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Susan's Introduction

Susan Dorfman's picture

 Like other participants in the institute, I am an educator. I have enjoyed the teaching role all my life. I went to a K through 8 inner city public school in Phila and then to a large inner city high school, followed by matricultion at a large city college, Temple U. in Phila. I lived at home and spent my free time working to earn money at various jobs on and off campus. During all these years, from grade 4 on, I helped other students in my classes. In college, I tutored and also volunteered as a reader for the blind. To put my husband through professional school, I worked as a technician in a research lab at UPENN. There, I developed a sense of myself as a capable scientist and teacher. When my husband graduated, I began my graduate education. I wanted to pursue my own ideas and realized that I would need the credentials afforded by a Ph.D. I was fascinated by the brain, maybe because of the limitations of my own. Much later as the parent of two children, I went through the process of seeking help with my son's developmental issues and discovered why school had always been both a joy and a struggle for me. I have auditory processing issues. All through elementary school, my teachers reported hearing deficits. My parents were instructed to take me for testing at the Board of Education in Phila. No hearing deficit was ever found and no further testing was ever recommended. My issues were not lack of ability to hear sound but to process sound. In addition, I reverse opposites. As a young person, I would stop on green and cross on red. Without an analysis of my frequent almost disasterous pedestrian encounters, I trained myself to verbalize the color of the light and the appropriate command. I also reverse letters and needed to train myself to verbalize while I read. Knowledge of my own learning and application issues have made me very sensitive to the potential needs of my students. I have always used multiple ways of communication just in case my students need them. Verbal, auditory, visual instruction (both in class board and handouts as well as my class website) are used in my classes each day. I should mention that teaching pre-college education was a second career.
I worked as a research scientists for 11 years. During those years I taught, formally in the teaching of Gross Anatomy to Penn dental students, and informally to train the multitude of technicians, undergrad and grad students, neurology residents, and post doc students who came through our lab. I loved the teaching aspect of my life. When research money became tight and the demands of raising two young children not compatible with the demands of tissue culture based research, I choose to investigate the independent school system. In a private girls’ school, I have now taught for 20 years. I have taught science to kindergarteners, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 9th graders and also AP Biology to seniors. For the last six years, I served my institution as the Head of the Science Department, a department of 8 faculty including myself. The demands of being a full time teacher and full time department head have made it difficult to create balance in my life. I work slowly, and my husband likes to say that I am the most inefficient organized person he knows. To meet my responsibilities, I have worked on campus 12 hour days with a couple hours of work at home 5 days a week and hours of work both on and off campus 1 or 2 days each weekend. The schedule has been exhausting.
My experience in both public and private schools and in all three levels of pre-college education as well as post college teaching have contributed to both a wealth of personal experience and observation and a wealth of questions that need exploration. For the next school year, I will have to rethink my teaching at the high school level as the Upper School in my Institution moves from 45 - 55 minute classes to a class length of 75 minutes. That is one reason I am enrolled in the Institute. My second reason to be here is to explore new ways of creating a successful learning environment for a generation of students comfortable with the technological applications of computing and the Internet.This technology became available to me in my 40's. I can navigate the technology but it is not intuitive for me as it is for my students. Paul and Will create an environment that facilitates stimulating and innovative conversation from which I emerge refreshed and invigorated in my teaching.
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