Sue Fletcher honored by Ohio Council of Teachers of English

Sue Fletcher is a professor at Hocking College, who participated in the 2009 Memorial Library Summer Seminar. Since her introduction to Memorial Library Holocaust Education, Sue has received Mini Grants, has led a successful Satellite Seminar for four years, and has developed her own Holocaust and war memorial research and field trip course for undergraduates. In 2013, Sue received the award for Outstanding Teacher of English at the College Level from the Ohio Council of Teachers of English, in recognition of her dedicated efforts as an educator.

 

Sue began her career in education as an 8th grade English teacher. After teaching English at the high school level, she entered graduate school in the field of Communication Studies at Arizona State University. As a graduate student, she focused her work on small group communication with the intent to help reform American corporate culture. In 1983 she started teaching at the college level and acknowledges that she “found teaching young adults much more satisfying.” Although she has taken time off to raise five children, she has been teaching undergraduates ever since.

 

Over the past ten years, Sue has primarily been teaching composition and speech courses at Hocking College, a community college near her home in Athens, Ohio. Sue minored in Reading and Rhetoric as an undergraduate, and engages her students in reading the both the word and the world. Sue enjoys “helping students understand that they have a voice, that it matters what they say and how they say it. My students soon learn that they are expected to form an opinion about a lot of social justice issues as part of our time together.”

 

In the summer of 2008, Sue’s teaching was set on a new trajectory when she was invited by a friend and colleague to attend the Summer Institute for the Ohio University Appalachian Writing Project . After 25 years of teaching, she felt restless, and the SI rekindled her “passion for organizing and seeking out professional development.” Sue is continually grateful to her friend who extended the invitation, for after her experience, Sue felt that her teaching was re-energized. Through her Writing Project affiliation, Sue learned about the Memorial Library and enrolled in the Summer Seminar the following summer, 2009.

 

Although Sue had engaged in some Holocaust-related teaching over the course of her career, it was her personal interest in Holocaust Education that lead her to apply to the 2009 Summer Seminar. Sue finds that “the summer seminar was truly life-changing. I will always hold on to many of the lessons of the seminar, hold on to the relationships, and treasure many sweet times with my participant-friends experiencing NYC together. To be with such a diverse group of like-minded individuals is such a rare and wonderful experience.” Inspired by her time at the Summer Seminar, Sue began adding Holocaust readings, book circles, digital story telling, and many other Holocaust and social justice-related studies into her composition courses. She continues to change her courses every year, and last fall she structured literature circles in which small groups chose to read Olga Lengyel’s Five Chimneys or Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower.

 

In the winter of 2010, Sue was teaching Lengyel’s Five Chimney’s to a small class of freshman. While talking with her class about the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, as a resource for their research, one student raised an interesting question. “DC is not that far,” she said. “Why don’t we just go?” Having completed the Memorial Library Summer Seminar the previous summer, Sue applied for a Mini Grant . That February she took eight students to Washington, DC. Students gained tremendous insights on the trip, and upon their return gave presentations to local high school English classes about their research. After observing the impact of both the trip, and the opportunities for students to process and share their learning with others, Sue became “hooked on the power of the field trip.” Through the field trip, learning moved beyond the classroom and into the world. Through the presentations, student learning spread beyond themselves with their words. The following year Sue collaborated with a colleague and added a focus on veterans.

 

The project has grown to become a course offered every fall at Hocking College on Research Skills with a fully funded trip to Washington, DC, called Memorial Voices. The trip focuses on the voices that have been silenced in the Holocaust and in other wars. The research component of the course requires students to choose a story from the Holocaust and World War II or a current issue related to injustice. Later in the course students interview a veteran or watch a full testimony of a Holocaust survivor. Students take time to prepare for their visits to the USHMM and Veterans Memorials, and often leave profoundly affected by unplanned interactions. On the fall trip of 2013, students met with a Holocaust survivor at the USHMM who took time to talk about his experiences and answer their questions. He expressed to the students that their visit was very important to him. All the participants were touched, and one student remarked that he never realized that their presence would be significant to a survivor. Later in the trip, students talked with Vietnam veterans at the Vietnam War Memorial for almost an hour. The veterans echoed the sentiment that it meant so much to them to see a group of young people paying respect to the memorial. Sue finds that the power of these chance encounters could not be planned to occur inside the classroom.

