Sarah Suchanek, Slauson Middle School ELA teacher

By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor

Sarah Suchanek grew up in Ann Arbor and attended Dicken, Forsythe, and Pioneer (with a two-year break in high school when her family lived in Florida). She’s a third-generation AAPS student as her mother graduated from Pioneer, and her grandmother graduated from the former Ann Arbor High School. Suchanek’s father worked in purchasing for Johnson Controls and Pfizer while her mother was a nurse at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital and IHA.

Suchanek earned her B.A. in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy from James Madison College at Michigan State. After graduation, she worked in development at the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. While there, she started volunteering at 826michigan and fell in love with literacy education. She then returned to Michigan State to earn a teaching certification, after which she pursued an M.A. in Composition and Rhetoric with a focus on Literacy and Pedagogy.

Her M.A. allowed her to work in the Writing Center at Michigan State, and to teach first-year writing. She then moved to Portland, Oregon where her now-husband , Vince, was living and worked in homeless services, a youth rehabilitation center, low-income housing resident services, and a design thinking education non-profit.

Suchanek began teaching at Slauson shortly after the couple moved back to Michigan in 2017.
She and her husband recently moved into a 103-year-old house in Ypsilanti which they are fixing up ourselves. They have a border collie hound mix named Boo (who loves having her own backyard for the first time) and a big fluffy black cat named Oz.

What were you like in middle school, and do those memories help you relate to your

I was generally a good student in middle school, but I missed a lot of class thanks to really awful migraines. The majority of my middle school memories are social. I was very involved with a youth theater group, and the friends I made there are still close. (They’re coming over for pizza this weekend.) I was also an avid reader and my friends and I constantly swapped books. I remember how goofy our sense of humor was, which I think is true of most middle schoolers. A few years ago I had students obsessed with Bill the pony from Lord of the Rings (a pony who is only in the book for a handful
of chapters). They made “Bill the Pony for President” posters and wrote about him in their ELA journals. It was so goofy, but I thought “Oh, this is something we would have done, too.”

When you recall your first year of teaching, what memories stand out?
My first year in middle school was actually a half year as a long-term substitute. I came in at the semester mark teaching 8th grade ELA and social studies. I had a student who was very hard to win over, but we eventually got there. By the end of the year, she was writing me silly persuasive essays about why her trivia answers should be counted and wrote my principal a really amazing letter saying that they should keep me. It’s a good reminder of where a few months of consistency and transparency can get you.

What advice would you give to a first-year teacher?
October is hard for everyone, even veteran teachers. Don’t feel bad about taking sick days. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to be a good teacher. Let students have some say in how things go – it will make it easier for you both in the long run.

What inspired you to become a teacher?
Working with the young writers at 826michigan, and encouragement from one of my college professors who saw the teacher in me before I did.

What’s the best compliment anyone could give you?
When someone comes to me to help them figure out the solution to a problem.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about teaching? About learning?
Teaching and learning are at their best when they are practiced in community.

What’s the happiest part of your day?

What’s your classroom management strategy?
Firm but fair. Strategic student choice enhances learning objectives and student ownership.

Favorite websites:
The Noun Project, Google Sheets,

Apps you can’t live without:
Audible, Libby, NYT Cooking, IMDB.

What’s your earliest memory?
Eating in my grandmother’s kitchen.

If you could live anywhere in the world for a year, where would you go?
The Shetland Islands.

How do you keep students engaged?
High expectations. Developmentally appropriate choices.

What is the most rewarding part of teaching?
When you help a reluctant reader find their book.

What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher?
I think people underestimate how “on” teachers are all day and how much we do beyond the time we are directly working with students.

How do you recharge?
Fun cooking projects. Spending time with my family. Spending time alone. I do a lot of textile crafts: quilting, sewing, embroidery, and especially knitting. I also am an avid cook and baker. I’m currently working on figuring out a great chocolate babka. I like the problem-solving elements of these hobbies and the fact that there are always new skills to learn and work on.

How do you spend your summers?
Gardening. Sleeping. Projects.

What’s most exciting about your professional life right now? Your personal life?
I presented for the first time at NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) this year with an amazing panel of AAPS teachers. It was really wonderful to connect with English teachers from all over the country.
Redoing my house! It’s so fun and rewarding to see things come together.

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