Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Teacher of the Year extols
power of believing in students

Susan Converse
One of 214 educators honored at the 44th annual Those Who Excel/Illinois Teacher of the Year banquet in Normal recently was the 2019 Teacher of the Year, Susan Converse, a special education teacher in grades 9-12 at Edwardsville CUSD 7.

Converse says “teachers that stay with us for our entire lives are the ones who see what we can be before we do. They are the ones who care for us and help us reach beyond our own expectations to meet theirs.”

Converse started a student-run coffee and pastry shop at Edwardsville High School called the Tiger Den. Students with disabilities carry out all aspects of Tiger Den's operations under Converse's guidance. Her students develop skills they later use to lead more independent lives after high school.

“She sees bigger things for her students and spends each day reminding her students to see the same,” said parent Denise Olson Byrd, whose son looks forward to school each day because of Converse.

Converse began her professional life as a journalist, but a chance assignment to fill in for a local education reporter one day changed her career path. After spending an “unforgettable afternoon talking with one excited student after another,” she decided to change careers and become a teacher. She said she never looked back.

“I share the belief that teachers have a critical role in preparing students to become responsible and positive contributors to our community as citizens, consumers, employees, and employers,” said Converse. “All students need encouragement, some pushing, and teachers who believe in them. I believe in my students and I let them know it.”

Converse’s dedication to her students’ success extends beyond her classroom. She has helped students build their resumes and prepare for job interviews.

“Mrs. Converse has always believed in me even when I did not believe in myself,” said Edwardsville High School student Caleb Carnes, who submitted a letter in support of Converse's nomination for Teacher of the Year. “Mrs. Converse is truly the reason I am the person I am today.”