She may cover marketing, but it’s our turn to promote the student loving, self-sacrificing, life loving educator, Mrs. Suzanne Rodger! Find out why this Teacher of the Year gives so much to your kids.
Adam: Where were you born?
Suzanne: Traverse City, Michigan.
Adam: How’d you end up down here?
Suzanne: After getting my business degree and working in industry for a few years, I realized I was supposed to be a teacher. When I graduated with my teaching degree the economy was tanking in Michigan and we decided to get out. We had to figure out where to go, and my soon to be in-law said we needed to check out Tennessee. They were having a job fair here the next weekend so we went for it. I ended up getting a job at South Doyle High and it all worked out.
Adam: What was your high school mascot?
Suzanne: The Trojans.
Adam: What college did you go to?
Suzanne: Central Michigan University for my bachelor’s degree in business administration with a marketing logistics, and Eastern Michigan for my teaching certificate.
Adam: Where did you work when you were in industry?
Suzanne: I had a lot of jobs. I’ve done interior design sales, worked in a law office, pest control sales, insurance and investment sales. I did a lot just trying to find my fit. Finally, when I was working in schools, selling them their retirement plans, I was sitting around the lunchroom talking with the teachers. I just remember listening to teachers going, that’s it, that’s what I’m supposed to do. I wanted to be on that side of the table. I actually applied for the Teach for America Program and I got accepted and Detroit schools just couldn’t figure out how to place us. I didn’t want to wait on them so I just went back and got my certification. That’s how I ended up as a teacher.
Adam: How many years were you in industry then?
Adam: How many years have you taught?
Suzanne: This is year 15.
Adam: How many years at Hardin Valley Academy?
Adam: What subjects are you teaching this semester?
Suzanne: I have Marketing I. I have Supply Chain I and Supply Chain II. I have our school based enterprise, which is the school store that we’re developing. It’s a work based learning in school experience. A lot of kids just don’t have that time out of school, so we’re developing a program where kids can do it in school.
Adam: What do you tell kids that ask about your classes? How do you recruit them?
Suzanne: I always tell my kids every job you’re going to have is a business. If you’re a nurse, you’re gonna work in a business. If you’re going to work in a police department, it’s a business. So many kids don’t know what they are going to do but I want them to know there are a lot of options. If you’re just not sure, come and take my classes. I always joke about the fact that I don’t give homework and that gets a lot of kids to come in. It’s fun and everything that you’re going to learn from us will apply to whatever job you end up having..
Adam: Do you sponsor any clubs or coaching sports?
Suzanne: I am the DECA sponsor which is an association of marketing students. It used to actually stand for something, but that was so outdated that they just dropped it. I share that with a couple wonderful teachers and just took over heading it up last year when the previous teacher retired. The other thing I help with is the school based enterprise which is a full-time job in itself.
Adam: Why did you get into teaching?
Suzanne: When I was working before I just realized that I wasn’t fulfilled and I wasn’t satisfied. I used to have to work on Sunday and I dreaded going to work. I don’t feel that anymore. I love coming to work every day. I love what I do. I just got to spend three days with a group of kids in Chattanooga and by Saturday I was missing them. I get to work with the coolest people on the planet. Teenagers are awesome. They get kind of a bad rap about stuff, but dang they’re cool. I start every semester with a spiel with my kids and I want them to realize I chose this. I chose to come to school every day just to be with them. I let them know this is my dream and I choose to be with them every day.
Adam: What is your funniest teaching story?
Suzanne: When I was at South Doyle High, I became the yearbook advisor. We had a little conference room annex off my classroom and that was kind of the yearbook room where the kids had their own computers and a little conference table. I hear this loud crash. I get a shocked look on my face, so do all the kids around me. The teacher from below me, about two minutes later, walks up and has one of my chairs in her room. I don’t know what they thought was gonna happen with this, but they had thrown a chair out the window and I was so embarrassed. No one ever admitted to doing it!
Adam: What is your most heartwarming teaching story?
Suzanne: I think it was when I had students drive 8 hours up to Michigan for my wedding. One of them even sang at my wedding. We’re going to New York in a couple weeks for a Billy Joel concert and we’re gonna meet up with him for dinner. I love being able to keep up with these kids after they’ve been in my classes. Especially when you’re involved in something like DECA or the yearbook, you get to be really close with them. They come and visit you in the hospital when you have a baby. They go to your weddings. I helped one girl move into her first house and those moments are special. It feels good to keep that connection as they become real people.
Adam: What would you do if you weren’t teaching?
Suzanne: My dream when I retire is to run a bed and breakfast. I really think that’s what I would love to do. I love to garden. I love to cook. I love to just do some of those kinds of things. I’d still get to be around people and play a little role in their lives.
Adam: Who was your favorite teacher when you were a student?
Suzanne: My fifth and sixth grade teacher Ms. Schrumpf. When we were rebuilding our basement and I was going through boxes I found a ruler from her class. It was from 1989 I think. She was just a teacher that you could have a really good relationship with.
Adam: Is there anyone at Hardin Valley Academy you want to give a special shout out too?
