WE CATCH UP WITH 1ST GRADE TEACHER SUSIE LEAHY

Susie Leahy taught at Collegiate for nine years as a Kindergarten and 1st Grade teacher before leaving to to work at Radford University and the University of Richmond. She returned eight years ago when a 1st Grade opening became available. Her return to teaching little ones proved to be an adjustment, however. “Going from the pace of a college professor back to the classroom was a complete shock to my system,” she said. “You realize, whoa, the energy level is so high.” She tells Spark about why she enjoys teaching at Collegiate, what her hopes are for her students and shares a little-known secret.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE COLLEGIATE TRADITION?
I love Convocation when the seniors walk in with the Kindergartners. I think it sums up so many wonderful things about Collegiate. They are both, in some ways, at very similar points in their lives even though there is such a big age gap. It never gets old and I always get teary seeing it. I just love it. It’s the sweetest thing.

WHAT MAKES TEACHING AT COLLEGIATE SO SPECIAL?
For me it’s the incredible sense of community that you get here. Watching children go from JK to 12th Grade and connecting with their families is really a unique opportunity. That’s why I left University of Richmond. I missed that. I loved U of R, but I had my students for such a short amount of time and they were gone. Whereas, now I coach JV cross country and I’ll see these kids who were once 1st Graders who are now 8th or 9th Graders. I really love that.

WHAT’S A LITTLE-KNOWN FACT ABOUT COLLEGIATE YOU CAN SHARE?
Many years ago at the Winter Party and Auction, several faculty and staff members, myself included, got up and did a lip sync performance to entertain the parents. It was me, [Kindergarten teacher] Beth Anne Shelly, [special events and projects supervisor] Wilbur Athey, [groundskeeper] Arthur Johnson, [groundskeeper] Jesse Garrant and [former vice president of development] Alex Smith. It was hilarious. Respect by Aretha Franklin. I don’t think anyone knew we were getting up to do that. I’m not sure if they enjoyed it or were sort of scared seeing us up there. We had a great time. It was really fun.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
I love teaching and I love seeing and figuring out what a child really needs. I have 20 little people in here and each one’s personality and needs are so different that it takes a while to really connect and figure out what it is that they need. But when you finally realize it, particularly when there’s a child who is struggling, when you figure it out, how do I help this child, I think that’s the most satisfying part of the whole job.

WHAT IS YOUR TEACHING PHILOSOPHY?
The transition from Kindergarten to 1st Grade can be a really big one for kids, so we try to ease them in gently, particularly coming off the summer. Having to actually walk in and sit down at a desk is tough. They are so wiggly. My basic philosophy is very simple: If things aren’t going well in the classroom, typically it’s something that I’m not providing or I am asking too much of them. I constantly have to evaluate. How did that go? Did they get it? Did they not get it? At this age, school should be wonderful. They should love it. They should be OK with things sometimes being hard, but they shouldn’t be stressed. So I have to think about whether my expectations or my pace are right for this age. I have to be pretty flexible and adjust.

WHAT THREE WORDS DESCRIBE COLLEGIATE?
Active. Vibrant. Creative. I remember when I came to visit — I had been in higher education for a while — and every child I walked by smiled and said hi. They are just so happy that they’re here and they love it. It’s such a vibrant, alive place. Every day is not perfect, but really, it’s a pretty remarkable place.

WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT COLLEGIATE?
I love the people most of all — the really amazing wonderful families, faculty and staff. I originally moved to Richmond and the plan was that I would teach here for five years and then move back to New England. I’m a New Englander. And I never went back — much to my family’s chagrin. This just feels like home. So, here I am.

WHAT DO YOU HOPE YOUR STUDENTS TAKE WITH THEM WHEN THEY LEAVE YOUR CLASSROOM?
Hopefully, they leave with confidence and a love of school and learning so they are excited to go onto their next adventure. You can write down all kinds of learning standards, but what it really boils down to is, do they want to learn? Are they excited to learn? And how do you instill that in them? It’s not just checking a box, yes, I taught them this or that. That’s just one small part of it. It’s a lot of getting them engaged, confident, happy, curious — all those good things we want our little people to continue as they keep going onward.
Back