Former Department Chair Susana Hartzell Returns to Teach by Example

Susana Hartzell, former World Languages department chair and wife of former Upper School Principal Dr. Richard Hartzell returned to teach at Taipei American School for the month of January, teaching two different classes of Spanish. Both Susana and her husband worked at TAS for 12 years before retiring at the end of the 2018-2019 school year. 

"This year has been amazing to be back because I have been so involved in the school," said Hartzell. Both Susana and Richard had previously returned to Taipei last January, she was accompanying him while he was serving as a humanities lecturer in the Upper School; this year, however, she returned alongside him in a visiting teaching role.

She worked with upper school Spanish teacher, Juliana Martinez, to plan interdisciplinary projects for the students in Spanish III and IV. "Juliana and I worked together for so many years, so she knew what I could best offer the kids in these classes," said Hartzell. Hartzell loves to bring interdisciplinary work into her Spanish classes. "Students write so much, and they speak," said Hartzell. "And they produce beautiful products that weave art and literature together."

She says that it's important for students to experience this type of interdisciplinary work because it means that the language learning that they do in the class becomes a natural byproduct of larger life lessons instead of rote memorization. "Students start using their own voice to describe what they see, things that they would normally do in English but now they can voice opinions about their own likes and dislikes," said Hartzell. "There is less pressure on them in this way because they don't have to pretend that they know what it is like to be an artist, they just have to voice their own opinion….They become fluent in a natural way."

Martinez says that Hartzell's approach to teaching a research project was nothing short of "fantastic" and led to a room full of color and creativity.  "The paintings that the students completed are on the back wall of my classroom and look very impressive," she said. "They are either intentional replicas of famous Spanish-speaking artists or personal renditions of images painted in the style of those famous Spanish-speaking artists...In the past, Susana's Unit 10 painting project was always a huge success with students and this time was no exception. I'm so happy that my Spanish IV students were able to experience her passion for painting!"
Hartzell describes herself as a born teacher in that she "couldn't not teach" other people, starting from a young age. She believes that being a teacher isn't just a job like other careers because it involves every aspect of her day. To her, teachers don't just teach the subject they are hired to teach. They must be good "role models" for their students - including waking up and coming to the gym to exercise, "even when they don't want to."

Although she has officially retired from teaching at TAS, Susana continues to try to be a good role model for her students and colleagues, past and present. During her visit to Taiwan in January, Susana hosted her first professional artwork exhibition at Sprout Cafe in Tianmu. "I loved it," she said. "So many teachers and students went to support me. It was good. The magic of TAS is that everyone makes you feel listened to. It's a beautiful thing to be part of this community."

Upper school art department chair and teacher, Michelle Kao, explains that Hartzell is quite modest about her achievements in the classroom and on canvas. "She might not have told you this," she said, "But she is so prolific. Susana actually painted all eight paintings on display while in quarantine because she didn't have the chance to bring the original paintings that she had planned to bring to Taipei." Kao says that Hartzell was "thrilled" to put on her first solo show, which led her to the burst of creative energy during her required COVID-19 quarantine isolation. 

"Who paints eight paintings in three weeks?" said Kao. "Susana was glowing [and] I was honored to be part of her first solo show."

Hartzell says that the hardest part of retirement, for her, has been being away from both Taipei American School's campus and its students. "The thing that I missed the most is so frustrating because it doesn't matter how hard I want, I can't recreate it," said Hartzell. "I can't get it because the best thing about TAS is that I always learned from my students here. The students here kept me so well informed, interested, and motivated. If I can reach just a little bit of what they have done for me, that would be [the goal]."

Taipei American School will always be a special place for the Hartzell family, a family that includes one former administrator and two teachers, including Susana's daughter, Laura, who is still a current upper school teacher. 

According to Susana, however, the thing that makes this school special has to do with the school's unique stance on selective admissions. "Because the school doesn't have a very selective admissions standard compared to some other independent schools, you can come here and just be you," said Hartzell. "You can be an artist. You can dance. You can do science, math, or architecture. You can do anything here."

She had a few pieces of advice for any teacher considering joining our community. "That teacher will feel sorry about asking me because this teacher will only want to come to this school," she said. "How far do you want to take your teaching? How involved do you want to be? This place, unlike other schools where you find walls built up, will help you do anything in order to teach your students well. Everything you have dreamed of for your kids, you can do it here."