Fiona Halloran taught history at Rowland Hall from 2010 to 2019. Over the course of her years at Rowland Hall, Dr. Halloran taught thoughtfully and memorably. Since leaving the school, she’s moved to southwest California with her family to teach at La Jolla Country Day School. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview her about her time at Rowland Hall and where she is now.
What is your favorite thing about life in California?
Long walks on the beach are a big plus. Also, today is November 3 and it's 69 degrees. Tomorrow will be 72. Thursday, 77. Might get all the way down to 62 on Sunday. Brrr!
What do you miss most about Utah?
I miss KP [Kody Partridge] the most, obviously. But I also miss Rowland Hall's students and staff. The faculty at Rowland Hall form deep friendships that help them to navigate all the ways teaching can be hard. I know that the History Department is in good hands, but I wish I was there to see Dr. Kogan work his magic. And these are days when listening to Dr. Hickman or Dr. E talk about the news would be 1000% wicked fun. Rowland Hall students are outstanding—not just intellectually but as people. They are warm, respectful, compassionate, and hardworking. And Utah! Utah's beauty is something no other place has. Period. But it's also a place where people are kind to one another. I miss the sweetness of Salt Lake's neighborhoods. Do I miss fry sauce? No, no I do not.
What were your most memorable experiences at Rowland Hall?
KP and I took a group of students to London for Interim a couple of years ago. The house we rented was, in some ways, perfect (centrally-located, enormous, easy to cool down with open windows...) but in other ways it was a total dump. The laundry machine, for example, had a door that could only be opened with the knife sharpener (like a long screwdriver), its instructions had worn off so we had no idea what the settings were, and it was full of these tiny balls of...jelly? They were everywhere, of all sizes from marble down to couscous, and new ones appeared every time we washed clothes. It was just so bizarre. One night, a student chucked one at me while we were commiserating about the laundry situation. I threw one back. He threw another. Before we knew it, we had collapsed on the floor, howling with laughter, flinging these little jelly ball things at each other. KP and Dr. Hickman's oldest son came downstairs to see what the ruckus was about. They just stood in the stairway, shaking their heads. For me, that's what Interim is all about: it's human and unexpected and sometimes mystifying. You think you know what the trip will be like but, in fact, you can never anticipate what will happen.
Juniors have traditionally taken their finals in the library. I used to have a rule in class that if your cell phone goes off you get a detention but if mine goes off everyone gets extra credit. During my first exam in the library, my phone went off. It was my mother!!! The room was packed with every junior and they were *delighted*. So everyone got their extra credit. They even asked me to put her on speaker phone so they could thank her (typical Rowland Hall students—eager to express gratitude). After that, she would arrange to call me during my exams once a year. She loved it—it was like a little gift she could provide to them—and they loved it because...duh.
This is not so much a happy memory as one that is powerful. Many years ago, Rowmark had a terrible accident with one of their vans. Several students and a coach were seriously injured. The student who was most injured, Hank Shipman, spent about a month in the hospital near Mt. Hood, then came home to SLC and was in the hospital for a couple more months. His friends visited him (one of them used to go at midnight and they would have wheelchair races in the glass corridors connecting hospital buildings), he engaged in substantial physical therapy, and he managed to return to school the following year (his junior year). Hank had to find work-arounds for everything—how to hold a baseball bat, how to answer a multiple-choice question, everything. But he did. He worked so hard. And he was great company, so optimistic and thoughtful. I was inspired by him and I think many other people were, too. I always cared for my students but his accident underlined for me the value of the community that students, teachers, families, staff, and administration build. It really is like a wider family. People ask teachers, "Is your work hard?" "Why do you do it?" For me, what happened to Hank, and what Hank did to rebuild his life, are the answers to those questions. Yes, it's hard. I do it because seeing people figuring out who they are, what they want, how they feel about themselves and the world is magical.
Honestly, I know these examples aren't really what you were looking for. It's not like I fondly remember any one thing in particular. The most impressive thing about Rowland Hall is the way that students behave every day—courteous, thoughtful, compassionate, generous. Maintaining that community day in and day out, even in the morning, even when it's AP week, even when the weather is foul or you have a Calculus AB test—it's wonderful. I think Rowland Hall students take it for granted. But it's special.
How has COVID affected you in your new occupation?
COVID sent us all home last March, and we spent the spring in e-learning. Since then, we've been building a system to operate despite the pandemic. So we started with e-learning in August, then brought students back to campus in September, and in November we are expanding who is on campus and how many classes are in-person. My classes will go in person for the first time next Tuesday (November 10)!
The biggest change here has to do with sports. La Jolla Country Day School loves sports SO MUCH. Like, so much. Really, a lot. Not being able to do sports has been a huge change for this campus. They are trying hard to bring back athletics in January (possible here since the weather is sunny and 65 then), and I think most people are hoping it will work.
It's hard to "do school" with COVID bc students really form strong bonds. They want to hug, and sit next to each other and share a TikTok, but they have to stay apart. So they're *at* school but they can't really enjoy the things they like best—sports, friends, lunch, the choral groups, theater, etc. Even though we've gotten classes back, until we get those fun things back it's not the same.
During her time at Rowland Hall, Dr. Halloran made memories with the Rowland Hall community. In California, she is learning to teach amidst a pandemic. Wherever she is, Dr. Halloran’s bright personality and unique perspective are valued by students and teachers alike. As one of her students, Eli Oftedal, recalled, “What strikes you first about Dr. Halloran is her speech—fast-paced, on point, and exuding a snarky wit that punctuates her lectures. This wit allows her to create a compelling narrative making even the most mundane of history topics enjoyable and memorable... Halloran has a fantastic ability to make topics both understandable and relatable without losing the nuances.” This quote highlights Dr. Halloran’s engaging and in-depth teaching style. Hank Shipman, another of her students, mentioned in one of the stories above, wrote, “when I think of Dr. Halloran, I think of the times I stopped by her classroom outside of class to chat… She was always willing to drop what she was doing and discuss class content, politics, TV shows, or just give general life advice. I appreciate the way she treated me like an adult even though I was far from it. What made her an effective teacher for me was the way she ran her classroom. She didn't put up with my BS, and rather than punishing me for my wise-cracks she would just respond to them with more intelligent comebacks that put me in my place. She kept all of us on our toes and forced us to think critically on the spot.” Hank, Eli, and any others who had the opportunity to take one of Dr. Halloran’s classes remember her as a teacher who is engaging, intelligent, and cares deeply about her students. Within or outside of Rowland Hall, Dr. Halloran is both an exceptional teacher and a remarkable person.