Updated: Jan 12, 2019
Susan Harden is a woman on a mission—a mission to make Charlotte THE premier city in the country for teachers. She’s approaching her mission in a variety of ways, including running for the Board of County Commission seat in District 5. I spent some time with Susan recently and had a great time learning more about where she’s been and where she’s going.
When did you move to Charlotte?
1988. I had just turned 21 years old and I moved into an apartment off of Scaleybark Road with every other single person in Charlotte. At the time, that’s where all the single people moved. We worked all week and hung out at Whispers in Park Road Shopping Center on the weekends.
What made you stay in Charlotte?
You know, I fell in love with NC. I grew up in Florida and had never owned a winter coat. I thought Charlotte was the prettiest town I had ever seen. I love the four seasons. I loved that Charlotte was a city where newcomers felt welcome. There wasn’t a tight society… if you wanted to get involved and give back, anyone could do it.
I was at NCNB [became Bank of America] at the time and Hugh McColl would walk through all the floors and talk to all the employees. These really big players, the people who were making news, were really accessible to me. As a growing professional, that was huge!
So, you used in banking. But, I know you are in a much different career now. What is that?
I’m a professor at UNC Charlotte where I teach teachers. I loved my financial work but I felt a call to be in education.
What do you mean by a “calling?”
A longing. I loved certain aspects of banking, but I didn’t feel like that work aligned with my personal mission. I could not see myself doing what I was doing for the rest of my life. Even at NCNB, I sought out ways, in an informal way, to be a teacher.
I never stopped wanting to learn. I love being a student as much as I love being a teacher.
I think a lot of people can relate to that. For you, what did the path from finance to teaching look like?
It was gradual. I got my masters in economics from UNC Charlotte and ended up teaching finance at Rowan Cabarrus Community College. Then, I realized my real passion was teaching people how to teach. So, I got my PhD in Education. I believe there is an art to being a great teacher.
What is that art?
Great teachers are prepared. Present. And Passionate.
What do you mean by that?
They are prepared—there are hours of preparation to do before I teach a class. I’m experimenting and practicing. Once I get in front of my students, I’m almost performing the lesson I’ve already learned.
They are also present—great teachers know their students’ names; their needs. Some students need you to be really hard on them. Some need to be understood. It’s essential to have a relationship with them in order to recognize how each learns best.
I think really good teachers understand relationships. They take the time to invest in those relationships. Students are not cogs or widgets. They come with different things. I meet with my students one-on-one outside of class. I force my students to come visit my office twice a semester.
And great teachers are passionate—they’re optimistic. They are happy. As a teacher, I teach my students that I’m going to give 100% and I’m going to need them to give 100%. It’s the passion and respect for the commitment to learning.
Teaching is a ride that students have to get on with you. They can either fight it or enjoy it.
What do you teach?
I teach teachers to be community leaders; to engage the community. I think schools work best when the community is involved with the school, rather than schools being isolated from the community.
Can you give me an example of what that looks like?
Great teachers invite the community into the classroom, whether it’s to be classroom volunteers, reading buddies, or even corporate sponsors. I teach my students to invite the community into the classroom and to take the classroom back into the community.
We call teachers tying community to learning, service learning.
How do you practice service learning?
I coordinate programs at the University that allows college students to work in nonprofits and schools.
They learn how to be community leaders while working beside leaders in the community. At a nonprofit, they work with the executive director. At a school, they see what a classroom teacher or principal does. They do volunteer activities while watching community leaders.
Things got real for me at the beginning of this calendar year. My students actually challenged me to take service learning to another level.
My students challenged me to run for public office!
For what public office are you running?
I am seeking to be the County Commissioner for District 5.
In Mecklenburg County, the County Commissioners deal with human services; things like parks, schools, mental health, and libraries.
The way I describe it… Charlotte is our home. What makes the home strong is the heart. It’s those soft services, the human services that make us great.
The fact that I’m an educator and a mom fits in with what Mecklenburg County does.
What’s your vision for this role?
My vision is to make Charlotte Mecklenburg County the Southern destination for teachers. I want all the great teachers to move to Charlotte. So, when a teacher graduates from anywhere in the nation they want to move here. When all the millennials move here, one of the their occupations of choice is to be a teacher.
Why is this your vision?
I think that many of the social problems that Mecklenburg County encounters would be abated or addressed by having a great teacher in the classroom.
Let me give you an example. Great teachers know their students. If a student is dealing with a mental health issue then a student can be directed to getting help. A great teacher can connect a homeless student with resources so that student can get into a stable situation.
A great teacher helps a student with a reading block or learning disability early on so they don’t get into high school and they can’t read. A lot of the problems that Mecklenburg County addresses when it’s too late can be addressed by a great teacher.
If you doubt that, ask any great person how a teacher made a difference in their life. Everyone has a story about how a teacher made a difference in his or her life.
So, what does it look like to run for office?
I love being a candidate! The things that made this community great 30 years ago when I moved here are the same things I love about it today. People are optimistic and welcoming. People are really polite. People care about this community and they really like Charlotte. It’s a pleasure to talk to people about it.
How can people find you?
My website: susanbharden.com
If you’d like to talk to me about the University, contact me there: email@example.com
Or call me: 704-651-4810
I really love being a candidate. I want to know more about what people would like to see in our community. This has been such a fun process!
Susan, it’s been great to chat with you. Thank you for your time! I end every article with a list of people’s favorite things in Charlotte. So… What’s your favorite:
Restaurant: Carpe Diem
Coffee: Juila’s Cafe
Sports team: Panthers
TV show: Parks & Rec
Book: Tied for first, The Four Agreements (I pick up it a lot). And I love anything by Parker Palmer.
Place to work out: My neighborhood. I’m a long-distance walker.
New thing in CLT: The Lightrail out to UNC Charlotte
Old thing in CLT: Freedom Park
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