BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Susan Connolly, an 11th-grade English teacher at Bloomfield High School, who, in her own words, came to teaching “much later in life,” has retired. Her decision became effective July 1.
Connolly, who spent 22 years teaching in the Bloomfield School District, grew up in New York state just north of the Mohawk Valley, in Johnstown, Fulton County, which is midway between Utica and Albany. Her hometown was a Leatherstocking town, she said, referring to an area of the state that has been noted since pre–Revolutionary War times for its leather goods industries. Connolly’s father, as a second career, managed a friend’s glove factory, she said.
She attended Le Moyne College, in Syracuse, N.Y., and earned a Bachelor of Arts in English and education, and minored in philosophy and psychology. She also received her teaching certification from Le Moyne.
Returning to Johnstown after college, she had a long-term substitute teaching position at Johnstown High School, her alma mater. But she felt the responsibilities were too much for her and ventured into corporate America as a national sales representative for Kraft Foods. She remained at the job for several years.
“It was a great job,” Connolly said. “I got a company car and a great salary. But it didn’t take long for me to realize it was pretty soulless and I always loved dramatics.”
In fact, after high school she wanted to skip college, she said, and become a circus performer. But her high school theater teacher told her she could think of that after getting a college degree.
After her stint with Kraft Foods, she followed her star and applied to various graduate programs recognized by the League of Professional Theatre Training Programs. She auditioned for the renowned acting teacher William Esper at the Mason Gross School of the Arts. He advised her that, with no previous acting training, she had very little chance of acceptance into a graduate program. He suggested that she attend his acting school, which she did for two years. Connolly said it was a great program.
She appeared in an off-off-Broadway production, titled “Una Pooka,” while working at a law firm. She got married, got pregnant and moved to Bloomfield.
“An actor I met at Esper’s studio lived in Bloomfield,” she said. “We used to rehearse in his apartment. My husband and I liked Bloomfield. It was diverse. My husband worked for The New York Times, in production. Their plants were in the city and Edison, so the location was good for him.”
Connolly became an active Bloomfield resident, founding the Watsessing Heights Neighborhood Association in 1997. The group, she said, felt strongly that the south end of the town was seen as slightly less desirable than the north end; they worked to change that perception.
She became a BHS teacher on Sept. 1, 2000, after getting divorced. Her first district job was as a part-time kindergarten math teacher at Berkeley Elementary School, and she remained there a short time before coming to BHS.
Among the colleagues who influenced her at BHS, Connolly mentioned English teachers Steven Holtzman and Kathy Szubiak, as well as Jack Higgins, a social studies teacher and cross-country coach.
Asked about the changes in education since she began, Connolly said educational programs seem to be more beneficial to corporations driving the curriculum, rather than the pupils.
“Once we started dealing with all the remedial work, the corporations were taking a huge amount of money to retrain teachers and create training material. It was just a cookie-cutter’s numbers crunch. But what I felt the greatest mourning for is that there was less time for great literature,” she said. “But this district values what a teacher does to develop the child wholly. The newer teachers don’t remember this because they’re too young.”
The effect of the pandemic on her students changed Connolly’s perspective on teaching and helped her decide to retire.
“What I found out, and it was slowly happening, is that (I was dealing with) my students’ emotional and physical and mental safety,” she said. “Speaking about ‘The Great Gatsby’ wasn’t more important than the children’s well-being.”
She figured she was not going to make it to 25 years of teaching and, with time ever fleeting, decided to go.
“There are places I want to see and things I want to learn and ways I want to grow,” she said.
And still, she admitted, there may be theater in the wings.