For Susan Schnitzer (BA and Credential ’78), teaching has enriched a life of service to children.
In the late 1970s, Schnitzer began her teaching career in Oregon. Having just completed a combination undergraduate degree in American Studies and teaching credential, Schnitzer headed to where teachers were desperately needed: Portland, Oregon. Ultimately, she taught second and third grade for six years in a team teaching, open classroom environment where her preparation at UC Davis helped her shine.
“At UC Davis, I learned to teach in a really multidisciplinary way,” said Schnitzer. “I was well-prepared to teach in a classroom with a lot of diversity, from first generation Americans to very poor kids to kids from many different cultures.”
She found that reading was a particular challenge for many of her students, so she earned a master’s degree and became a reading specialist. Eventually, she left the classroom as a full-time teacher and focused on parenting her three children.
But the passion for teaching was still very much alive in Schnitzer. Over the last 30 years, she has volunteered in her children’s classrooms, was a member of the board for her children’s school, served as an aide and substitute teacher, helped in the school’s kitchen, and even led Sunday school.
Beyond the time spent with her children, she volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House in Portland, where she has been a fundraiser and board member for 29 years. “That has really been my passion. If children are not healthy, they can’t live and enjoy life,” she said.
Most important, Schnitzer believes that being trained as a teacher has made her a more effective parent. “I have always used my teaching skills as a parent,” she said. “I knew how to build a logical, positive structure in which my children could focus on education and live a responsible, creative, and fun life.” Now adults, Schnitzer’s children are “really productive and know how to get the best out of themselves.”
“Teaching is about building relationships. It’s us, not you versus them,” she said.
Schnitzer’s belief in the power of teaching and commitment to giving back is most evident in her philanthropic support of student scholarships in the UC Davis School of Education. In 2003, Schnitzer established the first endowed fund in the new School of Education to provide scholarship support for teaching credential students. To date, Schnitzer’s generosity has made it possible for 11 students to realize their dream to teach.
“I am thrilled to know that so many of the recipients of the scholarships are first generation college graduates,” said Schnitzer. “I expect they share my passion for teaching and that they will get into a classroom and touch people’s lives. It is exciting to know they are getting a little bit of help from me.”
As Schnitzer looks forward, she has no intention of leaving behind the teacher inside. “I will be using what I learned as a student teacher at Davis all my life. I can’t wait to use it as a grandma.”