Sunday Conversation: New school namesakes, David & Sheree Suchma, discuss education careers
She taught Texas history, and he coached and taught accounting and business. Both taught teen leadership courses. David and Sheree Suchma, of Oak Ridge North, spent their entire careers in education before retiring in 2011.
And now, after a combined 71 years of teaching, they have a new school named after them.
At their board meeting Sept. 18, the Conroe Independent School District Board of Trustees voted to name the new Flex 19 campus, a 1,000-student capacity K-6 facility to open in August 2019, the Suchma Elementary School.
The Suchmas sat down with The Villager to talk about their journey.
QUESTION: Tell us about your careers. How did you get started in education?
Sheree: I majored in education at the University of Texas, and I’ve always wanted to be a teacher ever since I had my seventh grade Texas History teacher. I just loved Texas History and loved her, so I taught Texas History, among other things. I graduated UT in 1976 and started at Armstrong Elementary. Then, when Oak Ridge Junior/High School opened in 1981, I decided I would go there and teach junior high. I was teaching second grade, but I had my junior high certification too.
After a few years, York broke out of Oak Ridge and we had a new junior high. I stayed at Oak Ridge and then York for years, then went for about seven years to Oak Ridge Elementary, and taught there when my boys were little. Then I went back to junior high. I taught for 35 years total. I was a cheerleader coach, too for a few years.
David: I was an accounting major at Sam Houston. I wanted to be an accountant and always loved numbers, but I finally decided about the middle of my junior year that I didn’t think I could sit behind a desk eight hours a day, so I changed over to kinesiology. I was a coach and a teacher. My first job was in 1975 or 1976, the year McCullough opened up, when I was one of the original people there. Then Oak Ridge High School opened up and I was able to go over there as a teacher and coach, and I was there for the last 31 years of my career. I taught a total of 36 years. I coached football for probably 20 years, I coached basketball for 30 years and girls’ volleyball for 15 years.
QUESTION: How many students have you taught?
David: I would have to guess that me personally was around 12,000. Between us, probably close to 20,000 students. So, a small town.
QUESTION: You’ve seen decades of students come through the district- how have you seen it grow and change?
Sheree: We’ve watched it grow, that’s for sure. Size-wise, now it encompasses so much. Back then, there was such a small number of schools, you probably had only five or six elementary schools when we started. As far as Superintendent’s job, his job is so much harder now to be in charge of so many people. And they’ve had to hire so many people up there in charge of different things, just because it’s grown so much. Back then it was more a small town atmosphere, it was like you knew so many more people. Now, Everything has multiplied like crazy.
Teachers have changed so much. Now, there’s no way you can sit behind your desk and teach. You have to be active and involved. Teaching has improved because it’s a totally different teaching style. You can’t sit up there and lecture anymore or have them expect to take notes and pay attention. The whole educational process has changed. It’s all about multimedia, and you have to have all different activities for students to be an effective teacher.
David: The thing that I always compare is how the kids have changed. There’s so much more going on for them now than what they had back then. It’s just amazing, the changes in technology and everything that has taken their focus in so many different directions. I think what we both found out is that through the years, kids still want to be kids. They grow up faster now, because they almost don’t have a choice because of all the things they’re exposed to, but when you get right down to it, kids still want to be kids. We felt like we were able to let the kids be kids and not feel like they had to be adults until it was that time.
QUESTION: CISD is the largest employer in Montgomery County. What advice would you give to new teachers coming into the district?
Sheree: I would rely on mentors a lot. There were so many teachers that I learned from. When I first started, so many teachers helped me. Being so observant and watching everyone around you, that’s what helped so much. As I got older, I was lucky to help other teachers get started. As a beginning teacher you need to watch and learn from everybody else. Then you form your own philosophy.
We’ve always been teachers who get to know the kid, not always as subject-oriented. I was more kid-oriented. That’s more important. You can teach the subject, but you have to teach the kid to relate to them more. I was lucky to be in a subject that wasn’t as tested, where it’s easier to relate to the student.