Suzanne: Ms. West, she retired last year. Even before I came to Hardin Valley, she was absolutely the best resource ever. She was a pioneer in so many classes in developing new things. At South Doyle they always came up with these new classes for us to teach and nobody ever knew what they were. They’d hand us these standards and we’d have to figure it out. She would have these resources online and would just share what she had with us. This was before Google Drive and this was before Canvas and she would just send us all these resources to use. They were the most amazing things. When I got to come here I was so excited to work with her. She was a great mentor and a great problem solver. She made everything look easy. Now having Kelly Ivens as my principal, we figure out things together and I try to take things off her plate. When there’s an issue, she takes care of it and we make a good team. She helps me see a lot of stuff that I sometimes get worked up over and she’ll help me see things differently. She’s so supportive of everyone here.
Adam: Have you earned any professional awards?
Suzanne: I was Teacher of the Year for Hardin Valley last year. It really is such an honor because we have so many wonderful teachers here.
Adam: What personal accomplishment are you most proud of?
Suzanne: A couple things come to my mind. I’ve just finished being a den leader for five or six years. My son is moving on to Boy Scouts so we’re finishing up this part. I’m proud of that because I’ve had a pretty high completion rate of my Scouts. There’s a handful moving up to Boy Scouts. So that’s pretty big. My husband and I have been married 13 years and we had 2 kids right away. It’s been tough doing that and moving to a place where we didn’t know a soul. One of our big things is we want to live debt free. We’re about to pay off our house and we’re pretty excited about that. I think just living and appreciating what we have is a couple of our big things.
Adam: What do you wish every parent knew?
Suzanne: How awful social media is for their kids! It’s not for kids. I don’t think parents understand what their phones and especially the social media aspect of it does to their kids and their psyche. They are consumed. Every thought, every action is social media based. I was actually just reading an article about when in 2007ish Facebook logarithm added the “like” button and teenage girls suicide rates just exponentially increased. You can’t deny that the way kids socialize now is very different than it used to be. My kids will ask about calling their friends to play. I tell them to put some clothes on and walk over to their house and knock on the door. They’re like, “You can do that?” Kids have just forgotten how to talk. My kids are 9 and 11 and their friends have cell phones already. It’s not just to call home on the bus. I just wish parents knew more about that.
Adam: What do you wish every student knew?
Suzanne: I wish they knew the same thing. Overall I wish they would have a little bit of perspective of how the choices they make today will lead to how much success they have later. If they would just trust us a little bit more when we tell them these are choices that are going to matter. When you’re not turning something in, it’s not about the assignment. It’s about learning responsibility, learning how to follow directions, and learning how to be honest.
Adam: What is the difference between a good and a great teacher?
Suzanne: I think a good teacher is one who shows up at work on time, makes lessons and teaches their kids the content. I think a great teacher is one who figures out how to meet their kids with what the kid needs. Not every kid is the same. A great teacher takes the time to really get to know and figure out how to adapt your content for the kids. Some kids can do a presentation with 12 slides but maybe another can do it with 3. Some kids have to present things to understand it, they can’t all just memorize. It takes a lot of planning and effort to be able to do that. It takes time, but you kinda learn how to do it and it gets easier. I spent a couple years as a GT coach for the gifted and talented. That’s where I really learned how to do that. I got to tour classrooms and watch really good teachers teach and help them make better content for the honors kids.
Adam: What improvement would you most like to see made to public education?
Suzanne: There’s so many things. I don’t even know where to start with that one. I think we need to figure out a way to attract more of the higher quality educators and find a way to keep them in the classroom. We are losing too many good teachers all the time. I know it all comes down to funding. I know that answer. There’s too many things that are being put on us right now. We have to sweep our own classrooms every day or it doesn’t get done. There’s three custodians for this entire school. Those three are rock star custodians, but that’s not fair to them to have to do it all. So we have to do it, but that’s not fair to us because we also have to do all these other things that we shouldn’t have to do either. Between all the other duties and meetings, it’s a lot to juggle. Then, we look to our principles, but they have way too many things on their plate too. There’s just not enough resources to go around and that’s why teachers are burnt out because they have to do too much. This isn’t always an attractive job. I wish parents knew what their kids acted like in the classroom. I get to work with some amazing students, but some really test your limits. If there’s not enough discipline at home, it can be exhausting for us.
Adam: What’s something that you could use in your classroom?
Suzanne: More time. Haha! All the classrooms need more headphones because they always run out of those. The kids always need arts and craft supplies, but I’m stocked up on those because we didn’t use them for two years.
Adam: What hobbies do you have?
Suzanne: Right now gardening is my big hobby. I’m putting the garden back in place after the flood because we had to dig out the whole yard to waterproof things. Photography used to be a hobby. I used to have a little side business where I did school pictures for the kids. I’d like to get back to that but it gets to be so time-consuming. After I had cancer, I just didn’t have that kind of time. I spend so much time going to swim practice and now one kid is starting flag football. I’d say being a mom is my hobby.
Adam: What’s a good way for a student or a parent to spoil you?
Suzanne: Coffee. Black coffee. Chocolate too. I had one kid that would bring me a Mountain Dew Icee if he knew he was going to be late to class. He thought he could slip in under the radar with an icee. Haha!
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