Teacher in her 80s embraces technology to teach junior high during pandemic

Bill Choy
Mount Shasta Herald
Educator Susan Houg, who is in her 80s and has more than 45 years experience in her field, has embraced new ways of teaching during the coronavirus pandemic. She teaches about 20 seventh and eighth graders online at Scott Valley Junior High in Fort Jones.

After teaching in the traditional way for more than 45 years, one Scott Valley educator has embraced virtual learning and is now teaching social studies and science to about 20 Scott Valley Junior High students online.

“I've learned how to be comfortable with this new format, but it has been a steep learning curve at times," said Susan Houg, who is in her 80s. "I’ve worked hard to be proficient ... It is my goal to make the best of this situation for my students and help them learn."

While the Fort Jones school is holding in person classes, some families have opted to have their students taught remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

More:'Twice the work and half the fun:' teaching during COVID-19 pandemic is a challenge

More:Mount Shasta financial planner's new book teaches people to find purpose, finance their dream

“She is the biggest advocate for kids,” said SVJH principal Tana Piersall. “She also has high expectations for the students she works with. She has an amazing, grandmotherly way of persuading students to complete work by getting them to buy into it. I'm not sure if it's her North Carolina accent, or just her genuine concern for their education and well-being, but these adolescents respond very well to her."

Houg was hired as a resource teacher for the Scott Valley Union School District in 1990. After retiring from Etna High School, she continued to work as a substitute teacher and as a tutor. Until this year, Houg worked as a Title VI tutor in Indian Education, and other various roles. 

Piersall said Houg "has gone above and beyond my expectations of incorporating other resources into her assignments to make the content more meaningful and relevant to these adolescents. They have a tremendous amount of respect for her and know that what she's asking of them will make them better students and citizens.” 

"I am in awe of Susan's work ethic and desire to continue to help educate our youth,” Piersall said. “She has witnessed many trends come and go as an educator. I believe she has encompassed the best strategies and tools from her years of experience and our students are truly fortunate to have her in their lives.” 

When Piersall said when she asked Houg if she was interested in working with students as a distance learning instructor, "it didn't take long for her to accept, and she's been learning right alongside her students."

Piersall said that when she found out she would teach online, she learned everything she could about the platform so she'd be as comfortable as possible in the new environment. 

“She has opted to complete almost every assignment she gives her students prior to assigning it to them,” Piersall said.  

Houg created her own Google Classrooms for all four courses she is teaching, uses Google Meets for her daily live interactions with students, and has become proficient at using Aeries, the district’s online student database and gradebook. 

“When Susan commits, she goes above and beyond the minimum expectations to benefit her students," said Piersall.

When teaching online, Houg said it's vital to engage each student and make what is being taught as understandable and interesting as possible. She strives to develop a relationship with each student by having them involved in the discussion.

“You need to keep them engaged and get their attention as much as you can,” she said. “I’ve found it’s important for me to have a lot of energy, and if you do, they respond in a like fashion ... I want to have that connection with students and help each one of them achieve their potential,” she added. "I want to engage their minds and to have them understand and connect with the subject.”  

While there have been technical issues from time to time, Houg said she and her students have overcome them and have been able to learn and thrive.

Michele Johnson, the secretary at SVJH, said Houg's dedication and passion for education is always crystal clear. 

“Susan has a thorough love of teaching kids. Her methods are solid and true,” Johnson said. “Her abilities to engage students in conversation are amazing. Students feel comfortable in her atmosphere and thus in turn, want to be part of the scenario.  

"Susan has such a great sense of humor and always is there to offer a smile," Johnson added. "I have known her to be a woman who can triage a situation and know when it will get no better. She knows you cannot help those who do not want it, but believes it is your job to set the highest standard possible. She is just a great person." 

Susan thanked her fellow teachers and staff at SVJH and the district for their guidance and said the resources available have been invaluable. 

“It is an outstanding school district,” Houg said. “I’m just very impressed at the courage of the children and their willingness and desire to do well and wanting to learn ... Their curiosity and passion just keep me going.”