November 1, 2011

Supanika “Sue” Ordonez: Preferring ‘difficult’ students

By Undergraduate Academic Affairs

Alumni e-News
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UAA alumni educate and inspire

“Once I started in the pre-school classroom, I knew that this was where I wanted to be,” said Sue.

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Supanika “Sue” Ordonez (’08), an international studies major, thought she would enter the professional world of international relations, having grown up around the world with her father, a United States diplomat. That changed for Sue after she began volunteering through Jumpstart. “Once I started in the pre-school classroom, I knew that this was where I wanted to be. It amazed me how much progress these kids made within that year and it was a powerful feeling knowing that you helped that occur.”

Supanika “Sue” Ordonez PhotoInspired by the preschool students she teaches at the Lummi Indian Headstart in Bellingham, Sue is conscious of the fact that many have difficult lives from the beginning, whether it’s because they were born to parents with substance abuse problems or are part of the foster care system, school is often the safe haven for these children. “My favorite students are always the ones that other teachers label as ‘difficult.’ Event when I’m not feeling well, I will make it to the classroom because you never know if you’re the one consistent adult in these children’s lives.”

Sue credits her close family friend, Kelly Hower, with really encouraging Sue to follow her dream of teaching, inspiring her to integrate personal life experiences into the classroom, and helping her realize that being a teacher doesn’t stop once the kids leave the classroom. “She keeps in touch with their families, has lunch with her former students, and checks in with them in their new classes. There really should be more cooperation between teachers and she provides such a great model for it.”

College of Education faculty member Gail Joseph influenced Sue’s teaching, emphasizing the development of social-emotional competence in children. “It’s hard to teach reading, writing, or math skills if a child cannot regulate their emotions,” said Sue. “I think many adults grow up without developing these skills and it makes it hard for them later in life. If children are able to get these skills this early, it will set them up to succeed as they will be able to work past failure, maintain positive relationships, and be able to solve problems.”

This past year was Sue’s first year having her own preschool classroom, and several children had very challenging behavior, including a little girl who screamed for everything. Sue’s best day at work came after spending the week working on emotions, showing the kids the different reactions for different occurrences. The little girl went into the bathroom and came out trembling. “I went into the bathroom and found a spider. I was able to remove it and she was able to go to the bathroom. Had it been a week earlier, she would have just stood there screaming and I wouldn’t have been able to help her. But through that lesson, I was able to help her classify her emotions and let me know what she was trying to say.”

Sue’s classroom motto is “What happened?” and over the years she’s found her teaching assistants and children following her lead. “Conflict is usually never as simple as ‘He hit me;’ there is usually a second side to the story and it’s important to let the children have time to be heard. Once you have heard both sides, you can summarize what happened and talk about things that they can do differently the next time. Having children in the classroom over 3 years is powerful because you can really see them take these lessons to heart when you see them start the process on their own.”

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