Q&A: Getting to Know Ms. Susannah Grossman

Rachel Freilich '22

This year, Ramaz welcomes Ms. Susannah Grossman as the new English teacher. Ms. Grossman is passionate about learning English Literature and sharing it with her students. She loves listening to old bands and opera, taking bike rides through Riverside Park, and participating in voter registration drives throughout the city. Ms. Grossman is excited to participate in the Harkness method, a classroom dynamic where students lead the discussion using a provided lesson plan.  


Rachel Freilich: What is your hobby outside school? 

Ms. Susannah Grossman: As an English teacher, I am, of course, a big reader and try to keep up as best I can with the goings-on of the publishing world in New York by going to authors’ readings and lectures, but I have other interests beyond academics. I used to volunteer for a radio station named WFMU in Jersey City, which is one of the only freeform radio stations left in the country (which means it is entirely listener-supported, doesn’t sell or play ads, and gets no grants from institutions like universities or the government—that gives them the freedom to play whatever they want without worrying about it). Because of this, I will often go to see new and old bands at venues throughout the city a lot; I also love going to the opera and the ballet. I also try to get outside as much as possible and like to ride my bike through Riverside Park to points north outside of the city. I’m also interested in politics and think it’s important for people to take active roles in local and national electoral work, so this fall I’ve participated in a lot of voter registration drives throughout the city, helping people fill out the sometimes confusing paperwork that it takes to be able to cast votes.


RF: Where are you from?

SG: I grew up in a town in New Jersey called Scotch Plains, but I lived in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and about 5 different neighborhoods in New York before settling where I currently live on the Upper West Side.


RF: What are two fun facts about yourself? 

SG: One of the first jobs I ever had was as a production assistant for a children’s television show on the BBC in Glasgow, Scotland called “The Saturday Show.” My duties included booking travel arrangements for guests and making sure the crew had the proper equipment for segments, but I also sometimes had to do things like make hundreds of custard pies for pie fights or concoct a substance that the Scots called “gunge” and that we Americans would call “slime” for dumping on unsuspecting guests and hosts.

I was an enthusiastic but very, very, VERY bad tenor saxophone player during high school and college. They say that practice makes perfect, but…I don’t know, somehow I seemed to get worse the more I practiced. Oh well, the music world’s loss (and probably gain).


RF: What is the difference between working at a Catholic school and a Jewish school? 

SG: There are some obvious differences, e.g. prayer services at Ramaz are mostly in Hebrew rather than in English, and there are mezzuzot in the doorways instead of crucifixes, but otherwise the Catholic schools where I worked were similarly committed to educating students according to a code of ethics and having a sense of social responsibility that emerged from religious principles. 


RF: How do you plan to use your past experiences elsewhere at Ramaz? 

SG: Over the years I’ve learned that teaching is a process of experimentation, often trial and error, to find out what clicks with students and what does not. I think it’s important to have a sense of flexibility and to realize that every group of students is diverse and different, across grade levels and even class sections. So I hope that I’ll continue to be able to adapt as I get to know my students better to serve them as best as I can.


RF: What are new teaching methods you plan to implement? 

SG: Like Ms. Litwack, I’m a big fan of the Harkness method and Socratic Seminars—guided discussions where learning how to ask meaningful questions is as important as giving meaningful answers—so I hope to bring those methods here, too.


RF: Where did you learn to speak old English? 

SG: Ah! I know how to read and speak Middle English, not Old English. They’re different! I learned in graduate school at the University of Edinburgh, but I also got a taste of it during the summer of 2010, where I spent the whole summer living and studying at Yale University under a professor named Lee Patterson. The program, intended for teachers to study medieval literature and history, was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and it was one of the best educational experiences of my whole life. Lee, an expert in Chaucer and medieval literature, was also one of those people who seemed to have lived a thousand lifetimes in one; he didn’t even need a bucket list because he’d had every adventure you could think of, from marlin fishing in South Florida like Hemingway to discovering secret manuscripts in the libraries of ancient Italian universities. Unfortunately, Lee passed away two years later, but I always think of him when I teach The Canterbury Tales.


RF: How did you decide to become an English teacher? Where did that passion come from? 

SG: I’ve always loved to read, and I’ve always been somewhat nosy, I think—I love to know why people do what they do and what makes them tick. Literature has always been a way to access some of the strangest and most interesting parts of the human psyche; if human beings are doing it, I want to know about it, and I want to share that with everyone else, too. There’s a line in the General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales that describes the Oxford Cleric, and it’s sort of become my own credo: “And gladly wolde [s]he lerne and gladly teche.” I’ll never stop learning (from my students too!), and I’ll never want to stop sharing that with others.