammack’s favorite memories at Menlo involve her son, who graduated from Menlo in 2007. “I got to give him his diploma when he graduated,” Hammack said.

She has also made strong connections with her fellow faculty members and students at Menlo, whom she considers her family. She intends to keep in touch with many of the friends she has made. “The opportunities, the kindness here, just the warmth. You just don’t see it at other schools,” Hammack said. “The students here are special.”

Hammack plans to retire to Portland, Ore. after leaving Menlo. Although Hammack is excited to be closer to family, she’s nervous to make the transition. “It’s a little scary to make a choice to leave,” Hammack said. 

Nonetheless, she will miss the Menlo community. Hammack believes Menlo is special because of its uniquely supportive environment. “I just have a lot of really good memories here,” Hammack said. “Menlo’s been my heart for 20 years.”

Anne Harris

“Find happiness wherever you can, and then spread it shamelessly.” Long-time AP English Literature teacher Anne Harris lives by this mantra, and she hopes that her students remember this message after she completes her time at Menlo this year. 

Harris explained that her decision to leave Menlo was heavily influenced by her commute and children. “I live almost three hours away [from campus] in terms of my commute, […] and, luckily, my family has been really flexible and made it possible for me to be at Menlo, but my children will be populating our local public elementary, middle and high schools. And they just really need me at home,” Harris said. 

Harris is leaving Menlo after her second stint. Originally, Harris started as both a college counselor and an English teacher in 1999 but left to raise her children. She returned as a literary operative. Photo courtesy of Anne Harris

Harris started teaching at Menlo over 20 years ago in 1999, giving her the unique opportunity to watch Menlo’s culture develop as time passed. Even though Menlo has always been enthusiastic, she finds that students and faculty alike are more engaged and high-spirited as of late. “Adults and kids on campus are really playful in a way that’s become even more pronounced recently,” Harris said. “I feel like I could show up in something really wacky almost any day, and everyone would sort of smile and wave. […] I think life in Silicon Valley is intense, so I love that we can be fun and playful at school,” she said. 

During her time at Menlo, Harris has taught a variety of classes including APs, senior electives and MTERMs. She currently teaches AP English Literature and enjoys the curriculum. “It’s a really fun curriculum for anybody who’s a literature-lover because you get to span almost the entire history of literature all over the globe. I find that really exciting,” Harris said. “For me, it’s just like a playground and a treasure hunt. Every day, I just get a lot of people to play with me. It’s pretty awesome.” 

Furthermore, Harris enjoys hearing differing opinions on source material in AP English Literature, which prompt spirited debates that keep the classroom alive. “I don’t want everyone to sit around and agree with each other. So, my favorite moments are when we have fiery disagreements or new discoveries, things like that. [AP English Literature] just attracts a group of people that really like to talk and have fun too” Harris said.

What Ms. Harris has cherished most during her time at Menlo are the connections she has formed with her students. She fondly remembers the times her students have sent her messages about something they had learned in class. “One of my favorite things is getting humorous notes about keywords or phrases that pop up [in class] over the years. For instance, this year we talked about liminal spaces. Sometimes I’ll get people from class saying, ‘Hey, Mrs. Harris, it was really liminal weather this morning,’” she said. 

Getting to have a full gear legit lightsaber duel with Amy Wyatt in Martin Hall on the last day of school is another of my all-time favorite memories. Her sabering skills still profoundly outclass mine, but it was tons of fun,” Harris said.

Harris extends gratitude to her students for shaping her Menlo experience in the past two decades. “[I’m thankful to] the Menlo students in particular for being so incredibly fun and special, […] the classroom experience is magic,” she said. “It makes me really happy to have been able to spend time in a place that is so creative and special.” 

Esther Mansdorf

After five years of teaching at Menlo, history teacher Esther Mansdorf will depart at the conclusion of the 2021-2022 school year. 

Mansdorf is currently on maternity leave after the birth of her son, Henry, in Jan. 2022. After Menlo, she will move to be closer to her parents, brother and sister in Westchester, New York. “Once [Henry] was born, it just made me realize that, as he gets older, I really want him to be able to spend more time with his grandparents and aunts and uncles,” Mansdorf said. “I think that is our big push for moving to New York, just to be back with family and have that support system as well.”

Mansdorf poses with history teacher Katharine Hanson. Mansdorf and Hanson both taught freshmen in Modern World History. Photo courtesy of Chia Wen. (Chia Wen)

Mansdorf taught freshmen in Modern World History and sophomores in Regular United States History (RUSH) at Menlo. “I love teaching underclassmen students – freshmen and sophomores – I think that they bring a really wonderful energy and curiosity to the classroom,” Mansdorf said. 

Mansdorf enjoys the ability to not only introduce students to the foundations of the curriculum, but also to connect history with current events. Teaching students how to make these connections was one of Mansdorf’s favorite parts of the curriculum.

