Susan Sterzer is a math teacher at Ririe High School. She teaches algebra 2, pre-calculus, dual enrollment college algebra through College of Southern Idaho, basic statistics, math in the real world and calculus. She completed her student teaching in Ririe and never left. This is her 13th year teaching.

What made you decide to be a teacher? My fourth grade teacher played a pivotal role in that. Her encouragement and interest in me set my course. I knew I wanted to help other young people in the same manner that she had helped me. I want to make a difference in their lives and help build their confidence in doing hard things.

What do you enjoy about being a teacher? It is wonderful to watch students have that “aha” moment when something finally clicks.

What are some challenges? My biggest issue is time — usually lack of. Each new set of students that I teach bring a different level of ability and understanding with them. My husband often asks, “Why don’t you just do what you did last year?” Students are all so different and I want so much for my students that I am constantly evaluating, changing, and making adjustments to my lessons and activities so they have the opportunity to learn more.

What is an experience you have had as a teacher that stands out to you? One of my favorite occurred in my first year of teaching. At that time, the state of Idaho required students to pass a state test to graduate from high school. I had 5 seniors in my class that didn’t know math, didn’t get math, and couldn’t seem to pass that test. We worked together for a semester and every single one passed that state test. The joy, the confidence that I saw in their eyes was one of the most rewarding things that I have ever been a part of.

Why did you decide to teach at the school you are currently at? I love the students at Ririe. They are hard working, determined, and respectful. they are some of the best young people in the state and they are what keeps me at Ririe.

What is something interesting about you most of your students don’t know? I went back to school when my last child was in high school. I hadn’t had a math class in a VERY long time. I did ok, until I got to my college calculus class. After the first 2 weeks, I knew I was in way over my head. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do it, but that it was such a different type of math, I truly didn’t understand what was going on. I dropped out of the class, fearing I couldn’t pass. However, I attended every class and did every problem assigned for homework, without getting any kind of credit from the experience. But I learned! I found a way to do something very hard. When I took that calculus class the following semester, I sailed through it. So, to those who say something is too hard or that they can’t do it — first I know the frustration they feel and 2nd — you can find a way to accomplish it.

What are some things that are different in the education system now compared to when you first started teaching/when you were a student? One negative thought and one positive. I feel too much emphasis is placed on state testing and the ability of schools and students to perform on these tests. It feels that test performance determines curriculum and lesson plans. The data from tests tell us how good or how poor our teachers and schools are. There is so much more to educating students than the data a state test generates. Positively, having a standards based curriculum has helped consolidate teachers across the state to teach the same concepts. This has been wonderful as now students going from district to district are getting the same information. These guidelines are not only helpful, they give teachers a way to prepare students for higher level education.