Meet the teacher: Susan Conley

LEARNING GAME: Mecosta Elementary fourth-grade teacher Susan Conley demonstrates a place-value game using orange boards and a deck of cards before students break into groups to try the game themselves. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

LEARNING GAME: Mecosta Elementary fourth-grade teacher Susan Conley demonstrates a place-value game using orange boards and a deck of cards before students break into groups to try the game themselves. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

EDITOR’S NOTE: A regular feature in the Pioneer is Meet the Teacher, highlighting various educators throughout the area. If you would like to nominate a teacher to be featured in a story, send the teacher’s name and the name of the school where they work to Candy Allan at callan@pioneergroup.com, or call her at (231) 592-8386.

MECOSTA — With nearly 30 years of experience in elementary school, Susan Conley has learned she greatly enjoys fourth grade.

Conley began teaching at Mecosta Elementary 28 years ago, working in second- and third-grade rooms before becoming a fourth-grade teacher. She’s now in her eleventh year of fourth grade.

“I like this age of children because they have a sense of humor,” she said, smiling. “They can joke around and they can get serious, and they’re still at a point where they enjoy school. Their learning is a little more in depth, which means I can explain things at a deeper level.”

Before teaching at Mecosta Elementary, Conley was well acquainted with the Chippewa Hills School District. A graduate of Chippewa Hills High School herself, she earned her bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.

When choosing her profession as a young woman, Conley wanted variety.

“The main reason I became a teacher is I didn’t want to do the same thing every day,” she said. “I wanted to be able every day I came to work to have something new and something exciting.”

While 11 years teaching the same grade level may sound like 11 years of doing the same thing, it really isn’t, Conley explained. The students of each class bring a different set of experiences and questions to the lessons, so each class is different than ones from previous years. Add in curriculum changes and shifts in educational philosophy, and her job is very different today from what it was when she began.

“Teachers are always learning new things and trying to keep up with technology,” she said. “Kids have changed over the years and you have to adapt to their needs and their style of learning.

“When I started teaching, it was a very traditional classroom, with the children sitting and the teacher imparting knowledge. There’s been a shift to a more student-led classroom, with more questions and interaction from the students. There are more group activities and hands-on things versus worksheets.”

Overall, Conley thinks the more interactive model provides a better education for her students.

“With kids being more involved in learning, they have a deeper understanding,” she said.

CHECKING IN: Susan Conley watches as Dylan Boerma, Elijah Cour and Devin Neyome-Schoenborn work their way through a place value game to reinforce math concepts they've learned in class. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

CHECKING IN: Susan Conley watches as Dylan Boerma, Elijah Cour and Devin Neyome-Schoenborn work their way through a place value game to reinforce math concepts they’ve learned in class. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

The hands-on opportunities, including “workshops,” individual learning games and activities, in Conley’s room excite her students.

“We do a bunch of science experiments and she lets us do workshops,” said fourth-grader Natalie Gibson. “She’s a really nice teacher, a fun teacher.”

Classmate Gavyn Whyte appreciates the assistance Conley provides, as well.

“She teaches a lot to us,” he said. “She explains it to us to make it easier, and helps us a lot.”

What Gibson, Whyte and the other children in the class also learn from Conley won’t be found on any standardized test, according to Mecosta Elementary Principal Kyle Talicska.

“She has a lot of experience and does what’s best for kids,” he said. “Susan is a fabulous teacher, who works hard for the kids in her classroom to make sure they’re prepared and they have the skills they need, not only book skills but life skills as well.

“I think our job as educators has shifted over time. We’re not just responsible for teaching reading and writing, we’re responsible for teaching the whole child — including emotionally, how to deal with and resolve conflict. Susan has those interests in mind when she’s teaching.”

In Conley’s opinion, the most important knowledge her students can leave her class with has nothing to do with a grade.

“I hope they learn the concepts they need to learn in fourth grade, but I hope they feel like they were heard from and I hope they felt they were cared for, because that’s the most important thing,” she said. “If a child feels you truly care about them, they will learn.”

GAME TIME: Mecosta Elementary fourth-grade teacher Susan Conley plays a place-value game using orange boards and a deck of cards with students as a demonstration before the children broke into groups to try the game themselves. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

GAME TIME: Mecosta Elementary fourth-grade teacher Susan Conley plays a place-value game using orange boards and a deck of cards with students as a demonstration before the children broke into groups to try the game themselves. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

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Posted by Candy Allan

Candy is the Pioneer's associate editor. She also coordinates the Family & Friends, Religion and Parenting pages. She can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8386 or by e-mail at callan@pioneergroup.com.

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