Upon moving to New York, Mansdorf plans to take time to spend with Henry before returning to the classroom and introducing new students to what she calls “Pippa Days,” or night with no homework. 

Mansdorf loves that being a teacher means being a lifelong learner from her students and colleagues. “Something that really resonates with me – one of my favorite things about being a teacher at Menlo – is when students are asking questions, and I don’t know the answer, and I have to go home and look it up,” Mansdorf said. “It often leads to a deeper conversation the next day when we come back and we’re unpacking it, so I really appreciate how Menlo students have kept me on my toes.”

Mansdorf describes teaching as a craft. “If you want to be a great teacher, it doesn’t happen in a month or even in a year,” Mansdorf said. “You’re always adapting and learning, and I think Menlo has been a really inspiring place to hone my craft, and for that, I will feel forever grateful.”

Alex Perez

Director of Communications Alex Perez has been a key member of the Menlo administration for over 30 years and will be retiring when the school year concludes. As part of his job, he has worked with students and has helped direct over 30 different drama productions. 

Alex Perez introduces the school’s new website at the faculty retreat. Photo courtesy of Pete Zivkov. (Pete Zivkov)

Perez started his tenure as a drama teacher in the Upper School in 1992, and after a two-year sabbatical, Perez taught drama in the middle school for four years. He was then promoted to Director of Creative Arts, where he spent nine years before ending his career at Menlo as Director of Communications and Creative Director for the annual Menlo Auction.

 Perez is extremely appreciative of the career path he has taken at Menlo. “I will take with me everlasting gratitude and will always remember how lucky I’ve been and how much Menlo has allowed me to grow both personally and professionally,” Perez said. 

Throughout his time at Menlo, Perez has gained an appreciation for Menlo’s tight-knit community and family culture. “The community at Menlo is very special. I love that the community has such great spirit and heart,” Perez said.

Perez also values the connections he’s made with many members of the student body and faculty while serving in his various roles at Menlo. “I have made so many important and lasting friendships with my colleagues, students, and parents,” Perez said.

Karen Linford

At the end of the 2021-2022 school year, Linford hopes to find another teaching job but may end up pursuing alternate routes. “I’m looking at some options in local schools,” she said. “I am also looking at possibly teaching privately – private voice and piano lessons.”

After 14 years at Menlo, Linford cherishes the resources Menlo has provided her with and the students she has taught. “From the standpoint of resources and students that I’ve worked with, this is really, truly an amazing school,” she said. “I am leaving because I am [working] part-time and because my hope is that I can find something a little bit more full-time with more stability.”

Karen Linford, who began teaching in Menlo’s music department in 2008, is leaving at the end of this school year. Photo courtesy of Pete Zivkov (Pete Zivkov)

Linford will miss the trips during Knight School (MTERM’s predecessor) and the concerts she’s hosted the most. “With our trips, we gave over 100 concerts! Each concert was different: some had guest artists, some were collaborations between departments and each event had its own special theme or character,” Linford said. “The trips we took were also really incredible and, I think, had a profound impact on my students as well: studying Mozart and then singing his music in Austria, or studying Palestrina and singing his music in the Vatican was a great example of education happening through real life experiences.”

Linford is looking forward to a change of pace and getting to experience a new work environment. “Sometimes change can be really refreshing,” she said. “So I’m just looking forward to being in a new place, meeting new people, but also staying in touch with people that I am so fond of here.”

Cathy Rettberg

Head Librarian Cathy Rettberg has been working at Menlo as a librarian since 2004. After over 17 years of involvement in the Menlo community, Rettberg plans to retire at the end of the 2021-2022 school year.

Rettberg will be helping the new librarian transition into her role in fall 2022. Photo courtesy of Pete Zivkov. (Pete Zivkov)

Rettberg has enjoyed being able to see every student in the school pass through the library, which is a privilege that most teachers don’t get. Rettberg has also enjoyed getting to know students and seeing them grow up.

Rettberg’s most memorable experience has been redesigning the old library and transforming it into the library that it is today. “I got hired as they were building [the new library],” Rettberg said.“[It was memorable] to be able to start with a piece of paper and draw a sketch. I still have my original sketch and [to] see it become what it is […] is pretty cool.” 

Rettberg also values the relationships that she’s built at Menlo. “I’ve made good friends here, and they’re such amazing people […]. There’s a few students that I’m still in touch with from years ago, and that’s a real treasure,” Rettberg said.

Most importantly, Rettberg has learned to treasure the time that she has spent at Menlo, and encourages students to do the same. “Time goes fast. And when you’re in the middle of it—when you’re a student in the middle of it—you’re just living it,” Rettberg said. “If there’s anything that I wish I had done more of—that I think everyone should do more of—is take a breath and look around and just look how cool this all is.”

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