A Noble and Important Work

Teaching is a noble calling, and McKay school alumna Susan Huff understands the value of dedicated teachers. Here are some of her thoughts, in her own words, on the importance of education, describing how her original plan to teach “for a year or so” extended to 34 years of service in the Nebo School District.

My Professional Journey

I graduated from BYU with my bachelor’s degree in 1973, 10 days overdue with our first child. I planned to be a stay-at-home mom with lots of kids. In 1979 my husband, Richard, was teaching at Granite High School in Salt Lake City and was offered a business partnership with the possibility of returning to our hometown of Spanish Fork, Utah. We jumped at this opportunity. Richard was running the business in the day and working nights at 7-Eleven to put food on the table while the business was growing. After several months of this grueling schedule, I suggested that I should go to work for “a year or so” until the business could provide a living for us.

I got my first teaching position in fourth grade mid-year at Art City Elementary in Springville. To be closer to home, I transferred to Larsen Elementary in Spanish Fork the next year, where I taught first grade, fourth grade, and gifted students for the next 18 years. Although balancing work and family was challenging, I loved being in the classroom helping children learn. I still marvel at the magic of watching a child learn to read. I loved collaborating with talented, dedicated teachers who helped me improve my craft; I loved mentoring pre-service teachers and working with the BYU–Public School Partnership, especially with Dr. R. Carl Harris.

With encouragement from several of my teacher colleagues, I studied to become a principal, earning a master’s degree from BYU. However, I wasn’t convinced I wanted the responsibility of the principalship until one of my BYU teachers, Dr. Sharon Gibb, wisely counseled me that where one is blessed with opportunities and abilities, there are also accompanying responsibilities to use those abilities to benefit others.

So I left the classroom to become a principal and have been thrilled with my choice. I started first at Westside Elementary in Springville, then at Santaquin Elementary, and finally finished and retired from Spanish Oaks Elementary in Spanish Fork in 2013. I absolutely loved the principalship—the daily challenge of solving difficult problems, helping students learn, and helping teachers develop and grow brought me wonderful dividends I will forever cherish. For a girl who was only going to teach for “a year or so,” 34 years of working in Nebo School District flew by.

With encouragement from Dr. Jess Walker at BYU, I immediately began my doctoral studies after completing my master’s degree. Jess was a great mentor and friend who saw abilities in me that I couldn’t see for myself. Although my only object in earning a doctorate was personal growth, there were many unforeseen opportunities that came to me as a result of this degree.

For my dissertation, I studied principals of schools that were previously determined to be high-functioning professional learning communities (PLCs). My research specifically examined what gave principals both the skills to transform their schools and the will to do this challenging work. I learned much about school improvement through the process of examining the research and scholarly writings on PLCs in my literature review. I continued learning through my own dissertation research, and as I applied PLC concepts at the three schools where I served as principal.

Just as I was completing my dissertation in 2006, my doctoral chair, Dr. Ellen Williams, introduced me to Rick DuFour and Becky DuFour, national presenters and authors, who invited me to join their work helping schools improve. This was the beginning of a new chapter as educational consultant and author with Solution Tree, presenting at PLC Institutes and working with schools across the country in their improvement efforts.

Question and Answer

Growing up what did you want to be? What led you to BYU?

I wanted to be a nurse like my mom until I figured out that I couldn’t stand the sight of blood. I knew I enjoyed working with kids, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a teacher; I was sure I wanted an adventure after high school. So I decided to move out to attend BYU because I sought a first-class university education with the influence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although I considered several majors, I always came back to education.

What did you learn while in the McKay School of Education that has influenced you and your career?

Although I value the knowledge and skills I acquired through my undergraduate and graduate studies at BYU, I most treasure the relationships I developed with people. I benefitted from great teachers and mentors who helped me grow personally and professionally. I learned that helping others develop is the most important responsibility of leadership.

What success stories or accomplishments would you like to share?

Last week I received a thank you card from a teacher with whom I worked. Excerpts from her card sort of sum up how I would like to be remembered as an educator: “Thank you . . . for being such a major part in building me as a teacher and a person . . . . You helped me stay enthusiastic about teaching. I always knew you had my back and that I could come to you . . . You taught me never ever to give up on a student. I watched you work tirelessly for the hardest of students, and I saw how much it helped them.”

Please share any other insight or thoughts that you may have regarding education/teaching.

I have enjoyed an amazing, rewarding career as an educator! I have learned so much from the teachers and education leaders with whom I have worked—and I continue to learn from them. There is nothing more rewarding than helping a child learn to read, learn a new life skill, or change a negative behavior. Being an educator is noble, important work!

But I see forces eroding education as we know it. There are so many pressures on teachers and principals right now across the nation, especially in schools that are impacted with high poverty, high mobility, and high numbers of English-language learners. Teachers are working harder than ever, but many report they are discouraged and overwhelmed with the increase of what is required of them. We need courageous educators and policy makers who will stand up for teachers and kids. We need to stop the wave of unrealistic testing and excessive accountability measures. As a nation, we need to attract and keep the brightest and best folks as teachers and principals because they are developing our most valuable national resource—our children!

Susan is married to Richard Huff, who is also a BYU graduate. They have five children who are all married and have a total of 16 grandchildren. Susan retired a year ago as an elementary school principal in Spanish Fork, Utah. However, she continues working with schools part-time as an educational consultant to help improve student learning. Part of her consulting work is with Solution Tree, a publishing company, which has published three book chapters she has written. Her degrees are listed below:

  • 2007, Doctor of Education Degree in Educational Leadership and Foundations, BYU
  • 1998, Master of Education Degree in Educational Leadership and Foundations, BYU
  • 1973, Bachelor of Science Degree in Elementary Education, BYU