The Polden family educators, from left: Laura M.A. ’13 and Emma M.A. ’17 with their father, Dean Emeritus and SCU Law professor Don Polden.
Bronco blood runs deep in the Polden household. Professor Donald Polden served as Dean of Santa Clara University School of Law from 2003 to 2013 and he still teaches law courses today. Professor Polden is authoritative, professional (he’s a lawyer and a former Dean after all), but when he begins to talk about his children, his tone of voice transforms. You can hear him smiling as he speaks.
Don Polden and his wife Susie have three children, Andy, Laura M.A. ’13, and Emma M.A. ’17. The latter two are graduates of SCU’s School of Education and Counseling Psychology's (ECP) Teacher Education program, and both are fourth grade teachers in the South Bay. They recently described their respective experiences teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic; it’s easy to see that both Laura and Emma are resilient, innovative, and care deeply about connecting with the students they teach.
“I was confident heading into the year, but this year has been much harder than expected,” Laura said. “If I’m being honest, it’s been soul-crushing. You get into the profession of teaching to connect with others and it’s really hard to build relationships with students over a computer screen. But that doesn’t mean we don’t work at it every single day. I have the opportunity to work from my classroom and I have cardboard cutouts of my students sitting at their desks, similar to the ones you see in Major League Baseball stadiums. Those cutouts help inspire me. I move them around the room and if it’s a student’s birthday, for example, I’ll bring that cutout next to me. It’s a way to feel more connected to my kids and it helps humanize this crazy situation.”
Emma shared similar thoughts. “This pandemic makes it extra hard to connect and interact,” she said. “It’s difficult to teach children you don’t know. But, I am beginning to get to know my class, learn their personalities, and form a connection. One of the things I learned while at SCU was the importance of knowing and caring for your students. My experience in ECP was validation that loving my students can be the foundational piece of my teaching philosophy. I love my students; it all grows from there.”
Despite the challenges of 2020, the Polden family is finding ways to grow and thrive through this challenging time. The pandemic has brought more light to the connection the two sisters have, as well as the educational bond they share with their father. They lean on each other and have deep conversations about where to spend their energy. “We’re even collaborating more with my dad,” Emma said. “He’s a teacher too and we are all growing together and helping each other. Watching him learn this new technology has bonded us because we are going through the same thing. It’s cool to support him after he’s supported us for all that time.”
So, to all the Broncos out there - students, staff, faculty, or alumni—as the Polden family teaches us, let us strive to love and support and connect to each other until we can be together again.
Written by Danielle Slaton ’02