Retired and Former Faculty and Staff
Posted October 1, 2014
Tribute to Barbara Szoradi
by Barbara Davison
Barbara Szoradi was a dedicated and imaginative teacher for twenty–five years, the first five in kindergarten and the remaining twenty in third grade. I had the good fortune to spend fifteen of those third grade years with her in a strong and positive partnership. She was an extremely collegial and respectful teaching partner. We both valued the Quaker perspective of finding that which is special and unique in each child. It was the perfect lens for helping students reach their potential by teaching through their strengths while remediating their weaknesses.
From the very first day I was in third grade with Barbara, I could see she had a very special way of interacting with children. She treated all children in a firm, warm and accepting manner. She truly saw the possibilities for the “inner light” of each student. Her different expectations for individual children and understanding that they would progress at their own pace enabled her to value and accept them for who they were as she offered goals for them to strive for.
Barbara was and continues to be a committed “life-long learner”. She brought her curiosity, sense of adventure and love of the world around her to her students. This was especially true in her teaching of social studies. For the past ten years Barbara brought many of her own skills, passions and hobbies to the teaching of Colonial America by having her students actually experience this time in American history. Third graders washed and carded fleece, spun it into wool and then wove it into a pillow, pouch or mini-blanket. They also tried out many tools from that period of time – tools that belong to an extensive personal antique collection of Barbara’s. They used a hoe, an adz, a butter churner and a kick toaster, to name just a few, and also cooked and ate many foods that were prevalent at that time. All of these active projects made life in the colonial times come alive for her classes.
At the beginning of every school year, third graders participated in an archeological “dig”, which was authentic in every way except that Barbara recreated it anew each year, using artifacts that actually could have been found at our dig site. The children always thought that their experience was the real thing. The truth was not revealed until later in the school year. It was always amazing to hear the fourth graders, when they visited their old third grade room, recall with enthusiasm and delight their memories of the social studies experiences and projects from which they had learned so much the year before.
In addition to connecting with students, Barbara also had wonderful relationships with colleagues and families of the children she taught. She believed that as a teacher of young children it was necessary to partner with parents and other caregivers in order for children to be happy and successful at school. To that end, the lines of communication were always open and frequently used, whether by email, phone or unscheduled conferences to communicate what children needed to focus on and how parents and teachers could facilitate their growth. Barbara always showed care and support to families through carefully worded opinions that were often peppered with a healthy sense of humor. She reached out to colleagues who were involved with her students to make sure they were all working in the same direction with a common goal. This was especially true for those children who may have had either academic or social/emotional challenges.
Barbara was not only a dedicated professional in the classroom. Over the years she served on or clerked many faculty committees where she was an effective and collaborative member. She was always ready to take on hard tasks. Barbara was twice a member of the Faculty and Staff Council, served on the Social Studies Curriculum Committee, volunteered for numerous search committees, and was a strong presence on the Admissions Committee for PK and K candidates.
Barbara’s energy knew no bounds. Students, families, and colleagues will miss her, and her contributions will not be forgotten. I wish her well. I will miss spending my days with her. In retirement there will be more time for children, grandchildren, travel, exercise and being a docent at the National Gallery, and perhaps even some SFS projects.
Tribute to Susan Banker
by Dan Entwisle
Susan Miller grew up in West Virginia and graduated from Shepherd College in January of 1964. After further study at Catholic University she began her teaching career at Martinsburg High School and later took a graduate assistant position at West Virginia University. Then in the summer of 1966 she interviewed with Hall Katzenbach at Sidwell Friends, a meeting in which Susan and Hall quoted literature to each other all afternoon, and so began her time with us, a career that inspired students and everyone else for half a century.
As an English teacher Susan’s genius was that the text is everything, the wellspring and sole directive. Using secondary sources in her classroom would be like asking a stranger to describe a sunset for you, rather than experiencing the sunset for yourself, and with your friends. She could have lectured and dazzled all day, but instead she gently invited her students to consider the literature, in all its denotation and connotation, its radiance and resonance. With inventive skill she asked questions that elicited both enthusiastic response and fertile silences. When students offered insight, she would sit energized in her chair, bright light in her eyes, often following up with a probing question or an amazing riff, an eloquent meditation that affirmed the student’s point and expanded it to places beyond. Her prolific imagination, combined with powers of language to render it knowable to us, stirred people every day. Lively, passionate, humorous, incredibly articulate, and better read than anyone else I know, Susan gave the gift of herself and her love of books to thousands of people.
