On Leaving Northgate

Living a courageous life and living a foolish life is separated by a fine line; during the last two week I have found myself questioning what side of the line I am on. Within 72 hours I heard about a job, applied, interviewed, and accepted a job at Grady High School in Atlanta then resigned from my job at Northgate. 72 hours – whew. Throw in a code red, last day with my seniors, and prepping for graduation in that 72 hours. Oh – and my own daughter was getting ready to graduate and we were preparing for family to visit. My blood pressure goes up just thinking about those 72 hours.

Now that I’ve had a minute to process, I’ll try to explain why I would leave a dream job. I sent this email to our staff on the last day which still captures my reasons and feelings perfectly:

“Over the last week, several people have stopped by my room to ask me about “the real reason” I am leaving Northgate. The real reason is God’s plan for my life is to teach in the city, and I’ve found that life is much better if I willing (and joyfully) accept the path that the Lord has for me.

“The truth is I love Northgate and am more excited than ever about the future direction and leadership of the school. I have learned so much about teaching, leadership, and life in general over the last ten years here. I don’t know what it will be like to be in a school where  the alma mater is not standard routine every Friday afternoon, without the latest whispers of ghost action in the 9th grade building, or praying for the rain to hold off while sitting on the Henry Seldon field during graduation. I do know, however, that being a teacher in a different environment where I will have to prove myself again will be challenging and will help me grow both personally and professionally. And I am up for the challenge because of the time I have spent here.

“Thanks for being more than a part of my teaching story; thanks for being a part of my life for the last decade.”

Below are a few things I have learned in my ten years at Northgate:


On the last day of school, our department held a retirement party for a colleague, and I stood at the end of the food line, iced cups, and poured drinks as people came through the line and felt an overwhelming sadness that this was the last time I would be able to serve members of the English department. In my five years of being department chair, I have realized that leading is less about being in charge and more about coming alongside others. I tried to provide teachers with strategies and ideas for their classrooms, but I’m convinced that covering classes and running copies is what leadership is really about. 


When asked at my job interview what I love about Northgate, I was quick to reply that I have autonomy in the classroom and am trusted that I was doing what I need to be doing. When students are laying on the floor tracing themselves on large sheets of paper for character analysis or sitting in the library on Valentine’s Day with candles and chocolate speed dating books, people just smile and walk on by. What I have found to work in my classroom is interactive learning which is hard, messy, and often chaotic. Most people teach the way they were taught, and because I’m older, my default teaching mode included lectures and note taking, assigning reading and giving reading quizzes, and returning essays with all of the commas, fragments, and dangling participles marked. I soon realized that students were not learning like I wanted and started reading everything I could about the next generation and learning. Over the last decade I made a crucial shift in pedagogy from teaching texts to teaching skills and from assigning and grading writing and to teaching writing. The change was not easy, but I love that I had the freedom and support at Northgate to grow as a teacher. 


Teachers and students need someone to speak up and out for them. Now, some students need their parents to actually speak up for them less but even these students need to be spoken up for as part of a collective group. Students need adults saying, “Enough testing, data collecting, and practices are not in the best interests of students.” Teachers need people saying, “Enough of the cumbersome tasks tagged to your job that have no direct impact on students.” Northgate and Coweta County have provided a space for me to speak up and out for students and teachers. Finding my voice and a place for my voice has been a journey, but after five years of working hard at reflecting and writing, I have learned a lot about myself and my role in education. I have also learned that even though we often feel alone and isolated in our feelings, we will find that others often feel the same way if we take the time to advocate for what is right. 


What happens in my classroom is important, but the most important work I do is often outside the classroom. Northgate students, staff, and families have allowed me to be a part of their lives for the last decade. Attending games, shows, graduation parties, funerals, and weddings, just to name a few, have all been possible due to connections from the classroom. I work hard to build class community and have found that students – and parents – long for this type of experience at school. Thank you, Northgate family, for making it easy to show up daily and invest in our school community. 

Finally, thank you to former students, parents, colleagues, and people from the community who have reached out to me over the past few weeks. Your support and encouragement have been tremendous and has further reaffirmed to me that teachers really do make a difference. 

Northgate, you have taught me well, and I am forever grateful for my time with you.

8 responses to “On Leaving Northgate

  1. In 30 years as a teacher, I’ve met some who had a special connection to kids. It’s not often that you find those that have a special connection to kids but ALSO have that same positive collegial connection with the adults they work with. Over the last 10 years, we have been blessed to call you a colleague and for me, especially in the last 5 years as I got to know you better on a personal level, you’ve been a good friend. I’ve also considered you one of the other more outspoken “comrades in arms” so to speak on so many issues I have felt strongly about.

    I will miss seeing you in the halls for a short chat; I’ll miss knowing that another classroom of kids is in your room having fun and learning about English but also about life; Maybe most important I think students and teachers alike will all miss our teacher, mentor, colleague and friend who we came to know and love, not just for the job she did, but for the person she is.

    I wish you the best and I”ll look forward to keeping up with you in your new journey and we’ll just have to make those chats occur at the local store or restaurant rather than the halls of N’gate. All the best my friend, Grady is lucky to have you !!

  2. You leave an incredible legacy at Northgate. Wow, what a gain and incredible “free agent” pick up for the ATL Public Schools. You and Scott are amazing team and are pillars of integrity and inspiration. Two huge career changes between you in less than 2 years. Exciting to see.

  3. This is amazing. I am so happy to hear of your Northgate success of being “different.” I worried I would be fired over it. Because my students were involved in claymation art lessons, music-centric, humor based learning, ten years before you we’re practicing it in your classroom, I thought I might be let go. I came from the educational theory of cooperative learning and adding my own tactile learning environment, I would ask my administrators to visit my unorthodox classroom to understand my infotainment method.
    Just because there was laughter didn’t mean learning wasn’t taking place. I am so glad you we’re supported in your non-traditional environment. What a difference a decade makes. Grady is lucky to get you and your creative teaching style!

  4. Susan, I remember well when I was told that you were a possibility as an addition to our English department at Northgate. I did not know you but was told about your Crossroads connection. That connection spoke volumes to me so I immediately was pro Barber. Thank you for your many contributions to Northgate and for helping to shape so many lives. Knowing God’s will and following His plan will always lead to life’s greatest fulfillment. Congratulations and prayers.

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