Top Marks—Susan Wood Watson ‘90

Windward Communications

While a Volleyball player and Editor-in-Chief of the Yearbook at Windward, Susan Wood Watson ‘90 would have never imagined she’d become a teacher. Now, as the California Language Teachers Association (CLTA) Teacher of the Year, Windward experiences inspire how she leads in the classroom.

“I don’t see myself as teacher of the year,” says Susan, still in disbelief despite also being named the 2016-17 LA County Teacher of the Year. “I remember looking at people 10 years ago thinking ‘wow, that’d be really cool’ but I never thought that I’d be that; I’ve been incredibly honored.”

As a past President, receiving the CLTA Outstanding Teacher Award in 2016, and playing “an instrumental role on the California World Language Standards Advisory Committee when the standards were rewritten in 2019,” according to a press release by the CLTA, Susan’s history as a long-standing, active member of the CLTA led to her consideration as Teacher of the Year.

“A panel chooses, and I didn’t know I was being considered. It was kind of like ‘Hey, we chose you,’ and I was like ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa. What?’” As Susan humbly explains, she may have missed out on the honor if not selected before a new process goes into effect. “We just changed the way people have to apply and I was looking at the application and I was like ‘This is scary. There’s no way I would have done this!’”

With a Danish mother, Susan grew up speaking two languages plus Spanish, as Japanese wasn’t offered at Windward until her senior year. However, thanks to the exchange program, Susan was able to go to Japan following her Freshman and Junior years.”When I came back from Japan the first time, that was it,” Susan recalls. “Everything Japanese was what I wanted to do.”

After graduating from Windward, Susan went on to study Japanese at Bryn Mawr College, not because she wanted to be a teacher, but rather because she thought her Japanese experience would give her an advantage. Although the advantage lasted about three weeks as she jokes, she received her B.A. in East Asian Studies before going back to Japan to teach English for four years. She then returned to California and was offered a high school teaching position when her father recommended her for an opening at a school where he worked. While there, she completed her M.Ed. in Secondary Education at Pepperdine University.

Susan has now taught at Long Beach Polytechnic High School (LBPHS) for 14 years and is the World Language Department Chair. Serving over 500 students per year, LBPHS’s Japanese program is the largest in the contiguous 48 states.

“I know I teach at a big school, but I teach my kids that we’re all part of a family and my room is always open and available for them,” she says. “And I think I got that from Windward, that idea that teachers were always available.”

“We really got to know our teachers personally; we really knew who they were as people. That inspired me. They were able to reach us and still show us who they were as human beings – they weren't just robot teachers” Susan says while recalling her experiences with Windward faculty Paula Hirsch and Tom Haglund. “That along with teaching in Japan made me realize that I really could make a difference for kids and that’s exactly what I want to do.”