Allen Wu ’17
Mrs Kummer is a beloved English teacher at Tower Hill School. The Rubble is honored to give her first interview at Tower Hill.
AW: Do you have a life motto?
K: I think I tend to lean towards the existential way of viewing things. If you are unwilling to have that responsibility, everyone else is going to dictate who you are, and you have full control over your existence. However, it can also be scary. Because the responsibility falls completely on you, so if life isn’t making you happy, then it’s your job to fix it.
AW: What sparked you to pursue Literature/English?
K: I had a really influential high school English teacher in a school that had very few talented teachers. A lot of them were dealing with a pretty low-achieving population, and they weren’t compensated well for their career. I was lucky enough to be in the honors track–the place where more invested teachers were. He was the only free thinking, outside-the-box teacher in my high school at the time. He showed me that literature is a reflection of the human experience, and writing is an important life-long skill. When I went to college, I just picked English as a major because that was something that I enjoyed and something I thought mattered. I had no ultimate career goal and went where my interests took me.
AW: That sounds really jazzy.
K: Yeah, I certainly did not operate on a linear trajectory. If anything, when I was five years old, I told my parents I could never teach. It is the one job that I thought I wasn’t geared for because I have little tolerance for others’ lack of effort.
AW: Time changed, I guess.
K: Well, I’m still intolerant of laziness. But I don’t find that that’s the case here at Tower Hill. The students generally care deeply for their learning here, and that makes my experience more rewarding. Teaching at Tower Hill is so much more than a “job”. Every day I am lucky enough to get to learn and think about literature alongside extremely bright and motivated students.
AW: Just to follow up, do you think teaching is a form of art?
K: Definitely. It is stand up comedy first of all–you are on show all the time winging it, and you are feeding off everyone else’s enjoyment. If you have a dead room, you will have a bad routine. In a way, it is the most “jazzy” career–at least for me. I’m definitely not a lecturer. I will teach the same course differently depending on the student body in the class. It is a symbiotic relationship between teachers and students. I’m also a people person, and I’m better at asking questions than giving answers.
AW: Do you have a favorite quote(s)?
K: I have so many!
AW: Do you have one off the top of your head?
K: I have bunch on the chalkboard in my kitchen. One of my favorites is by Sartre: “Life begins on the other side of despair.” Though it seems purely dark, I think it captures the light that can come from darkness.
AW: What’s your favorite TV show?
K: I love television. People just assume that reading dominates my free time. But I actually really enjoy watching TV. I have two all-time favorites, depending on the genre. For comedy, it is The Office.
AW: American or British version?
K: American. I think the British version did a really excellent job for its own form of wit, but it does not tug at the heartstrings like the American version. I think it’s easy to feel empathy for the characters in the American version, more-so than the British version.
AW: What about the other all-time favorite?
K: For drama, it is Mad Men.
AW: Have heard of the new TV show called Westworld?
K: Yes. It’s related to my “Four Horseman” course.
AW: Which book is the hardest to teach?
K: Definitely The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Because student interest is dampened by the difficulty of the dialect, and I think they struggle to relate. For somebody who is all about the enthusiasm in the classroom, I find it difficult to garner enthusiasm for a text where the the word-of-mouth is often discouraging at first. After students get over their initial resistance, they often really enjoy the text. So though it may be the most challenging, it can also be the most rewarding.
AW: What advice would you give to the graduating Senior Class of 2017?
K: First, surround yourself with people who would make you laugh. Second, be willing to be uncomfortable. Because it is in the moment of discomfort where change can actually happen.
AW: One thing that not many people at Tower Hill know about you?
K: [Laugh] That’s hard. Because I’m a such an open book. But if I have to choose, when I was little, I always wanted to be a famous singer.
AW: Would you ever want to sing in the Tower Hill talent show?
K: I have thought about it, but I don’t know. Remember my previous advice? I don’t know if I can take my own advice there. [Laugh]
AW: Would you do it if another teacher is on stage with you?
K: Maybe, but it would probably be a more satirical skit than a serious one. Because I don’t actually know if I’m any good.
AW: So you have never sung to a crowd before?
K: I have actually. I sang in my high school talent show. It was the only time I’ve ever done it.I was physically ill for 48 hours afterwards, though. I didn’t find it enjoyable. I was sweating and feeling nauseous all day. However, I think theatre might be the place that I can rip that band-aid off. So I might do some local theatre at some point in my life, but I don’t have concrete plans.
AW: Last question, what is your biggest fear?
K: My biggest fear is the fear that I don’t actually know anything. It is called the Imposter Syndrome. I’m afraid that everyone is going to find out I’m actually not that smart. I think this is one of those situations where the more you know the more you realize what you don’t know. It is that inverse relationship that I might know more than I think I do, but the second I feel that way is also the second I feel like I know nothing. So I guess my biggest fear might be that people will find out that I’m a fraud. I actually wrote my college essay on that.