Susan Moore lives to see the sparkle in her students’ eyes.

The sparkle that says they “get it” and understand the lesson at hand, and also that they’re excited about learning, and are realizing they have the strengths and abilities within themselves that will serve them well for a lifetime.

That is so much the case that when she and other school staff spent a day getting students’ laptops out to them when they came by Cony to pick them up, she cried tears of joy at finally being able to see her students face-to-face — even briefly from a safe distance in a parking lot.

Moore cried again in an interview a few weeks later when recounting that moment, and the challenges of teaching students you care deeply about without being able to see them.

“I love teaching. It’s not what I do, it’s who I am,” she said. “I love seeking kids get excited about learning and showing what they know, and seeing that sparkle in their eyes when you’ve reached them.

“It’s hard to do that remotely, in some ways, so it’s hard. I really miss the students,” Moore added. “I’m happy to at least see them in Google Meets, but it’s different.”

Anyone thinking her emotional attachment to students means she is a sensitive, delicate flower should bear in mind teaching is her second career. Her first, after attending New York Maritime College, was a career at sea as a second and third mate on oil tankers.

Cony Middle School teacher Susan Moore looks for birds at her China home while talking to her 7th grade science students during an online meeting as they looked for birds from their own homes. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

Moore left that career at sea to raise a family, then later went back to college and got a teaching degree, followed by a master’s degree in education.

While seafaring was certainly much more lucrative financially than teaching, she said education has its own rewards that are worth much more than money.

“To touch a child’s life is such a rewarding gift,” Moore said. “It’s priceless, to be able to inspire them to aspire to greater things, to be their best, to help them turn their dreams into reality. When I look at my years in teaching, a little piece of me goes with every one of those kids.

“When people ask me what I do, I’ll say ‘everything.’ Because (students who go on to become) that doctor, that lawyer, that mechanic fixing your car, every one of those students has touched me, and I hope I’ve touched them as well,” she added. “You’re providing them a future, and that’s a tremendous honor to be able to be a part of that.”

Moore teaches science to seventh graders, about 80 of them, and has been teaching at the middle school level for some 20 years. She lives in China with her husband and their dog and has four now-adult children.

Assistant principal Jan Rollins, who oversees the middle school grades at Cony, said students often tell her how much they love Moore’s classes, without her even asking.

“She has a spark, an energy, a passion and a love for her students and the subjects she teaches them,” Rollins said. “Susan will make sure their time together will be an unforgettably positive experience. She hits that mark every moment of every day.”

These days, since classrooms across the county closed down well before the end of the school year due to the coronavirus, have been more challenging for teachers. They’ve sought out ways to still educate and connect with their students. Moore and many other teachers use Google Classroom and Google Meets to connect by video and audio with their students and students’ parents, in many cases on a daily basis.

But in Augusta and many other school systems, taking part in that online learning is not mandatory, and students won’t be graded on their work, so making learning engaging for students is even more important.

Moore insists she’s no different than every other teacher trying to find new ways to stay connected with students, finding ways to make them want to participate.

She starts Google Meets sessions by asking what her students want to talk about. Sometimes it is about something academic, sometimes not. She said earlier this week they had online talent shows so students could demonstrate their talents. They talk about hobbies and future plans.

Most days she has two Google Meets sessions, starting a second one in the afternoon for students who may like to sleep in. She noted her partner in the classroom, Renee Madore, has not missed a single Google Meets session, providing another familiar face for students.

Cony Middle School teacher Susan Moore looks for birds at her China home while talking to her 7th grade science students during an online meeting as they looked for birds from their own homes. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

In her home office she has five separate water tanks filled with brine shrimp that are part of experiments she’s doing online with students, showing how they respond to different salinity levels in the water tanks, and relating how they cope with change to lessons about the changing environment.

On Friday she modified past lessons in which students would go out birdwatching together to a virtual lesson, taking a camera into the backyard of her China home to identify birds as students watched online.

“We’re having to spend a lot of time thinking, how do you do the things you do in the classroom differently, to make the learning relevant, engaging and content-based,” Moore said. “So I’m up late every night, seeing what I can do differently.”

She wants students to know she misses being able to see them in person, and expressed sympathy and admiration of parents working hard to see their children through the currently difficult times of uncertainty.

Cony Principal Kim Silsby said Moore is part of a talented staff of educators at Cony who are great examples of exemplary teaching.

While Moore may have spent some time at sea before coming ashore, she has found her true calling as a teacher.

“Susan Moore is one of those teachers who was meant to be a teacher,” Silsby said. “There is an art to teaching and Mrs. Moore is amazing. She gets to know each and every student, plans engaging lessons, and puts the extra effort in to ensure the understanding of each student.”

Moore said she’s reached an age where she could retire, but she has no desire to do so.

“I want kids to walk out of my room and say, ‘Guess what we just did, or guess what we just learned,'” she said. “That’s when you know you’ve reached a kid, when they take what they learned out of the room. Even though I’ve been doing this a bazillion years, it’s still exciting and new. I think my students keep me young, keep me invigorated. As long as I can still make a difference, I’ll still be unlocking that door.”

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