Susan Detwiler: In it for the Long Haul
|From the journal of:
|Family Coach Coordinator
|Years in the Agora family:
Susan cannot remember a time when she didn’t want to be a teacher. She and her siblings were raised in a family of educators. Her father was a 6th-grade teacher and softball coach, and her mother a music teacher who transitioned into teaching 1st and 2nd grade in addition to directing the choir and leading a youth group. So, on one hand you could say that becoming a teacher was “in her genes.” On the other hand, genes only go so far—Susan showed from a very young age that she had a mind and heart open to providing others with the education she herself was fortunate to have. Susan loved being her mother’s “teacher’s assistant” in a sense, taking every opportunity she could to sit in on her mother’s 1st– and 2nd-grade classes, read to the younger students and help grade papers. Although she didn’t realize at the time, it was in these years that Susan started to develop what would become her educational philosophy, built around empathy: “If you want it for yourself, why wouldn’t you want it for someone else?” It was this type of generosity, love for education and love for others that directed Susan to the path she chose in the education arena.
The journey to Agora
Given the early influences in her life and her passion for teaching, there was no question that after high school Susan would pursue a degree in education, which she did at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA. As part of her course of study, she double-majored in education and psychology. She chose psychology because she knew it would enhance her ability to teach if she could better understand what makes people tick. What Susan did not realize at the time was this background in psychology would play a major role in her position at Agora, where she frequently supports students, parents and families struggling to juggle life, career and family, all while helping to ensure the children get the very best education.
Shortly after graduating college, Susan began teaching kindergarten—a position she did not interview for, but quickly learned to love! “It was one of my most rewarding experiences as a teacher,” Susan said. “These young minds come in, some not able to recognize their names or how to identify colors, and by the end of the year they are reading, adding and subtracting! It is humbling and exciting to realize I played a role in that.” After she put away her chalk and lesson plans for three years to start a family, Susan sought out a new position in education. She applied at Agora to be a classroom teacher, but another opportunity opened during her interview, when the Agora team told her about a program they were launching, the Family Coach Program. As a new mom herself, Susan immediately saw the necessity and value of such a program, especially in a cyber-learning environment. She saw being an Agora family coach as a way to give other families the type of educational support at home that she received from her own parents. And so, Susan started with Agora as a family coach, became a lead family coach after four years, and two years after that became a family coach coordinator, a position she has held for four years and counting.
Being the difference
Today, as one of four Agora family coach coordinators in a Family Coach program that celebrates 10 years this year, Susan supervises a team of 19 family coaches, each of whom provides coaching services for approximately 70 families. That’s 1,330 families and an untold number of students that Susan directly and indirectly helps guide toward educational excellence! When Susan began to immerse herself in her work at Agora, it did not take long for her to realize that Agora was, in her words, “filled with the kindest, most caring and most selfless people you could ever hope to work with.”
To this day she cherishes the relationships she has made and continues to make with staff, students and families alike—and she has never wavered on her promise to provide that same level of kindness, care and selflessness to those who rely on her for support. Susan is grateful for all that she has experienced through the Family Coach program. She shares how special it has been to be welcomed into families’ homes and safe spaces, and to be trusted and to hear their stories and learn from them. “It is such an honor to have these opportunities, and to have them with so many families, no one being exactly the same,” Susan said.
Lastly, as a mother herself, Susan brings to her job every day the truth that hers is not a position in which you can think about yourself. Instead, she knows she should always consider the perspective of the parents as well as their children.
The next chapter
Much of what is shaping Susan’s “next chapter” at Agora comes from her own recent experience of enrolling her daughter, age 14, at Agora during the pandemic. Susan enrolled her daughter at Agora so she could have a consistent, quality education that she wasn’t confident her local school district could provide at the time as they struggled to adapt to virtual education. Even though Susan had been immersed in Agora’s family coaching program for nearly a decade, the year she enrolled her daughter was the year she learned the most about the true Agora difference. Being able to experience the school as the parent of an Agora student made a huge impact on her—and so did being able to watch her daughter thrive because of the format, constant communications among students, teachers, coaches and families, and peer interactions. These experiences for Susan the parent have created bold new visions for Susan the family coach coordinator! Her new perspective has further reinforced her commitment to the family coach program that helps give every parent confidence in their decision—and, when they struggle to make a decision, provides them with the full set of factual information they need to travel the best path.
When she isn’t cozied up with a good book, you will often find Susan singing showtunes in the car with her daughter and going to Broadway with the women in her family, but she really enjoys “making people laugh, sharing a smile, paying kindness forward and never giving up hope for something good and something better to happen.” Susan’s bright attitude has followed her throughout her entire time at Agora, and she sees the same in her colleagues as well.
“I am proud of Agora and the teams I work with—they are some of the most remarkable people I have ever met, and I learn from them and am inspired by them every day,” Susan said. “I used to think my dream career path would have me in a classroom putting up bulletin boards each year. Now, I would love to end my career here at Agora. I’m here for the long haul!”