Reflections of Susan Groff, a 2013 Carlston Family Foundation Outstanding Teacher of America, on her educational journey.
Education has provided an incredible array of opportunities where my curiosity has continued to be nurtured and sparked. Over the course of a wonderful teaching career, I have developed professionally and personally through educational partnerships, training, and more importantly, the diverse experiences of my students.
Fortunately, while an undergraduate student at UCI, I had several mentors who provided valuable life-long lessons and wisdom. I credit the laboratory research experience (199) in Drs. Ernest Noble and Sujata Tewari ‘s neurochemistry laboratory as one the most influential experiences to date. Dr. Tewari and her research associates had provided an enriched environment where I was introduced to cellular/molecular biology research in neuroscience. Consequently, I had developed an interest in research, and briefly worked at the UCI Medical Center in the Sleep Disorder Lab upon graduation. Due to budget cuts positions were eliminated.
Previously, I had never considered a career in education, but welcomed the opportunity to teach biology in Los Angeles Unified School District under an Emergency Credential. I became “hooked” on teaching and returned to UCI School of Education to obtain a teaching credential. I received outstanding support and training while at the UCI School of Education, as I pursued a single subject credential. Dr. Billie Nave-Masters, a progressive and resourceful educator, was instrumental in raising my awareness regarding social justice issues within education and recognizing the respective challenges our students face. Additionally, the program provided valuable preparation in classroom management, literacy and pluralism. I am grateful for the extensive training received while at UC Irvine as an undergraduate and through the School of Education.
I have found teaching to be extremely rewarding where I have worked as a secondary biology teacher in Santa Ana Unified School District, Capistrano Unified School District and Los Angeles Unified School District over the course of my career. Additionally, I have taught English-as-a-Second Language, Adult Education and GED classes though the Rancho Santiago College District. Each experience has provided a heightened realization of the value of a quality education for all students.
I received an M.Ed. in Instructional Technology from Kent State University in Ohio, and holds an Administrative Credential, Single Subject, Multiple Subjects , and Community College Credentials. I have been recognized as Santa Ana Unified School District High School Teacher of the Year, California Continuing Education Association Educator of the Year, and a Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Scholar. In 2012, I was selected as a NASA Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) Ambassador and as the Carlston Family Foundation nominee in 2013. I have been teaching biology, anatomy/physiology since 2003 at Middle College High School.
The rollercoaster of life presented itself fully last spring. I received a shocking diagnosis regarding my health; I was informed that I had breast cancer and would need extensive treatment. Unexpectedly, the subsequent week of the diagnosis, I was greeted with incredible news that I had been nominated (anonymously) by a former student for the Carlston Family Foundation Outstanding Teachers of America Award. The news of the nomination brought me to tears, since I never anticipated such a thoughtful recognition.
Little did I realize, Heriberto Olive, a former student had nominated me for this extraordinary recognition. Coincidently, I had chosen him as the substitute teacher for the duration of the spring semester, since he was pursuing a teaching career in biology and was familiar with my teaching style. He was an exceptional teacher who maintained the continuity and positive atmosphere within the classroom during my absence.
Heriberto graduated from Middle College High School in 2010 with a high school diploma and Associate of Arts degree from Santa Ana College. When he was in 9th grade biology, he had expressed an interest to become a biology teacher. He has always maintained a strong focus and presently is completing his student teaching through UCI School of Education. He will fulfill his goal by the spring… I welcome him as an extraordinary colleague and individual!
Students have enriched my life beyond words! I love teaching and have felt extremely fortunate to have a dynamic profession where students demonstrate their enthusiasm, energy, and respective talents. I will continue to serve as an agent of change to develop partnerships with universities, businesses and schools to elevate education, particularly focusing upon K-12 STEM and literacy.