Q&A WITH APPOQUINIMINK TEACHER OF THE YEAR
Olivia Suchanec wasn’t prepared with a speech when she was named Appoquinimink Teacher of the Year at a dinner for all the nominees in April. The social studies teacher at Everett Meredith Middle School has been a teacher for 10 years at the same school and the district’s recognition of her work and dedication was something that she said, truly moved her.
“When my name was announced at the Teacher of the Year dinner, I was in complete shock and my heart was beating out of my chest. I was asked to say a few words, which I was totally unprepared for, and I can honestly say that I do not remember much after that point. I have some big shoes to fill, and I only hope to do it with as much grace and professionalism as the past winners,” Suchanec said.
The Transcript asked Suchanec more about her life, career, motivation and any advice she has for other teachers so they one day can be honored like she was.
Q Tell our readers about yourself.
A I am a home-grown Delawarean. Throughout my childhood, I moved around quite a bit, and attended multiple school districts in the state. In 2001, I graduated from William Penn High School. After high school, I attended the University of Delaware. While in high school and college, I worked as a pharmacy technician at Walgreens, formerly known as Happy Harry’s to us Delawareans.
During the summers, I was a camp counselor at the Western YMCA and also volunteered at the Wilmington Hospital. During my final years in college, it came time to select a school district for my student teaching. I chose the Appoquinimink School District. Everett Meredith was one of the schools that I had a placement for during my student teaching.
The next school year will be my 11th year teaching in the district and I can proudly say that I have only taught in one school district and in one school for in my entire career thus far. I fell in love with the Appoquinimink School District and the community so much that I never left.
Q For those who may not know about your accomplishments, tell us a little bit about your work and your achievements.
A One of my proudest academic accomplishments was graduating cum laude from the University of Delaware during my undergraduate program. Immediately following graduation, I chose to further my education and decided on a master’s degree in Educational Technology, again from the University of Delaware. A few years ago, a wonderful opportunity came up to be a part of a groundbreaking new program at the University of Delaware, a masters in social studies in world history.
I am a proud Blue Hen through and through! Being a life-long learner, I jumped at the chance to further my knowledge and experience in my content area. I completed all my master’s degrees while working full time and raising a family.
Throughout all the degrees and all the time that I have given to my classroom and serving on various committees, I could not have done it without my family. They have been my rock. None of those accomplishments could have been possible without their support and guidance.
Q What made you stand out to the committee choosing the District Teacher of the Year?
A Being selected as the 2016-2017 Everett Meredith Middle School’s Teacher of the Year was a huge honor. The students and staff at Meredith are awesome and I am honored to be selected to represent them.
The District Teacher of the Year process was very educational and rewarding. I was grateful to get the chance to interact and compete against such high caliber professionals.
I truly felt like any one of them could have been the District Teacher of the Year. The stories and biographies read about each of the candidates were heartwarming. Evenings such as these, remind me why teachers are so vitally important and what we do in our classrooms do make a difference.
Q Tell us about your chances of being name Delaware's Teacher of the Year?
A Win or lose, I plan to soak it all in and will try to have fun during the process. I know that I will gain experiences and form connections with other teachers throughout the state. Furthermore, no matter the outcome, I will take this experience back into the classroom with me. Every day, I will challenge myself to be a better teacher than I was the day before. Our students deserve the best that we can offer them. I think that my current and past students would agree that we never know what we can do until we try. Failure is okay, as long as you learn and grow from it.
Q What advice would you give to teachers who want to do their best and excel in the classroom as you have done?
A My advice to teachers is to ask questions and do not be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone in regards to instruction. Seek out new strategies and activities to keep the learning fresh and engaging. There are no perfect lessons and do not be afraid to admit that the lesson didn’t go well. I personally had to learn to accept change and take experiences as they come, good or bad. I am a planner and like to have control over the details. I had to learn to be more flexible and ask for help when I needed it. Most importantly, I would not be half the teacher that I am today without my village behind me. Take any opportunity that you can to observe your colleagues in action.
Q Tell us more about how your teaching style in the classroom and where you draw inspiration from.
A My teaching style has evolved over the years. I used to think that teachers had to have all the answers. I have learned that today’s teacher is not a “sage on the stage” but rather a facilitator. I can still tell my great stories about the ancient past, but I also allow my students time to collaborate, interact with materials, and think critically.
The introduction of the one-to-one initiative in the Middle Schools has also changed my teaching style. The iPads have created a more authentic experience for my students that they could not have had in a traditional classroom.
I am now able to bridge topics in the Ancient World with today quickly and seamlessly. I believe that this has led to a more engaging subject area and also fosters a greater excitement for learning. My inspiration is my students. Their energy and excitement for life in general, energizes me to be the best teacher that I can be. I hope that my love of teaching history inspires my students to love history as well. I strive every day to learn a little more and hope that comes through in my teaching.