New Teacher Q&A: Dan Sussman

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New MFS English teacher Dan Sussman. Photo from mfriends.org

English teacher Dan Sussman, a new member of the Moorestown Friends School community, has already made himself right at home, and people seem glad to have him. While the transition for new teachers can be tough for some, Sussman has seemingly slipped effortlessly into his new routine, adding his own creative spark to the MFS English Department. WordsWorth sat down with Sussman to find out just what makes him tick.

WordsWorth:  So, how did you end up at MFS exactly? If you don’t mind sharing.

Dan Sussman: So, the last five years I taught at Dwight-Englewood School, which is in North Jersey near New York City, living in New York. We were very happy there. But, we have a [two-year-old] daughter. … My wife and I had never planned on raising a daughter in New York City, [we] just didn’t think it was the family experience we wanted, both culturally and because, well, New York city is an insanely expensive place. It had been in the back of our heads for a couple of years, like, ‘Okay we’ve done this whole New York City thing, time to move on.’ So, I put out some feelers for a bunch of different positions and eventually MFS turned up and I ended up getting offered a job here. It was actually a really complicated and difficult decision for us to kind of abandon New York; my wife had a job there and I was very happy at my old school, but at the same time I had liked what I’d heard about MFS. Eventually we decided to do it, one of the deciding factors being that my wife is from Philadelphia, and her parents still live around here. And for my daughter, that meant having grandparents nearby; we really wanted to keep the family close.

WW:  How has life been at MFS so far? What have you loved? What’s one thing you want to achieve this year?

DS: I’m really happy so far; to be honest, MFS isn’t all that different than my school last year, in a good way. I’m teaching the same types of classes for the most part, excluding honors. I guess there are two feelings that almost contradict each other, because on one hand it’s ‘Huh, this is new and exciting for me,’ but also I’m still a little homesick, more so than I expected, actually. As the year progresses and my family and I settle in more, I’m sure I’ll be all right. As for what I hope to achieve personally, I’d like to explore new possible ways to run and work discussion-based class, find a new structure. Each class is different, so I hope to find that right structure for each class.

WW: How have MFS’s Quaker Values impacted you since your start? Or if they haven’t, do you mind speaking about just how much they differ from your old school?

DS: I was drawn to the idea of working at a Quaker school even before a position opened up here. Because I knew the Philadelphia area, I knew the prevalence of Quaker Schools, and I knew a little bit about the philosophy, [and what] I knew seemed very consistent with my own approach. I came into MFS excited about [Quakerism], and I think, by large, that it has all played out positively. I enjoy meeting for worship; it’s a complicated relationship I guess because it’s all very new to me. We did a lot of meeting for worship simulation with the new faculty, which was of course very different than sitting down with the entire upper school. And part of me does miss the value of those first group experiences, but I’m adjusting to the ways things are done. As for in the classroom and Quakerism, I’ve really connected with the Quaker idea that ‘education needs to be ethical’ and that everyone brings their own unique spin to the classroom and they all need to be respected. Lastly, I’ve found that MFS is more traditional about clothes and rules than my old school so I’ve had to adjust my expectations in that manner, but it’s nothing drastic. Is there part of me that wishes I could come into school everyday in jeans and a flannel shirt and have my students call me Dan? Sure, but the way things are handled here also suits me just fine.

WW: Lastly, did your transition into your new classes go smoothly or has it been a tough process? Is it still going on?

DS: Overall, I’d say the transition has been really smooth. Last year I taught an American Literature class, this year I’m teaching an American Literature class. Last year I designed and taught my first Jewish Literature class, this year I’m teaching Jewish Literature. There are some interesting differences; in the 10th grade English Class, Mrs. Galler teaches the other sections, so we mostly plan in sync and work together. My old school was bigger, and there were just different expectations, so I was mostly just off doing my own thing, but I like what I have going now a lot. For Jewish Literature, last year my class was mostly taken and filled with Jewish kids and there are far less in the class I’m teaching this year, so some of the background I could take for granted last year, I’ve had to go more in-depth into, but it’s been a good experience as a teacher. And for honors, this has been my first time teaching a ‘normal honors class,’ but, really, honors is easier for me as a teacher, as I can almost sit back, not adjust much, and let you guys analyze and discuss among yourselves. Because it’s an honors class, everyone is more willing to share and put forth their ideas. But as I mentioned before, I can really put some of the new discussion techniques into play in the honors class as everyone is open to trying whatever comes their way. It’s kind of my ‘Frankenstein’s monster,’ if that makes sense [Sussman laughs] I’m excited about both second semester classes, but I think poetry especially, because I love poetry. Also, because poetry is something that usually gets very little time devoted to it, I’m excited to spend every day talking about it. I’m also excited that there are going to be students that chose the class because it’s poetry. I’m nervous because I know not everyone will have chosen that class. Poetry is very unique and I think for some high school students it’s either love or hate and there’s going to be some kids that get stuck talking about it every day, but I trust it’s going to be okay.

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