Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am an avid reader, [and] walk several miles per day in the beautiful regional parks where I live. I have a strong case of wanderlust and was out traveling every summer with my family right up until the Pandemic began when I had to race to leave Scotland and secure a flight back to San Francisco in March of 2020. I grew up in a very small town in the beautiful rolling hills of northern California where I spent most of my childhood (continue to do so in my adulthood) outside. The two most important people in my life are my two sons. I have three familiars (cats): Furby, Sophia and Lucy.
I'm currently in my 27th year of teaching. I've been an upper[-]grade teacher my entire teaching career teaching 4th, 5th, and mostly 6th grade. As an elementary school teacher, I teach all subjects. I love teaching math, and I am a passionate reader. I realized many years ago that I could create environments (settings) so my students could "live" the same experiences as the characters. So, as plot events occur in the story arc, the kids in my class experience them. Harry Potter was such a fun, easy, and of course, magical book, and I began to use it to bring the magic of reading to my students. There's nothing better than being lost in a great novel, but I realized that few students had ever had this experience. Harry lent himself to teaching that anyone can be heroic in our daily lives.
What is your Hogwarts House?
I usually sort into Gryffindor, with strong Ravenclaw influence as I also sort into Ravenclaw occasionally.
Which Hogwarts professor do you relate to the most, and why?
I probably relate mostly to Minerva McGonagall in that she runs a tight ship [and] is a veteran who is passionate about her craft but [who] also has a loving, supportive side. Minerva is firm yet fair. I greet the students in full McGonagall costume the day they enter the Great Hall for the first time.
If you could teach any subject from the Hogwarts curriculum, which would you pick, and why?
Oh my gosh, I would want to take every class offered in and out of the castle. I would definitely want to learn to fly and [A]pparate, as well as learning [sic] Transfiguration and Potions. These days, Defense Against the Dark Arts would be especially helpful, so I would probably choose to teach that class.
How did you get into the Harry Potter series, and what made you fall in love with it?
I didn't discover the books until after the release of Chamber of Secrets. A fellow teacher mentioned the books to me, I picked up Sorcerer's Stone, and never looked back. I was so incredibly lucky to be reading the books as they were being written and released. I absolutely loved speculating about what would happen next. This is about the time I discovered Mugglenet and other communities of people who shared my love of all things Potter. I read every bit of fan fiction and every theory I could find. My younger son and I went to all of the midnight book releases (and later movie releases) at our local bookshop dressed in full Harry Potter garb. We would come home and read all night. When we got our copies of Deathly Hallows I locked myself in my bedroom and read the entire book in a day and a half, because I was worried about spoilers.
How many years have you been teaching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone?
I began teaching Harry Potter about 13 - 15 years ago. At that time, I just read the book with the kids and had a few Harry Potter items I would scatter around my classroom. Some of my students at that time painted a beautiful mural I have used every year since. As the years rolled along, I began to see all of the possibilities of bringing the magic alive in my classroom[:] home-made chocolate frogs with chocolate frog cards, lemon sherberts, figuring out ground Quidditch [that] is safe for elementary school kids (we use foam pool noodles instead of brooms), and I make and hide Golden Snitches, DIY [S]orting gifts like [H]ouse[-]specific bookmarks, and of course, we make our own wands, and everyone receives a hand-made, wax-sealed acceptance letter. This year, we read The Chamber of Secrets and made clay mandrakes and twinkle[-j]ar Cornish Pixies. So year after year, I have added more and more into [sic] the experience.
What is it about the Harry Potter books that makes them perfect for reading to kids?
Everyone needs magic. Everyone can be a hero. Harry gives us all hope.
When you read Sorcerer’s Stone to your students, you turn it into a magically immersive experience - can you tell us a bit more about what exactly you do and how you make the magic happen?
I get to page 112 (in my copy) [(]Chapter 6[: "]The Journey from Platform [Nine and Three Quarters")] on Friday, and I stop there for the weekend. The castle construction has evolved over the years to be quite complex. My walls have colored paper on them, and underneath, I have some of the "castle" walls already up. So I begin by taking down all of the outer paper to reveal our castle interior complete with castle windows and knights in armor. Once this work is complete, I begin adding all of the hanging candles, [the H]ouse banners, and the many, many Harry Potter items like my wand collection, various stuffed animals, crystal cups for [H]ouse points, etc. The work takes about two and a half days from start to finish. I am normally at school until late on Sunday adding finishing touches so it's just perfect when "Harry" and my students first see the Great Hall. Each student also creates a custom magic wand each year! The kids are sorted into their [H]ouses, and I use [H]ouse points to motivate kids to behave kindly and respectfully and to complete assignments with their personal best effort. We have [p]refects and also [h]eads of House to help with management, handing out materials, entering and exiting the classroom, clean[-]up times, etc. We also host "A Day at Hogwarts" each year, where we close down our normal Muggle Studies coursework and spend time in our Hogwarts classes: Potions, Transfiguration, Herbology, Divination and Astronomy. In the Potions class, each student mixes magical powders and liquids in personal cauldrons, Transfiguration [c]lass features some burning items outside, and in Divination [c]lass, Professor Trelawney leads the group in reading tea leaves, and at the end of the novel, we have a [H]ouse [C]up winner, and two of my teacher friends help me to throw a Harry Potter high tea complete with tea, scones, pasties, clotted cream, jam, [Harry Potter] games and activities, [a Harry Potter] photo booth, etc.