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Upon their return, students continue to give presentations to both veterans’ organizations and schools. Student veterans are also given the opportunity to participate for free, and in 2013 one such participant was overwhelmed when he was given cards thanking him for serving from 8th grade students he spoke with. Sue writes that these experiences “have forever changed my teaching to find ways for hands-on, field trip-type opportunities for my students. Prior to the Memorial Library Summer Seminar, I never really considered it. The ML and HEN gave me the courage, the opportunities through funding the first two trips, and the sense of value that a trip brings.” Sue usually takes 15 students on each trip, but the spots for the upcoming fall are filling fast, and may need to be capped at 20. Sue aims to continue developing the course and may potentially add an extra day to the trip. Sue’s students come away from the experience with a deep understanding of the lives of people impacted by the Holocaust and other wars, and the profound place that memorialized voices have in the world.

 

In addition to creating the Memorial Voices project for undergraduate students, Sue also shares her passion for Holocaust Education with other teachers. In the summer of 2010, Sue launched a Satellite Seminar with Casi Owens and Stephanie Smith. For the past four years they have run the Kentucky/Ohio Holocaust and Social Justice Educators Network , and have shared their approaches to Holocaust Education with numerous teachers in the area. Their seminar connects lessons from the Holocaust with an intentional focus on African and Native American genocides. The 2014 seminar was held June 23-28 at Ottobein College in Westerville, Ohio, and each year Sue is amazed by the phenomenal teachers who participate. This year’s seminar stands out as one of the most outstanding groups Sue has ever worked with. While all the participants came from diverse teaching backgrounds—and included a high school French teacher, a dean of a college, upper elementary teachers, new and veteran high school teachers, and a librarian—the group found common ground on the first day. Together they laughed, cried, and worked incredibly hard on their final projects. One seasoned high school teacher was deeply affected by the week’s activities, particularly having met with Bella Ouziel, a Holocaust survivor. This teacher was overwhelmed with her thoughts and feelings, and struggled to express her ideas on the final assignment. Casi and Sue spent time with her, and this teacher created a powerful poem and visual project . This teacher writes,

 

My stomach is a melon

Split wide within my skin

Filled up with the agony of millions

Gazing into her eyes

Connection with humanity

Aghast at what she suffered

She kissed my cheek

She who is not other

Emotion bubbles up and spills over

Sadness and joy intermingled

I who did not die

Who am still living

Must tell the story

 

This teacher continued to work after the seminar to completely revise her upcoming course using many of the lessons and activities provided during the week. Sue, Casi, and Stephanie are honored to see how the work they shared over the course of one week will affect so many students throughout an entire year. Another participant in the seminar, a dean of his department, has taught Holocaust Literature courses for many years. Sue was eager to learn from his knowledge and experience. He shared significantly throughout the week, particularly his beautiful Holocaust poetry. At the end of the seminar he confided that he was taken by their approach and was going to revise his own Holocaust Literature course. Their seminar participants are not only impacted in terms of the content and pedagogy they engage in with students, but they also leave empowered with many new collegial relationships that sustain the vital work they do.

 

Sue’s tremendous contributions to the fields of Communication, English, and Holocaust Education have not gone unnoticed. In addition to the gratitude and acknowledgement she receives firsthand from students, colleagues, and administrators, she was anonymously nominated for the Outstanding Teacher Award from the Ohio Council of Teachers of English (OCTELA), a state arm of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Sue was asked to gather and submit five letters of recommendation, significant writing about her teaching philosophies, sample lessons, and student work. Sue focused on her work with digital storytelling in the classroom and received the award for Outstanding Teacher of English at the College Level in 2013. Sue is honored by the nomination, and humbled by the fact that her colleagues and the Council found her worthy of the award.

 

Having begun working as an educator over 30 years ago, Sue continues to follow her passion. She writes, “I have always had a passion for words – particularly those used to make a difference in the world.” It is clear that Sue’s words, and those of her students, are contributing to the positive changes in the world she envisions.

 

Contact

For more information about The Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights (TOLI), please contact info@toli.us

The Memorial Library is located at 58 East 79th Street in Manhattan. (get directions)