Her classroom was studious, light-hearted, full of good will and good fun. Laughter was heard every day. At night students kept written journals to chronicle their responses to the reading, to deepen and enliven their relationship with books. Over the years as Susan faithfully marked these journals, she toted megatons of notebooks hither and yon, always in delightfully plain paper bags. One of the countless teaching tips she gave me was that it’s okay to return a paper with bacon grease on it, for students do appreciate how closely we live with their work. Many other English teachers have admired and adopted Susan’s approaches large and small, too. Her senior Shakespeare elective, which she developed and introduced decades ago, has become a model of close reading, active participation, personal responsibility, team building, idea testing, and stretching the boundaries. For many students, the scenes performed at the end remain seminal experiences in their educations.
Susan also taught Middle School drama, 9th, 10th, and 11th English, plus elective courses in fantasy, the English novel, public speaking, and drama. Ever and always her students flourished and enjoyed her penetrating intelligence, her creativity, insight, playfulness, and eagerness to experiment and tinker. And her philosophy statement in her final teacher evaluation should be required reading for all educators.
Pedagogically Susan was brilliant, but even more profound may be her subtle influence in everyday life around school. If such a thing as karma exists, she leaves us with an enormous surplus of karmic goodness to draw on for years. Sweet-natured and endlessly generous, she lent books freely, far and wide, and never groused if you didn’t return them. She enlivened May by throwing jolly birthday parties for Percy and Mamadou. Many times she opened her beautiful home, a treasure of books and gardens, to celebrate a colleague’s retirement, or to offer soothing manna and camaraderie on a Friday afternoon. Her personal generosity came in many forms. When other classes needed covering, she would leap into the breach. She shared texts and techniques with anyone, with no shred of covetousness. She went on quiet missions of solace and support to all corners of the building. Every day her razor wit and her amazing sense of the exquisite tickled people into ringing laughter and lasting delight. And she always came up with new ideas, creative solutions to problems from office ambiance, to building decor, to research paper protocols.
Susan’s memory is astounding. She can recite verbatim everything from yesterday’s faculty meeting to lines from a book read once, decades ago. This singular skill dovetailed with her work as faculty advisor to our It’s Academic team, which she did with distinction (and trophies) for years. She also directed Upper School students in the annual Folger Shakespeare Festival. Her troupe always won awards as she created hilarious scenes and drew astonishing performances from seniors who had never acted before. She once directed a play with Ed Crow. A long-term member of the Admissions Committee, she had an ability to see past the obvious, to find hidden gems, students who might not be polished yet but who were independent minded and often luminous when given their heads. Susan championed the quirky, non-mainstream kids and then behind the scenes guided them through successful and happy years of high school. She served many years on the Honor Committee too, where her insight, empathy, judgment, and collaborative nature helped establish what remains the best example of consensus decision making at our school. She clerked the Senior Projects committee and served with distinction on many other committees as well. In everything she did, she celebrated both the obvious good and the not so easy to see good; and she saw through sham, snobbery, arrogance, and self-importance in a blink.
It is difficult to say goodbye to Susan. In the last 48 years she was the soul and beating heart of so much that is good in our Upper School. You hesitate to use the word wise because it assumes you know what wisdom is, but if anyone in our school is wise, it is Susan Banker. Sometimes when talking with her you can glimpse it. She takes the long view, always goes for the center of things, and has a breathtaking ability to seize on an insight and then to explore the ins and outs, the nuances, the depths, in amazing detail and complexity. She is also gracious when you can’t keep up. She knows about books and life, and she knows a snow day should be blessedly free. Susan’s teaching was never about calling attention to herself, never a shtick for personal acclaim. She gave thousands of people a deeper understanding and love of literature to keep with them the rest of their lives. Thankfully, Susan has agreed to substitute teach, so we can enjoy her presence again from time to time, and her former students, who now range in age from 16 to 65, can still hope for a moment of discovery, and mirth, and love with her. Last spring a student looking at an old yearbook exclaimed, “Mrs. Banker, you were so beautiful!” Still is, child.