Author: Erika O'Shea
Published: Friday, 21 Aug 2020
Susan Robards is starting her retirement in an unusual time. Up until this March, she had spent all 47 years of her professional career in classrooms around Kansas City as an elementary school teacher. That all changed when COVID-19 forced a shift to at-home learning. The beloved educator celebrated her transition into a well-earned retirement a little differently than how she had originally imagined. “For this to have been my last year was a little disappointing. But people did lovely things for me. I got cards and three colleagues planned a drive by my house…there had to have been 80 cars!” Susan has spent the bulk of her career, 34 years in total, at Notre Dame de Sion Grade School for Girls and Boys, an independent Roman Catholic school located in Kansas City’s Midtown neighborhood.
Susan remembers being called from a young age to her vocation, except for one year in middle school. “All my life I remember wanting to be a teacher, except for the 6th grade. That year I was set on being a hospital dietician and I have no idea why.” Luckily for her future students, Susan changed her mind and went on to receive an undergraduate and master’s degree in education from the University of Kansas. Guidance early in her career from mentor and fellow teacher, Mrs. Irwin, helped Susan identify her passion for teaching early elementary students. Susan shared her coworker’s perspective, “She told me that because I can break concepts down and give explanations in small parts, that I’d do best with kids below the third grade.” Heeding this advice, Susan has stuck with teaching children between kindergarten and third grade her entire career and has loved it.
In her view, the work of inspiring young minds is an all or nothing vocation. Susan’s advice to others entering education is to teach from a place of passion. She said, “My own personal feeling has been if you are in education and you are talking about what your next career is going to be, then you don’t belong here. If you have got plans for the next career, then go do that. Kids need you liking what you are doing right now when you are a teacher.” Susan’s commitment to teaching has allowed her to build long term bonds with Junior Achievement volunteers. Thinking through the program’s presence in Notre Dame de Sion she said, “I know for sure we’ve had it at least ten years, but I would think we’ve done Junior Achievement maybe even twenty years.” Much of that experience has been with volunteers from a single company, American Century.
Susan is grateful for the consistent support she has received from the organization, saying, “Typically I’ll have a volunteer for two, three, even four years in a row. I appreciate there are businesses in our community that allow their employees to do JA.” She also feels that the content is a good fit with her own curriculum. “The JA program coordinates well with social studies and my math program… that’s a big factor! I really feel like what kids take away during the program is a part of our learning far past the five weeks that the volunteer comes in.” Susan felt fortunate that her JA program this past spring ended the day before schools were closed due to the pandemic.
When she heard about additional learning from home resources available from JAKC during the shutdown, she seized the opportunity to reinforce the concepts her students had recently learned. “I thought the online programs were fabulous this spring. I have nineteen students, and not only did I send them the to the online program materials but I also sent them the JAKC Learning Links newsletter, specifically the K-2 activities,” Susan commented, referencing resources supplied to the community during the shutdown by the JA programs team. She continued, “I was amazed by how many people did those activities and sent back pictures to me. In some ways, those kids did more than our regular program! I thought it was all very beneficial.” As an educator, Susan has heard concerns from parents about kids falling behind on their studies due to not being in a physical classroom.
She sees this time as an opportunity for children, “For a whole lot of families, no matter what the socio-economic status might be, they are gaining life skills and experiences that are not taught in an academic class, but which you have to know.” This hits on the reason Susan chose to offer Junior Achievement experiences for so many years. She added, “People have to know what to do with money. I am surprised at the number of people, even people my age, who have worked their whole lives and have no savings. I worry for those people. That is why I feel JA is important.” Susan is excited for her retirement. But, like many teachers, she feels keenly the absence of one end-of-the year tradition. “I feel like my final year is unfinished because I didn’t hug a kid on the last day of school. I’m sure a lot of teachers have that feeling.” JAKC is truly thankful to have had Susan as a JA Champion in her community for the past two decades and wishes her the best on a well-earned retirement!