Hinton Chair Susan Stenson, who began teaching at SMUS this September, was recently awarded a Certificate of Achievement from the Prime Minister’s Awards for Teaching Excellence. Susan is one of 13 teachers in the province to receive the award and one of 50 across the country. Nominated by the principal at Claremont Secondary, her former school, Susan credits her success in the classroom to great opportunities in her school district and supportive colleagues.
“Susan is innovative, daring, passionate about the subject matter, and hard-working,” says University of Victoria writing professor Lorna Crozier, who has taught many of Susan’s students. “I can think of no one more deserving of this honour.”
Below, Susan talks about the importance of the award and her own approach to teaching.
Were you surprised by the support you received after your nomination?
The flood of support spanned almost 30 years. I was overwhelmed by the letters, emails and Facebook messages that I received and grateful for each one.
What element of your teaching style do you think kids respond to?
I’m told that kids respond to my enthusiasm. I have a whatever-it-takes attitude and I happen to love teaching English. I love kids, so my classroom is a place to feel safe taking the time to learn. Kids respond to the structure I provide and the cultural experiences. I invite writers to the classrooms, encourage the students to enter contests, give readings, create new work, and connect with kids and writers across the country via technology in the classroom. I know that one thing kids appreciate (although they may groan) is the academic standards I uphold. “Rigor for all” is our motto. Laughter also helps. Breaking the work into parts, encouraging a persevering attitude, formative assessments, any scaffolding of assignments, modelling, encouraging, a lot of positive feedback, and time on task are truly appreciated by students. They do not want to waste time.
How does it feel to be recognized for teaching excellence?
I’m happy that the program exists because I don’t think the general public has a clear understanding of the job and the newspapers tend to report on union conflicts or problems in schools, which is a paper’s mandate; consequently, if the Prime Minister is recognizing stewards in the classroom, the office is exclaiming that excellent teaching matters to kids and the website offers resources to students, parents and teachers, which is how we can continue to advance in education.
It was Claremont’s former principal, Mark Fraser, who began the nomination process. He and many of his colleagues are innovative educators and I’ve been fortunate to receive incredible leadership from Claremont’s staff and administration. The students are highly motivated and the parents support the school well.
Do you find teaching at SMUS different?
Teaching at SMUS is excellence incarnate. As a result, teaching here makes me want to learn more, which means finding new ways through literacy to connect kids to themselves, to one another, and to the world. It’s not a small task but I like a challenge. I’m impressed by SMUS’ ability to address the whole child — academically, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. The music, art, and writing programs flourish here. Similarly, leadership and scholarship have their own departments! I’ve never seen anything like it.