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Teacher Feature: Dr. Sukalo

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Dr. Althea Sukalo is new to West Potomac this year, but she quite familiar to student antics–her love for teaching came from her love for teenagers.

“Teenagers help you enormously to stay young, so the more that I work with teenagers the more I appreciate them and their sense of humor and all of the surprises that happen,”  she said about her classroom experience.

Sukalo has had a lot of history with teenagers, having two kids of her own that are now in their twenties.

“I’ve been through the teenage years at home, so I sort of know high school and how important it is.”

Sukalo has high hopes for her 9th grade english students. She teaches them all she can in one year before letting them go, waiting to see the final product of their high school education. Her own high school career resulted in a Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree, and Ph.D from the University of Virginia.

“I know that when I see my babies–my 9th graders–get ready for college, I’m gonna be all cheery,” she said. “I’ll be a mom to all of them and be like ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe that you’re graduating!’ and I think that that is what drives you: the goal to see [the students] succeed.”

Even after her students have graduated, Dr. Sukalo has been able to stay in their lives and help them through any situations she can.

“I’m friends with a lot of my students that are in college or through college that I still keep contact with, and sometimes I edit their essays or help them with something,” she said. “I think that is very positive and that is very nice that they come back and say ‘Dr. Sukalo I’m writing an application for…’ whatever or ‘I’m trying to get money for this–can you help me write the scholarship application?’ and I love doing it–it’s just great.”

But being an english teacher wasn’t always her first choice. Before going to school for literature, she was set on being a chemical engineer.

“I actually started college in chemical engineering,” she explained. “I loved chemistry in high school and took… the advanced placement courses. I got admitted to a chemical engineering school, and my dad was a chemical engineer, so he was really proud that I was going to do engineering. I liked it and I was pretty good–some of the math was hard, but I was pretty good at it.”

She went through two years of college doing chemical engineering, but then started having second thoughts.

“In sophmore year I realized that I wanted a social life, and chemical engineers are in the labs on Saturdays–I wanted to go to the football games, but our football games were on Saturdays, so I wouldn’t be able to go do those things,” she said. “So I called my parents and told them I wasn’t going to be a chemical engineer, and they were not happy, but that’s when I made a change into English. It gave me a social life, which is very important.”

Sukalo has lived in different parts of Virginia throughout her life, from Staunton to Fredericksburg to Springfield. Many factors caused her to move back to Alexandria.

“I have family here–I’ve lived in a variety of places and it was time for me to come home, and I think of Virginia as home,” she said. “So when West Po offered me a job, I said, ‘Sure, why not?’”

She feels good about the environment at West Potomac, even though teaching here can be a challenge.

“I feel that we have a really good, dynamic population here and that it’s a very positive environment for the most part–I mean, I know we’ve got our issues,” Sukalo said. “Part of the reason why I do what I do is that I love what I do–I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it. There are so many other jobs out there in the world that you can pick another job out there if you don’t like it, but I do really love this job, and I like the challenges of the job in terms of trying to connect with students.”

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