After studying business in college, math teacher Sue Litwin worked as an accountant in the corporate sector. Three years later, she realized her favorite part of her job wasn’t accounting; it was mentoring staff.
At the time, many of Sue’s friends were teachers, which got her thinking about teaching as a possible career option. She decided to take a math class at community college and shadowed a friend in the classroom, and she enjoyed both. Sue quit her job and went back to school full-time for an education degree. Now, she’s a math teacher at Calhoun High School in Merrick, New York, where she has taught for the last decade.
For Sue, the confidence to make the decision to switch careers wouldn’t have been possible without her female middle school teacher. In celebration of Women’s History Month, Sue tells us about the influence she had on helping her get to where she is today.
Q: Tell us about a female teacher you looked up to, and why?
Sue: My math teacher, Ms. Dempsey. I wasn’t a good student until middle school when I had her. She was a little bit older and stricter, but she warmed up to me a little bit, and because of that, I warmed up to her. She saw potential in me and saw I was trying. One time, right before a big final, I told her I’d never be as smart as this other student who was always able to achieve success. She said, “No, you have it in you.” I studied really hard for that final, and ended up getting a 100 percent on it.
Q: From that moment on, how did she change the way you approached learning?
Sue: I believed I could do it. I just had to work hard. There are a lot of kids who are naturally bright or who can pick up on things easily. I wasn’t like that. I had to learn how to study. That’s what Ms. Dempsey taught me. Learn to work hard and have pride in it. That test was the first time I really studied, and it paid off for me. As soon as I saw myself achieve, I said to myself, “This is actually working. I can do this.” Fast forward a few years, and I ended up graduating number two in my high school class.
Q: Does Ms. Dempsey influence your teaching now?
Sue: I tell my kids they choose their success in my classroom. If they want to learn and work hard, I’ll be with them every step of the way. I try to instill confidence in them and have them take pride in their work. And I love the smiles they get when they see their hard work pay off.
I usually do a speech on the last day of school right before they take the state Regents Examinations. I tell them about Ms. Dempsey and what she’s meant to me. They then understand me as a teacher, and why I’m so tough on them for being late or not doing homework.
Q: How did Ms. Dempsey impact your life beyond the classroom?
Sue: The reason why I’m anything is because of her. I owe her so much. She made me see the potential in myself and told me not to settle. She built up my confidence, which led me on the path I wanted to be on. And nothing ever got in my way.
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