Highlands Blog

Suzan Armstrong

How and when did you join the Highlands community? 
My first experience with the Highlands community was as a student teacher at Samford University in 1973.  I fell in love with teaching at that time. I was supervised by Ms. Alice Dunagan.  She truly had a passion for teaching young children and encouraged me to in my interest in teaching while I was at Highlands Day School.  I did not return to Highlands again until 1986 when I moved back to Birmingham.  I understood that there was an opening in Kindergarten so I applied.  It was a dream come true.  I was not only excited about the idea of teaching at this wonderful school but was bringing my own five-year-old child to enroll in kindergarten.  I couldn't think of a better place for building a foundation for his learning experience. It has now been some thirty years at Highlands and thirty-seven years of teaching experience and I hold this school as one of my best experiences.

What do you do at Highlands?
When I returned to Highlands, I came as a kindergarten teacher to the same room that I had been in as a student teacher.  Since that time I have continued to teach kindergarten.  I find that it the age group that I feel to be the most rewarding.  I have seen many changes over the years to the curriculum, campus but one thing that has not changed is the smiling faces that meet you each morning ready to see what that day will bring or the magic of a moment makes you laugh.   My job includes teaching language arts, which now has children reading and writing independently, math, social studies, science and working with children to develop positive character development.

What is your favorite part of the Highlands culture?
A favorite aspect that I have come to appreciate about the Highlands culture is the dedicated, work working and dependable faculty I am around each day. I have worked in other school across several states but probably none as committed to their profession or working to teach our students in preparing them for the future. I have made some of my closest friends over the years here at Highlands but more than that, I have grown as a teacher and as a person because of being around such inspiring friends.

Why do you like working at Highlands? What drew you to the Highlands community?
As I already mentioned, I was influenced by this school as a young college student.  I was impressed then by the teachers. They loved being with kids as I did and their passion for making teaching a fun experience each day made me know that this school was special.  When I took my first teaching position in Anniston, Alabama with one of the eight piolet kindergarten programs in the state, it was my hope to begin my career with this kind of passion for teaching that I had seen in action at Highlands. I was thrilled then to have that opportunity to return in 1986 as a real faculty member.

How does your work support the Highlands mission?
Since I first begin teaching I must say, I have seen many changes in kindergarten curriculums. Highlands has not been the school to just adopt a curriculum because it is the most recent buzz word idea that everyone is trying out.  Highlands has always strived to be aware of changes in education but more importantly, seek to make changes academically that are good decisions for learning when preparing students for the future. Our kindergarten program covers language arts areas, math, social studies and daily building in to each of these areas teaching good character habits. As students participate in all the learning areas provide at Highlands, it is of the utmost importance that students enjoy learning.  If you don’t enjoy learning than it’s a chore and something you just check off rather than take away something from what you learned to be applied in some aspect of productivity. Students who attend Highlands take away more than facts learned in a particular area. Students begin the foundation for habits of success that they will use for the rest of their life.  Thinking outside the box, problem solving, integrity, passion, empathy, and a goal setting are seen in activities all over the campus every day in all age groups.  The way learning takes place at Highlands in not necessarily the old classroom with desk in rows and a teacher lecturing in the front.  Learning is seen with hands on activities, small group discussion, collaborating with others in project work for presentations, technology challenges, and so often the arts are one of the highest examples of a students learning experience.  Highlands has touched the lives of so many while on the campus but it is only a small ripple in the water compared to the effect it has had in the world.  Students that leave Highlands are prepared for leadership roles in society, tackling health problems, contributing to helping those in other countries, helping our world focus more on how we are alike rather than our differences and drawing all of us closer to a peaceful world. 

What is one thing that you want your students to take away from their time with you?
I read to my students each year Mole and Baby Bird on the last day of school.  In the book the main character Mole finds a baby bird that he wishes to keep as a pet.  However, after Mole keeps the bird in a cage and gives it all that it needs however it’s still not enough.  Mole has to learn that he cannot keep the bird from doing what it’s meant to do which is grow, learn, experience life and fly away on its own. I hope that my students think back to things they had fun doing in kindergarten not so much certain facts but how wonder became alive, compassion was shown and encouragement to spread their wings and fly away on their own will be remembered. 

Where else are you involved?
I am an alumni of Samford University and participate in activities in the education department.  I am a member of the Cathedral Church of the Advent.

Anything interesting about yourself that you'd like to share?
I have had the privilege of doing some traveling in my life. The summer between my sophomore year in college and my junior year, I made a trip around the world in 40 days that included Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, India, Russia, and Scandinavian countries. Later after I was married, I have added Australia, England, France and Scotland. I have seen many sights from the Taj Mahal to the grand castle atop of the hill in Edinburgh to the water gardens that Monet so loved in Giverny.  Along the way, there have been many faces of kids and I have  come back home to know that all children smile in the same language and I hope that I can continue to make that happen at Highlands.
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Highlands School, 4901 Old Leeds Road, Birmingham, AL 35213, (205) 956-9731
Highlands School's 'whole child' approach to education and commitment to academic excellence, creative expression, and leadership development prepare and motivate students in grades 4k through 8 to make a positive difference in an ever-changing world. Located in Birmingham, Alabama, Highlands School holds dual accrediation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and the Southern Associations of Independent Schools (SAIS).

For more information, visit www.highlandsschool.org.