April 05, 2019
NEWBURGH, N.Y. -
Keynote speaker Alhassan Susso, the 2019 New York State Teacher of the Year, discussed his unusual path to the teaching profession and his dedication to all students at Mount Saint Mary College’s Teach the Change event on April 2.
Mount Saint Mary College hosted its annual Teach the Change conference – a career development event for teacher candidates, high school students interested in becoming educators, and their mentors – on Tuesday, April 2.
“Becoming a teacher is an investment in yourself,” explained Frances Spielhagen, Mount Education professor and a coordinator of the conference. “It’s not just a job.”
About 150 people attended the conference, which was moderated by David Gallagher, Mount associate professor of Education and division chair. The event featured an introduction by keynote speaker Alhassan Susso of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., the 2019 New York State Teacher of the Year.
Susso teaches in the New York City Public School System and has dedicated his career to transforming the lives of young people facing difficulties, particularly new immigrants. Originally from West Africa, Susso seeks to expand the worldview of young students so they can find meaning in their lives and discover the right path to becoming successful American citizens.
“Most of us know what we do, and most of us know how we do it,” said Susso. “But the question is, do we know WHY we do what we do?” To that end, people with a strong motivation, said Susso, can overcome great adversity. “I would add to that the stronger your ‘why,’ the harder you’ll try,” he said.
Susso’s “why” draws from his personal struggles. When he arrived in America as a teenager, it was with little more than the clothing on his back. One of his teachers went above and beyond to make sure Susso thrived, academically and socially, awakening within him the desire to teach.
There are four levels of teaching, he said: informational, motivational, inspirational, transformational. All are good, but only one kind of teacher can “make you do the things you don’t want to do, so that you can become the outstanding man or the woman you’ve always known you can be…I was fortunate to have that when I first came to the U.S.”
Susso encouraged everyone, from current teachers and teacher-candidates, to become transformational educators in their own classrooms.
The alumni panel at the Mount’s recent Teach the Change conference consisted of (left to right): Debra Calvino ’81, the 2010 New York State Teacher of the Year and an Orange-Ulster BOCES Instructional Support Specialist; Dana McDonough ’91 MSEd ’00, the 2016 New York State Teacher of the Year and a literary specialist at Horizons on Hudson; Vanessa Hurst ’07 MSEd ’10, an English and special education teacher at Ossining High School; Alhassan Susso of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., the 2019 New York State Teacher of the Year;Angelo LaRossa Jr. ’09, a Global II teacher at Newburgh Free Academy Main Campus; and Janaina Barham-Middleton MSEd ’13, a special education teacher at Newburgh Free Academy’s Main Campus.
Also at the conference, a Mount alumni panel hosted a question and answer session to help the high school students to further explore their potential teaching careers. In addition to Susso, the panel consisted of Debra Calvino ’81, the 2010 New York State Teacher of the Year and an Orange-Ulster BOCES Instructional Support Specialist; Dana McDonough ’91 MSEd ’00, the 2016 New York State Teacher of the Year and a literary specialist at Horizons on Hudson; Vanessa Hurst ’07 MSEd ’10, an English and special education teacher at Ossining High School; Angelo LaRossa Jr. ’09, a Global II teacher at Newburgh Free Academy Main Campus; and Janaina Barham-Middleton MSEd ’13, a special education teacher at Newburgh Free Academy’s Main Campus.
When asked why she first became a teacher, McDonough said at the age of eight, she visited her Aunt Arlene Sosta’s elementary classroom at Gardnertown Fundamental Magnet School. Sosta was a member of the Mount’s first graduating class of laypeople in 1964. Noting her aunt’s success, McDonough attended the Mount as well.
LaRossa said that one of the biggest challenges in the classroom is keeping students engaged in what they need to pass the Regents tests. While technology can be a distraction, he noted that it can also be used to make a lesson come alive.
Middleton said that as a teacher, it’s very easy to disrupt one’s work-life balance.
“With the amount of hats we have to wear and making sure we’re seeing our students’ strengths, remembering to take care of yourself can be a challenge,” she said. Middleton suggested taking up yoga as stressbuster for teachers on the go.
Teach the Change is a comprehensive initiative of the Mount’s Division of Education, coordinated in conjunction with the Center for Adolescent Research and Development (CARD), under the leadership of Frances Spielhagen, Mount Education professor.
The initiative has three major focus areas:
- Continuing to strengthen the teaching profession in the programs provided by the college.
- Creating a pipeline of teacher candidates from area high schools, especially first- generation college students and those who may be underrepresented in the teaching profession.
- Enhancing the current teaching force by providing teacher leadership training for area educators.
The Mount was recently named a Teacher Opportunity Corps (TOC) higher education institution, and the Teach the Change initiative was awarded a five-year New York State TOC grant. The program nurtures and mentors minority and/or economically disadvantaged candidates and prepares them to teach in at-risk school districts in New York State. TOC’s goal is to increase the participation rate of historically underrepresented and economically disadvantaged individuals in teaching careers.
The event was sponsored by the Mount’s Division of Education, CARD, and the college’s Sigma Tau chapter of Kappa Delta Pi (the International Honor Society of Education).
Vanessa Hurst ’07 MSEd ’10, an English and special education teacher at Ossining High School (left) and Janaina Barham-Middleton MSEd ’13, a special education teacher at Newburgh Free Academy’s Main Campus, share a high-five at the Mount’s Teach the Change event on April 2.