I like to begin reading in October so we can celebrate the holidays at Hogwarts. J.K. Rowling's writing is so excellent to use as a springboard for everything from figurative language (she especially loves personification and alliteration), to devices like dream sequences and flashbacks, to her wizardry at misdirection. And, of course, her vocabulary is excellent. We solve the riddle of the Mirror of Erised and help Hermoine solve the potions logic problem. We learn all the parts of a fictional story map and overlay Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey. We even use the Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans to teach how to use a dichotomous key in science.
Before the [p]andemic, some years, I would put an all-call out to former students and their parents, who would so graciously come to my classroom to help [with] the construction process. And my poor husband is the number one contractor on the job site.
What reaction do you get from your students when they walk in and see their transformed classroom after the weekend?
Oh, it's absolutely priceless! They are literally spellbound. I use a big-screen TV and my iPad for teaching and have music playing and a beautiful scene of the Great Hall on the screen.
The kids are stunned, shocked, and come into the "castle" speechless, for several amazing minutes, their eyes are as big as saucers as they are looking in all directions trying to take it all in. It's joyous! They LOVE being in the castle and are always sad when I take it down after completing the novel. Many of my students wear their house robes to school! Visitors come from all over campus (and beyond) to take pictures of the room and to take selfies.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your reading of Sorcerer’s Stone, and how have you adapted it to be part of your distance learning school?
Last year was spent in distance learning, so we had to be very, very creative. I wasn't allowed to bake or make any treats for the children last year, due to Covid protocols. I made acceptance letters as usual but was not able to bake cupcakes for Harry's birthday, so [I] purchased cupcakes, and the baker was so excited by what I was doing, she decorated each and every cupcake with green icing and letters from "Happee Birthdae Harry".
I created an outdoor castle backdrop last year complete with music and recordings for each house sort (think "difficult, difficult, where to put you?"). We couldn't have the hat actually touch each student, so we rigged a pulley system to lower the Sorting Hat over each person's head for the ceremony. Kids were required to wear masks and we all had to be socially distanced. Parents drove their kids to the school several times: first for acceptance letters and second for the Sorting Ceremony complete with [H]ouse[-]specific gift bags and finally to pick up end-of-the-novel gift boxes with the House Cup winners earning extra special boxes! Even though we had to do it all outside, it was truly magical. Many parents and little siblings also sorted, which was a special touch for the day! We used a Google Slide show for the sorting which played automatically, each person who couldn't attend the drive[-]up sort was still sorted electronically, and we kept house points that way as well.
You’ve recently also started reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Does this mean you’ve added in extra experiences that relate to this book? If so, what are they?
Yes, I taught all of the 5th graders last year and read Sorcerer's Stone with them, so this year, when the same kids returned to my 6th[-]grade class, I purchased a class set of Chamber of Secrets so we could continue our magical literary journey. I had a huge Aragog on the wall! We created Mandrakes, and twinkle jar Cornish Pixies! We were so excited to be back [at] in-person school, and I was able to make food (chocolate frogs, etc.) and to play ground Quidditch. Since this group had missed the normal in-person adventure, I made sure to include every experience they missed out on during the distance learning year.
What is your students’ favorite part about your Harry Potter classroom takeover?
I think the kids would say they just love being inside the castle. They love the book and that it's active and fun.
What is your favorite part about your Harry Potter classroom takeover?
I get to work inside one of my all[-]time favorite book settings for several months. I have the distinct honor of sharing my passion for reading. Every year, I have many students who will continue to read all [sic] the rest of the series. One of my former students has a Harry Potter blog, wore a black and white wedding dress like Fleur's, and named her daughter Lily. The experience is something students talk about and are excited by, and many, many of my former students (some [of] who are in their 30's now) still remember being in the castle as one of the highlights of their entire school experience. And, the greatest part of all is that I help to create lifelong readers. Many students attribute their love of reading to the Harry Potter experience in my classroom.
Since you’re retiring soon, will the magical experience you’ve created continue after you’ve left?
I have "willed" all of my Harry Potter items to a good friend of mine who teaches at my school. She and another teacher have helped me to build the castle for years, and share my love and geekiness of all things Potter. I know they will both continue the Harry Potter tradition long after I'm retired.
Do you have any Potter-related plans you’d like to do or experiences you’d like to participate in once you have retired?
I've been to England and Scotland several times and have enjoyed many Harry Potter experiences including tours, sites, filming locations, etc. I've been to Universal Studios in both California where I'm from, and also in Orlando Florida, and I've also been able to visit the Warner Brothers studio outside of London. This summer I'm finally able to return to the UK and will be exploring more HP sites and also riding on the Jacobite Steam train over the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
It's just been an honor to be a part of creating passionate, lifelong readers.
And finally, if you could sum up your experience of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the impact it’s had on your life in one sentence, what would it be?
There's magic everywhere, if you only know where to look.
Or, "don't let the Muggles get you down."