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Protagonists: Kendall O’Connor-Tappan

The Protagonists series highlights the main characters of our mission: the teachers out there hustling to make their students feel known, heard, and challenged through student-led discussion.

Kendall O’Connor-Tappen, Humanities teacher at Paideia School

Hometown Los Angeles, CA

Favorite teacher growing up: who and why? I feel very lucky to have gone to both public and private schools in LA. The teacher who stands out in my mind is Ms. Hall, my Art and Art History teacher for all four years of high school. I don’t think I recognized it at the time, but I think she really showed me what it means to be in a flow state. And also the importance of a great playlist in the background of a classroom. She so delicately balanced giving her students personal space and structure.

Describe yourself as a student in three words: observant, earnest, and very self-motivated. One middle school teacher referred to me as “the girl with the serious face.”

Current City, School, Teaching Assignments? 7th and 8th grade Humanities, Paideia School, Atlanta GA

Favorite historical figure (or best line from history)? There are two figures that speak to me right now, in this unique moment. The first is Anne Frank — who reminds me of the importance of journaling during difficult times, and puts self-isolation into perspective. The other is Julia Child, without whom I would not have as deep a love for home cooking. 

Favorite literary character (or best line from a novel)? Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I did an independent study on Lewis Carroll at Cambridge while I was in college. 

Favorite school supply? Easily my 18-month Moleskine academic planner. My current one has Alice on the cover, actually! 

Pet peeve about class (student-led?) discussion? I find it quite frustrating when the same point is repeated over and over instead of the discussion moving forward. 

Favorite moment of class discussion? I feel gratitude, joy, and pride when I see a more introverted student take a risk and contribute to a discussion.

Biggest challenge to good discussion in a virtual classroom? Making things feel organic is really challenging. It’s hard to build on one another’s ideas without speaking over; eye contact is hard; that organic element is hard online.

Text you count on to inspire conversation? Whatever’s on the front page of the New York Times. I love to get students’ take on what’s going on in the world.

What do you nerd out about? In my nerdy, English teacher way, I am obsessed with Young Adult fiction. I’d also have to say grilling, my newly acquired quarantine skill. 

What is your wish for this world? Greater access to health, safety, and prosperity. True social equity. 

When historians recount 2020, what will they be especially fascinated by? To me, the idea of an “essential worker” has been quite profound, and it’s inspired a lot of interesting conversations about who we really rely on on a daily basis. I want to believe that 2020 will be a time when society, you know, stepped up and treated such people with a deeper respect. 

One prediction for the future of schools? I definitely think virtual learning is here to stay, in one capacity or another. Certain roles might remain virtual; perhaps one teacher would serve multiple schools… I’m curious to see what it’s like. 

Best advice given to you by a department chair or supervisor? There was one administrator who always reminded me that it’s better to not dive into academic content in the first second of class. Instead, use the first two minutes to take the room’s temperature, check in with students, and so on– all of those little moments lead up to meaningful, effective relationships. 

Educator-Influencer you count on? First place you turn for classroom advice? I have a wonderful co-teacher named Tom, who’s been teaching for over thirty years — he’s my sounding board. I also love Cult of Pedagogy. 

Better classroom discussions will foster greater empathy and understanding of one another. 

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