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Teacher Profile: Middle School Learning Specialist Susan Tuncten

Middle school learning specialist Susan Tuncten  shares in the joys of her students when they master a skill or show improvement.

Andrew Mouzin

Middle school learning specialist Susan Tuncten comes from a long line of educators. Her grandmother was one of the first female educators to come out of the University of Missouri-Columbia. “It’s probably in my DNA,” she laughed. 

Susan has been in education for over 40 years. Her career has included positions in the Liberty and Independence School Districts, as an art teacher, reading specialist and instructional coach for teachers. For the past 14 years, Susan has been a learning specialist for PHS middle school students, helping them elevate their study skills and memorization of materials.

“Some students may just simply need to print out their work and read over it,” Susan shared. “Other times, they might need a little extra time with their tests. If students are having a challenge with a subject or need some one-on-one support, we’ll work with parents to develop a plan to help the student succeed.”

Each grade provides its own unique growth opportunities. As students transition from fifth grade to sixth grade, the expectations of teachers change and students are provided more independence. “They now have more classes and travel from room to room with different students. There are also more extracurricular opportunities. I will talk with teachers and discuss ways to help the students adjust to their new environment. They are really bright students, and they pick it up rather quickly.”

Seventh graders, Susan disclosed, are faced with their first round of final tests in December. “They underestimate the time it takes to study for a final that can last up to 90 minutes” she said. Susan works with students to develop study strategies to help them succeed in their first round of testing. 

Once a student reaches the eighth grade, time management becomes a focal point. “They realize that it takes a little more energy and time to do their homework and learn the material,” she said. “So we work on time-management strategies to help facilitate their days.”

A great resource Susan created is a peer tutoring program for students who may need a little extra support with their studies. They are paired up with an upper school student who is able to lend a hand after school. “Sometimes another voice, especially a peer voice, resonates with them more than grownups can,” Susan said. 

Helping students achieve their goals is a collaborative effort from the lower school to the upper school. Susan meets with the lower school academic intervention team toward the end of the school year to facilitate a smooth transition for students leaving fifth grade. “I also work really well with middle school counselor Lindsay Kobolt to help students achieve their goals," she shared. "In several cases, learning issues are tied in with other issues, so we work together in coordination with parents to overcome those situations. Lindsay is so great to work with and we actively communicate with each other about how students are progressing.” 

As her students start to transition to the upper school, Susan and her colleague, upper school learning specialist Sara Prince ’77, work together to create a plan of success. “The great thing about sharing an office with Sara is she’s right there with me, so we bounce ideas off each other as well as collaborate on how to make the transition to the upper school a smooth process. Sara also becomes acquainted with the students as they progress through the middle school, so when they move up to the upper school, she already has an understanding of their needs.”

Susan shares in the joys of her students when they master a skill or show improvement. “It might be a good grade on a test, or showing improvement on their homework assignments. We celebrate all these victories and provide positive feedback that will ultimately help them reach that next level. It’s one of the reasons I love coming here every day. I feel like I’m a part of something bigger than myself. We try to make a difference, one person at a time.”