Northwestern Press

Monday, July 22, 2019
PRESS PHOTO BY ANNA GILGOFFJan Sutermeister’s preference for a student constructed chair shows that for her, simple things may be the best. PRESS PHOTO BY ANNA GILGOFFJan Sutermeister’s preference for a student constructed chair shows that for her, simple things may be the best.

Northwestern German teacher retires after 13 years

Wednesday, August 1, 2018 by ANNA GILGOFF Special to The Press in School

After 13 years of teaching German to high school students German, Jan Sutermeister is bidding auf Wiedersehen to her classroom at Northwestern Lehigh and hallo to her new future.

Sutermeister has both German and English certifications, which equipped her to teach both subjects.

“I always wanted to do something with German,” she said. “I just had to take a few extra classes in German civilization and history.”

Sutermeister has had an affinity for languages for as long as she can remember.

“I had good pronunciation of German, almost like a native speaker,” she said.

She also studied Latin for five years and Greek for two years.

This may explain a critical part of her teaching practice.

Sutermeister advocates speaking the new language right out of the box.

“The whole thing is to start talking and to have the students speak,” she said. “That was a real focus, to have them ask each other questions so they lose their shyness.”

She is also a big believer in experiential learning.

“If I had my choice, I would do everything with a lab,” she said. “When you’re in the activity, actually doing something, you learn the flow of the language.”

As a world traveler, Sutermeister has put this to the test.

“Travel informs what you do in the classroom,” she said.

Last year, she and her husband traveled to Germany and Italy, where she visited both Padua and Venice, spending time with family members and Northwestern’s 2013-14 foreign exchange student.

“We flew into Copenhagen and took the train to Hamburg where she spent her junior year in college,” she said. “It was nice to reconnect with them.”

Sutermeister’s background in mental health likely aided her in working with students.

But entering the teaching profession held some surprises.

“I just remember thinking this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she said. “I had taught in so many different ways, but this was entirely new.”

“I have such admiration for teachers, especially for English teachers who read papers every night and on weekends.”

Sutermeister spoke while seated in her favorite chair, fabricated from thick cardboard that was likely recycled packing material.

“The design is just phenomenal and it’s really very solid,” she said.

“I saw a bunch of them in the hallway and this one looked like it was just my size, so I sat in it,” she said. “It was a project for a design class and this one was designed by Philip Castrine.

“It’s so much more comfortable than this one (pointing to the standard issue desk chair used by most other teachers).

“I like this one so much more and it’s flush with the desk.”

These days, Sutermeister is dreaming big about the possibility of an indoor/outdoor pool with a retractable roof to be built within the district.

She has been busy attending municipal meetings and establishing communication with the likes of state Sen. Pat Browne, R-16th.

Sutermeister can barely contain her enthusiasm.

“I have an architect I’m meeting with,” she explained. “She’s a green architect who has worked on a PPL building and worked on a number of things in the Lehigh Valley, trying to educate people about green design.”

She believes the benefits of having a community pool are limitless.

“I’ve talked with people here to get them to think about cross training, not to mention the therapeutic benefits for people who can’t move well.”

“The dream is that in 10 years, I’ll be able to swim in my own community,” she said, but the ever active Sutermeister will not sit at home until that happens.

“We have a camper and we’ll be visiting family in Seattle,” she said.