“I am a teacher … I am not in it for the income; I am in it for the outcome.”
“I am a teacher … It’s who I am; it’s my passion, my calling, my world.”
For Susanna Guillen, a Catholic elementary school teacher serving in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, these sayings accurately encapsulate her chosen career — a professional fate that was sealed early on, thanks to the many memorable teachers (a.k.a. role models) who taught her not only the ABCs, but also about loving God and embracing her faith, from kindergarten forward.
Today Susanna is a third grade teacher at Nativity Elementary School in South Los Angeles, where she has worked for 11 years, spanning nearly her entire teaching career. She is also the mother of two — she has an adult son, 26, who graduated from Salesian High School, and a 17-year-old daughter, who is a senior at San Gabriel Mission High School — and has been married for 27 years.
When asked if her Catholic faith plays a role in her daily life, Susanna’s response is an immediate and resolute “Yes” — though explaining exactly “how” is tricky, she noted. Her faith just “is” — interwoven and inextricable — and it guides her efforts to serve as a positive example for her kids, and it also inspired Susanna’s childhood dream of becoming a Catholic school educator, she recalled.
“I am the product of Catholic education, from elementary school to high school to graduating from Loyola Marymount University,” Susanna recently told The Tidings during an interview regarding National Catholic Schools Week 2016, which is being celebrated across the country from Jan. 31 through Feb. 6.
“I always wanted to be a teacher or just be in the teaching field in some way … but I [also] wanted to serve in the Catholic schools and I knew that,” she continued. “I can’t remember not wanting to do that.”
More specifically, Susanna said she felt called to teach underprivileged students at an inner city school — exactly as she does at Nativity Elementary, where 90 percent of its students live at or below the federal poverty level.
“I always knew that I wanted to go back and teach in an inner city community,” she said. “I wanted to give back, to serve the community.”
Susanna and her five brothers and sisters were raised in such a community, in a modest home in Boyle Heights, by a stay-at-home mother and hard-working father. Today three of the siblings work in the field of Catholic education — she has a sister who teaches at St. Agnes School in Los Angeles, and a brother who is the principal at St. Juliana Falconieri School in Fullerton in the Diocese of Orange.
For Susanna and her siblings, having supportive parents and attending Catholic schools — where they were taught by devoted Catholic teachers — directly affected their eventual career choices to become Catholic educators.
“I would look at my teachers and I wanted to be like them, the way they were, their faith, how much they enjoyed teaching, and that’s what I wanted to do.”
Included among those positive memories were how clearly her teachers conveyed their love of Jesus and “the way they talked about God — they were very inspirational,” she recalled. In short, Susanna added, “They lived their faith.”
Susanna concedes that if she had opted to teach outside of a Catholic school setting — for the Los Angeles Unified School District or another public school system — she would undoubtedly be earning “quite a lot more money.” But, she stressed, “When you go into the Catholic schools, you know that that’s not what it’s about; it’s about being able to speak about God, to model your faith.”
“It’s about being able to live [your faith] daily,” explained Susanna. “It’s a place where the kids can talk about God … to help the kids be well rounded.
TOGETHER IN MISSIONThanks to the generous charitable contributions provided via Together in Mission (part of the Annual Catholic Appeal), more than 60 Catholic schools across the Archdiocese of Los Angeles receive much-needed monetary support to ensure sufficient funding. Read more about how the appeal helps schools like Nativity: www.angelusnews.com