by Clement Doucette
After a 43-year teaching career that reached from the Australian Outback to Hudson High School, English teacher Susan Menanson is retiring.
In 1975, English teacher Susan Menanson began her teaching career in an unlikely place; the small town of Kerang in Victoria, Australia. Roughly 130 miles northwest of Melbourne, Kerang is a small agricultural community situated near the Mallee Desert that is home to roughly 4,000 inhabitants.
For Menanson, teaching in this small town was an enjoyable experience.
“In the summers, on really hot days, we would close the school down after lunch and take the kids to the local swimming pool to swim for the afternoon,” said Menanson.
While the climate allowed for such unique experiences, the vastness of the rural school district still posed some logistical challenges not found in suburban Massachusetts.
“Many of our students were bussed in, so we couldn’t do any activities on the weekends because kids couldn’t get to school,” said Menanson. “The kids couldn’t get their license until they turned eighteen. They couldn’t get in to school on the weekends, so all the sports and other activities had to be done during the week during school time.”
After leaving Australia, Menanson returned to the United States to teach at Greater Lawrence Technical School where she worked for several years before beginning her 25-year career at Hudson High.
At Hudson High School, Menanson became a fixture of the English department and assisted new teachers with curriculum by providing readily available resources. English teacher Carol Hobbs, who has been working with Menanson for twelve years, came to Hudson High School after teaching composition at Pine Manor College. Menanson selflessly helped Hobbs with her transition from college teaching to high school.
“Coming back into the schools was a little daunting, since it is a much different experience teaching high school than it is teaching college,” said Hobbs. “But Ms. Menanson was right there. She had a curriculum that had already been mapped out for tenth grade English, she had materials, she had all of this stuff in binders, huge, thick binders of materials for teaching tenth grade English. And she took me under her wing right away and shared everything.”
Menanson will also be remembered for her devotion to helping students learn and embrace the English Language Arts. Jen Wallingford, an English teacher at Hudson High School, sees Menanson’s AP English Literature class as a formative experience.
“In my other English classes, we literally read from an anthology and answered questions at the end,” said Wallingford. “[AP English Literature] was the first class where I was really doing analysis, and I loved doing it. We were talking about the books that we were reading and poetry in a different way. I had always liked reading, but I think that was the first time we did analysis of it. That made me want to continue doing it, and I became an English major. And that led to me being a teacher.”
When Wallingford returned to Hudson High School to teach, Menanson readily assisted her with her sophomore English curriculum.
“When I first taught at Hudson High, I worked pretty close with her on curriculum for things like Things Fall Apart, and she definitely was a mentor,” said Wallingford. “She gave me advice and guided me.”
Pamela Porter, a history teacher who took Menanson’s sophomore English class, praises her teaching style and feels that Menanson’s class improved her writing.
“I think she never lets you give up on yourself. It’s so apparent in everything she does,” said Porter. “I think one of the things that I, as a student, credit her for and so many of the kids that have her say that she makes them better writers because she makes them rewrite all the time. But then she also lets you keep doing it. She lets you make revisions and continue to get better, and I know that I am a better person for having taken her class.”
Porter, who did not excel in English, found Menanson’s love for reading and literature inspiring.
“As a high school student who wasn’t naturally a reader, it was always great to see people just owning reading and seeing cool people doing it,” said Porter. “It makes you smarter, and I always just appreciate her doing that as a teacher.”
Despite her numerous successes, teaching has not been without its challenges for Menanson.
“I think the biggest challenge I’ve found, and this is true in Australia as it is true in America, is the little value that is placed on the English language arts,” said Menanson. “English language arts is demeaned. People don’t think it’s important. People think, ‘Oh, it’s just reading and writing. Anybody can do that.’”
Still, fighting this uphill battle has led to fulfilling moments with her students. Menanson has shared her love for and immense knowledge of Shakespeare with her students by running the annual Shakespeare competition, an event which she describes as one of her favorite aspects of teaching at Hudson High. The discontinued clustering system also allowed for her to work with students on Shakespeare-related projects.
“As much as everyone hated clustering, I was able to work with groups of kids on interesting projects,” said Menanson. “One year we had a Shakespeare group, and they put on scenes from the plays. I didn’t particularly like the clustering, but I did get to work with some interesting kids.”
Hobbs fondly recalls Menanson’s encyclopedic knowledge of Shakespeare and English literature.
“I think she remembers every word she’s ever read. I believe that’s the kind of mind Ms. Menanson has,” said Hobbs. “She is there to help anyone who wants to question some idea in literature, and she has the knowledge and background to really bring that to the table.”
One of Hobbs’ favorite memories with Ms. Menanson involves a stage adaptation of Macbeth. In 2007, Hobbs and Menanson traveled to New York City alongside English teachers Amy Vessels and Nicole Brother to view the production featuring Patrick Stewart.
“The play was an amazing production,” said Hobbs. “At one point, MacDuff learns of the deaths of his family. I remember sitting there and MacDuff delivers the line, ‘He has no children.’ At that point, I was in tears. I look over and Ms. Vessels is wiping away the tears and Ms. Brother as well. I look over and Ms. Menanson was the doing the same. We were all just so moved by this performance of MacDuff.”
Hobbs will also remember Menanson’s witty and sarcastic sense of humor.
“I think for people who get Ms. Menanson’s sense of humor, it’s a delight,” said Hobbs. “She has this way of looking at the world that doesn’t take itself too seriously. She will make a joke that’s sort of caustic or sarcastic, and it takes some people aback. It takes them just a minute to figure it out and when they do, they realize how incredibly humorous she is. It’s very ‘Oscar Wilde.’”
Wallingford will also miss Menanson’s personality, which she describes as being “lovably gruff.”
“It’s not hurting my feelings or anything, but I told her recently that I was reading something, and it was a good escape because I like magical realism,” said Wallingford. “She said, ‘Ugh, magical realism.’ She has no time for my nonsense, but she’s great.”
Hobbs will miss her lunchtime conversations with Menanson the most.
“I’m just going to miss that time of just sort of sharing our ideas on politics and on teaching, and on life in general, and on literature,” said Hobbs. “Each lunchtime, I’m going to think, ‘Oh, I wish Susan were here.’ I’ll always wish Susan was there. I’m sorry to see her go because she really means what Hudson means to me. Somebody who’s dedicated, super smart, and cares about her students and her fellow teachers. She is really an amazing teacher.”
While it is certain that Menanson’s retirement will be felt deeply by the HHS English department, there are fewer certainties regarding her retirement plans.
“Looking around, I’m not going to sub, and I’m not going to work as a para,” said Menanson. “I’d like to be able to go back and visit Australia again, and I might be able to do that again next year perhaps. Really, I’m not thinking about what I’m going to do with retirement, except that I will tell you one thing for free; I am spending all summer by the pool. That’s what I’m doing all summer. So, if you come looking for me in the summer, you’ve got to come to my pool. Rain or shine, I’ll be at the pool.”