English Department Welcomes Back Ms. Gross

Mrs. Gross. Credit: Williston.com

Mrs. Gross. Credit: Williston.com

Working at Williston is a family affair for Jen Gross. Having taught for six years, with a daughter who graduated last year, as well as a son who is a current freshman, she’s definitely a familiar face on campus.

Gross, who left Williston in 2016, is now back on campus teaching 11th grade English for the final weeks of school, covering for her former colleague Kate McKillop, who will be leaving Williston to prepare for the birth of her first child.

“I’m really excited to be back at Williston for the spring—it’s such a beautiful time of year on campus and there’s so much energy and buzz around,” Gross said. “It’s frantic but delightful as well!”

Gross has been teaching English since 1989. After attending Brown University, she took her first job at the Kent Denver School in Denver, Colorado, after her brother-in-law suggested it.

“It was super hard to go from being a college student to being a high school teacher—so much more responsibility and pressure, but it was also very exciting and I learned so much about myself, literature, writing, teenagers, and life that first year,” she said.

She attributes her love of teaching English to the fact that she’s, “really curious about people. Reading novels, plays, and essays with students is an opportunity to learn more each day about what it means to be human.”

Tackling the tough task of teaching Song of Soloman by Toni Morrison, Gross hopes to help the students get the most out of the complex novel.

“It’s so satisfying to tackle a hard text and make discoveries on your own and in collaboration with other readers,” she said.

Sophomore Maddie Elsea, one of Gross’s students last year, has no doubt that she’ll be up to the challenge.

“She was an awesome teacher,” Maddie said. “We had to read The Odyssey by Homer last year, and Ms. Gross made it really interesting.”

One of her inspirations? Sarah Sawyer, the head of the English department at Williston.

Gross recalled one faculty meeting when Sawyer said that one of her goals was talking less and listening more.

“I try that each year,” Gross said. “It has been a slow progress for me, but I try harder each time I teach to make the discussions less centered on me and what I think about a text.”

Above all, however, Gross loves literature, and cites that as one of her biggest motivators to teach. “I think going deeply into literature is one of the best ways to develop empathy—literature transports you into other people’s experiences. For me, that’s endlessly interesting.”

She added, “I enjoy trying to cultivate that curiosity in my students about other people and other experiences.”

During her previous tenure at Williston, Gross coached volleyball and tennis, although she will not be returning to those posts.

Dora Gordon, ’19, had Gross as a tennis coach last year.

“She was so excited to help us improve as players and always found time to work with us individually during practice.” Dora continued, “While she is here this spring I hope she can get involved with the team again.”

Above all, however, Gross is excited to seeing some familiar faces.

“I am looking forward to reunite with former students and getting to know new ones and the same is true with the faculty,” she said. “I have a lot to catch up on with my old colleagues and some new teachers to get to know.”