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Susan Rowland, BCISD teacher named Roberts 'Teacher of the Year'

June 13, 2012 at 1:13 a.m.

"It was always about the kids -- her students came first. She shied away from the spotlight," said Dr. Kara Cowart of her mother, Susan Rowland, the Linnie Roberts Elementary Teacher of the Year. Rowland was honored posthumously after passing away on October 25, 2011.

Although Susan shunned the spotlight and preferred working behind the scenes, the packed funeral service at First Baptist Church was a tribute to the positive impact and influence she had on her friends, students and co-workers. She worked 22 years in education, with 20 of those years in Bay City ISD. Susan was a proud graduate of The University of North Texas with a degree in physical education.

Joe Rowland, Susan's husband, says the two met at 2A Rosebud-Lott ISD just south of Waco, where Susan was a first-year teacher. She coached all the junior high and senior high girls' sports and sang in the church choir on Wednesdays with Joe. The two moved after that year to work together at New Caney High School, where Susan taught sixth grade math. Their daughter Kara was born later that year, Susan opted to be a full-time mother, and Joe took a job with Celanese, taking his family to Bay City.

A few years her son Grant was born, Susan went back into the workforce as the Director of the Child Development Center (CDC) in Bay City. In 1991 she returned to public education.

Roberts Elementary teacher Dr. Anna Littleton-Pettus first met Susan when she was an instructor at the district's alternative campus, and worked closely with Susan when she had her first battle with cancer several years ago. "We prayed a lot together during her treatments," she said. Anna recalled that when Susan lost her hair and got a wig, that she would comment how hot the wig was in P.E. classes. "I told her to pull that wig off and let me look at her. Her hair was short, but at that point a little longer than mine. It was beautiful gray hair! I told her that it was short and sassy, and that I was going to walk out of that restroom with her and walk down that hall and we were both gonna look cute with short hair. And she did it."

Although Susan taught P.E. at Holmes Elementary, she also coached Number Sense, where her math teams won many first place titles at District meets. She was soon out of the gym, as she was recruited to teach math and science. Helen Knezek, Bay City Junior High teacher, first taught with Susan at Holmes, and later at Bay City Intermediate. Helen said, "Susan was excellent with the students, and always ready to try new things. She spent lots of time during the summers prepping for the next school year, as she was very dedicated."

"The kids really enjoyed Susan. She did all these hands-on activities," added Anna. "She was always dragging all this stuff from her car into her classroom -- sacks of feed, salt, fertilizer and on and on. She just had all this stuff!" Anna said. "Susan regularly apologized to me when kids would leave her science room to come into my classroom. She'd say, 'Dr. Pettus, they're wild this morning. I'm sorry. But we've been doing an experiment.' and then those kids would leave her class where they were doing all this exciting stuff. They'd want to tell me all about what they were doing. And I'd let them until they'd calmed down so I could go on to my lesson."

Anna laughed when she admitted the only thing that bugged her and some of the other staff was that Susan's room did not smell nice. "We refused to gather for lunch in her science room. Now the kids didn't mind, but all that science stuff just made her room stink! We'd give her a hard time about it. We even confiscated disinfectant spray from the custodians, and I'd go into Susan's room and spray it down. She was such a mad-cap scientist. Sometimes I'd tell her that I was too scared to talk to her, because she might have something in her hand that would explode. We laughed a lot."

One of Susan's students, Tommy Valdez, was a regular visitor at Susan's house. "Mrs. Rowland and I went to the same church, and she lived in my neighborhood. I'd stop by and she'd always say 'Hi Tommy! How ya doing?' Math is my favorite subject, and she did math in such a good way. I remember this lesson where we strung popcorn and then measured grams of popcorn. We were always doing little projects. It was fun! She was a good teacher. We got stuff done and learned a lot. When she was sick this past school year, my class made her some get-well cards. Me and some others took the cards to her house."

Joe remembers that visit well. His daughter, Kara, answered Tommy's knock on their door. Susan was in bed on oxygen, very weak. At that point it was exhausting for her just to sit up. But Susan told the boys, "Come on in!" They all explained to the boys what the oxygen mask was for and tried to ease their concern and answer their questions. Susan was still their teacher till the very end.

Anna also shared that Susan was an inspiration in that she never really complained during her bouts with cancer, and always remained amazingly optimistic. This was just Susan - she worked through good times and bad with diligence, commitment and unflagging energy. Joe said that she hardly ever missed a day of school, and had most of her accumulated sick days still unused at the time of her passing.

Kara said that many of her mother's former students are currently her students at Bay City High School, where she's vocal music program director. "They've shared a little with me about my mom. Many are top-ten graduates, and several have been valedictorians. I remember coming home for visits from college and watching her in her classroom. She could relate so well to her students. She would teach them skills and fun little tricks to help them work math faster. She was so excited when I told her I was going to be a teacher, and I even got to work with her a little bit at Bay City Middle School. She really loved that. She was so thrilled to come see my students' music concerts. These last few years some people have said I'm acting more like my mom than I ever have, and I take that as a compliment."

Susan was proud of her children and her grandchildren. She had a strong relationship with her husband and was a strong Christian. Anna said that in their conversations during both bouts with cancer, Susan expressed concern for her husband, her children and grandchildren, but never herself. "I never saw her have a pity-party. Some days she didn't feel well, yet she was the one encouraging us, her friends. She taught us not to whine and complain. She showed us that life is precious and that we all had many blessings. She so enjoyed her life!"

Anna continued, "I remember when she told me that it didn't look like she was gonna beat the cancer this second time. We talked a long time. She knew who she was, she knew where she was going. She knew that when the pain stopped that she would be with God and that she'd be okay. She was an energetic woman of God, always moving, always in a hurry, not wanting to waste time."



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