Susan Evans

“I felt like I was a good teacher when I started, but I feel like I’m even better now that I’m a mom”

Susan Evans has been a dedicated and outstanding kindergarten teacher for 22 years at Atlantic Highlands Elementary School in New Jersey. According to Susan, the two most definitive qualities of a great teacher are “passion and compassion.”

“You have to look at your students, whether they're 5 years old or 18 years old, like they're your own children. Parents are sending their most precious gifts to you when they send you their kids, and they’re trusting you for seven hours a day to take care of them as they would. And I take that very seriously.”

On Becoming a Teacher

Quite often, the most influential person in a great teacher’s career is a great teacher. That’s why it’s so important to be a great teacher: because you have the potential to inspire others to dedicate their lives to education and to be the best they can be. Susan cites the importance of several great teachers in her decision to pursue a career in education. “In kindergarten, I had a teacher, Miss Thompson, and she was just amazing. I still remember to this day that I was sick one day, and she actually called home to speak to my mom and ask how I was doing. It was amazing to me that she cared so much about me to call and that stayed with me since I was five years old. At that young age, I knew I wanted to do that for children, too.”

Susan attended Rutger’s University’s Douglas College before it offered a major in education. She obtained a degree in psychology and minored in education to become certified as an educator. After graduating, she completed her student teaching experience in Old Bridge, New Jersey. After a short period of substitute teaching and working as a teacher’s aide in Red Bank Primary School, she was hired by Atlantic Highlands Elementary School, where she has been teaching for 22 years. Her ultimate goal is to get her Master’s so she can work at the university level, supervising and guiding student teachers.

On Teaching

One of the most important values to Susan as a teacher is fostering a community. An enriching learning environment calls for a close-knit group of teachers who form strong relationships with students and parents. In Susan’s school, there are 300 students, ranging from pre-school to sixth grade, and she considers her students and coworkers to be like her family. Another teacher who started teaching at Atlantic Highlands Elementary at the same time as Susan has become her best friend. “It’s such a small group --- that's what makes it so nice for me. I’m a social person, and I enjoy close relationships with people. The dynamics are different in a large school system. Here, there’s only 40 of us, so it's been great to work closely with every teacher in my building. I’ve been very fortunate to have really good administrators, too. The district is very good at letting us teach in our own way if it’s working for the students. They give us the freedom to be professionals who know our business”

Susan’s degree in psychology has proven incredibly useful to her teaching. She uses her knowledge of child psychology to help her connect with her students and foster trusting relationships. “Psychology can come into play when a young child is sad because they miss their mom or somebody upsets them. You can calm them down or make them feel good and reassure them that everything will be okay. There's a lot of ‘mommy’ in it too. I felt like I was a good teacher when I started, but I feel like I'm even better now that I’m a mom because I see, as a mom, how I need to handle my kids and what would work best when you're 5.”

On Technology in the Classroom

In Susan’s school, technology is integrated into the classroom to provide more dynamic materials for lessons and to introduce students at an early age to some of the benefits of educational technologies. “We use technology frequently. Every classroom in my building has a smart board and the kids love them. I try to integrate it as much as possible. They also go to the computer lab once a week, but in my class, I don’t like to have them use the computer too much. I think they need to interact with each other.” Susan is cautious of relying too heavily on technology. “It’s not that I don’t like it, I think technology is awesome, but they use it everywhere these days. I think it is important for them to have hands-on experiences.”

On Impacting Students

“I feel fortunate to teach in a small town, you get to know everybody, and the kids stay local --- they come back to visit! You hope that you're impacting all of them. I had one student who is a football player for the Indianapolis Colts. I taught him in kindergarten and second grade, and we still keep in touch. He's become a friend. It’s really cool because my husband told me that I should mention him [in this interview], and I said, ‘What impact did I have on him?’ He said, ‘You taught him to tie his shoes.’ And yes, it’s true, I did teach him to tie his shoes.”

“I had another student who I taught in my first year of teaching. Both her parents were deployed in Desert Storm, so she was living with her grandmother and she had no parents with her. About two years ago I received a letter from her that thanked me for being both her mom and her dad that year. She said I had a huge impact on her, and when she went to school that year, she felt like she was going to see her parents because I took such good care of her. It was the most beautiful letter, and it just came out of the blue. I had no contact with her in years, and it was just really sweet.”