Faculty Profile: Susan Seitner, Center for Early Childhood and Lower School Librarian
March 12, 2020
Tell us about your path to Léman.
I got a B.A. in English and History from Goucher College. After that, I worked in publishing for a few years before I decided I wanted to become a teacher. I went back to school at Teachers College where I got my master’s in Elementary Education. I taught 1st grade at the Dalton School for about ten years and I always loved spending time in the school library. When the librarian left, I took the position as the librarian and stayed in that position for another ten years. After I had my second child, I decided to stay home for a few years. During that time, I took a lot of substitute positions and tutored. When my kids got older, I decided to go back to work and found the job at Léman.
How do you bring personalized learning into the library?
Teaching in the library naturally is individualized and the thing I love about being a school librarian is that you see every child in the school so, you get to know every one of them personally. I know who's obsessed with robots and who desperately wants the next book in a given series. The library is a place where children can really make an individual choice and we work hard to make sure that they have the skills to do so. My goal is to help children figure out what they love and where to find them in the library as well as expose them to new things I think they will enjoy.
How do you use your role to support classroom learning?
I’m always trying to find a balance between the general library skills and literacy skills that I focus on and helping to support the teachers in what they’re doing in the classroom. I work with the classroom teachers to make sure that we’re lined up in our curriculum planning. If they’re learning about biographies in the classroom, I will focus on biographies in the library.
Because I have experience as a classroom teacher, I know what books are really going to be useful to a teacher. And that really helps me with ordering. I know that teachers are going to need books for not only literature but also math and social studies. Also, I know how important it is to have a good mentor text. For instance, if they're teaching writing about small moments, it really helps to know what that looks like in a classroom so that you can find the right books for the teacher to read to model that.
What is your educational philosophy?
I come from a progressive model of teaching, based on my education at Teachers College and my time at Dalton. My philosophy is that kids really learn best by doing. Reading is so important not only because of the skills and the vocabulary and what you learn to do when you become a reader, but it also helps you strengthen your empathy. I think every time we read about a book, every time we read about another person, we have that experience of stepping into their shoes. We can read about people from all over the world with all kinds of struggles and really feel what they're feeling. And I think reading about all different kinds of people is important for everybody.
This is your first year at Léman. What are your impressions of the school community and what do you like about it so far?
One thing I like about it is the diversity. The faculty and students are from all over the world. And like I'm planning on doing a folktale unit with the kindergartners and I want to have each person's background represented in a folktale. It’s so exciting because there are so many different backgrounds. If, for instance, you have twelve kids in a kindergarten class, you could have up to twelve different countries of origin.
You teach continuing education at Bank Street College. What do you find stimulating about teaching adults?
For a long time have taught a bookmaking class at Bank Street for teachers and ways to use handmade books in their classroom. It's called Experiences in Art for Educators. Many of the teachers who take the class take those skills back to their classroom and teach those lessons themselves. The students in my class are all new teachers and they are an exciting group of people to teach. They're super enthusiastic and they're hungry for projects that they can use in their classroom right away. I think that it's a fun class to teach in the summer because these are teachers who are used to doing, you know, balancing a lot. They're in graduate school and they're teaching full time. And this is a workshop where they're making things the whole time and they just have fun doing it.
What else do you like to do in your free time?
I do a lot of volunteer work. I’m a “Think Global, Act Local” kind of person. I live in Washington Heights and I would say that most my volunteer work is like really very focused on my neighborhood and my community. I was very involved in my kids’ public school and I worked with some other parents to form a non-profit that funds art and music programs in their school and hires outside providers to help sponsor programs including the band. I’m also a maker and a crafter, I draw and paint, which I find very relaxing. And, of course, I read a lot.
What are your favorite books right now?
One of my favorite middle-grade novels is Front Desk by Kelly Yang. It’s a great book for third grade and up. It’s about family and immigration. I also love The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart.
For younger children, I’m happy to see that there are so many great biographies coming out that are about people who haven’t been written about much before, including African Americans and women, especially. I also recommend books by Vashti Harrison. She came to speak during the Scholastic Book Fair in November, and her books are really great.