It’s all respect. That’s the main thing, is that you have the students’ respect. Telling them to do something doesn’t work anymore. You have to be able to work with them and they have to believe in you before you can get a good result sometimes.
David: Wake up every day excited about teaching. Don’t get me wrong, I woke up sometimes mad that I had to get up so early to go to work, but once I got to school, I said, “I’m going to make this the best day I can”. We always brought a positive attitude to school and to the kids. We didn’t slow down the whole year. Maintain that enthusiasm to the kids. You may not know it, but you’re such a role model to them in how you handle your job.
One of the philosophies from my old principals was “Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” If kids think you care about them, they will do anything for you and bend over backwards to try to make you feel good about them.
QUESTION: You both were just selected as the namesake for the new K-6 school opening in Oak Ridge in August 2019, now called Suchma Elementary. How does that feel?
Sheree: It’s still unbelievable. CISD has been so good to us. We’ve watched it grow and go through so many different things, and it’s always been wonderful. We’ve been lucky to be in CISD.
We taught with so many people, and loved so many fellow teachers, we don’t want them feeling like we think we’re better than anyone else, because we’re not. It’s almost embarrassing to think that they’ve chosen us out of the hundreds of people we taught with, that are also wonderful teachers. I wish everybody’s name was up there, not just ours.
We’ve already talked about the things that we want to do for the faculty, going there and volunteering. It’s overwhelming. We are so honored, and we’ll do our best to live up to it.
David: We’ve probably gone through this process four or five times. Even when we were teaching, I still remember our names being put up. It’s a very hard process. One of our sons wrote a letter to the (Conroe) Courier, one of our sons started a Facebook page. If it happened, then wonderful. If the process said that, then we would be honored. If it didn’t, then that would be okay. The people who really helped us get in are all of our former kids. Without them, it wouldn’t have happened. We want to live up to that.
We don’t deserve this any more than other teachers. We are so honored to represent the teachers. It’s beyond words. We went to work every day, did our job, and we were blessed to get this. We’re proud to represent the teachers of Conroe, past and present, and we hope that we’re able to show them that this is not our school. Everybody that’s touched our lives, they’re embedded in that school. We’re doing this representing the teachers of CISD. It’s not about us, it’s just that we were somehow honored to receive this.
It is a blessing, but it’s also a weight on our shoulders. We feel we have to carry on for everybody else. It’s something we’ve thought about a lot in these past few days. We want to live up to the expectations. We want to do what we can to help the kids at Suchma Elementary. This is our avenue into kids’ lives. We couldn’t be more ecstatic.
QUESTION: How are you still involved with the district?
Sheree: We still teach a leadership academy for a week every June, so we get to have a week with seventh graders going to be eighth graders. It’s been about 14 years. We started that with Dr. Stockton. I still substitute teach. It’s fun to go in and spend the day, but you don’t have to take all the problems home with you. In teaching you take the problems home with you a lot, trying to figure out how to reach some kids, but in subbing you don’t have to worry as much. It’s just fun to get to go in.
David: I go and help my son coach, he coaches eighth-grade girls’ basketball. I go there once or twice a week when it’s in season and help him. Just for fun. Coaching with my son who is now a coach like I was.
QUESTION: What do you like to do in your free time?
Sheree: Travel. We’re getting ready to go to the Holy Land next week. David was very good with money when we were younger, and so we saved even though we had kids. So now, we try to take a couple big trips a year. We like to go places like Easter Island, Machu Picchu and Africa. We have a real wanderlust.
And we do a lot with family. We keep our grandkids two or more days a week. We like to babysit. We have a farm that we go to with some acreage. That’s our escape from all the traffic. Out there, we get out and it’s nice and quiet. We like to take family out there. We take at least one family vacation a year where we take everybody.
David: We have three sons, and our daughter-in laws are really like our daughters. It’s like having three sons and three daughters. Family is really important to us.