A teacher does more than teach. A teacher continually learns and stays involved with their students according to Martha Sunderman.
Sunderman began teaching at Essex Community School in 2017. She teaches middle school language arts (reading and English) and sixth-grade social studies.
“Martha is a tireless worker,” said Essex School Superintendent Dr. Mike Wells. “She does a lot that she’s not required to do. She volunteered this year to do our mock trial. She gave up her lunchtime the whole first semester of school to work with kids in the mock trial. That was the first time we’ve had a mock trial team in Essex and she did a wonderful job.”
Wells said she didn’t receive any extra compensation for working with the mock trial students.
“She just wanted the kids to have more opportunities,” said Wells. “That’s really what she is about, providing more opportunities for kids.”
Sunderman grew up on a farm located between Clarinda and Essex. She attended the Clarinda Lutheran School and graduated from Clarinda High School. She then went on to Concordia University in Seward, Nebraska, where she earned her degree.
Her first teaching job was for Lamb of God Lutheran School in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2005.
“When I graduated from college, I wanted a little adventure and I was ready to check out the world, I guess,” said Sunderman. “So that led me to Las Vegas.”
Sunderman said at the time that even though she wanted to explore the world, she knew she would end up back in the Midwest.
“I like being close to my family and the Midwest is home for me,” said Sunderman.
Sunderman said she did contemplate different career choices at various times but always went back to the idea of becoming a teacher.
“It was always one of my top choices,” said Sunderman. “My sisters would give me a hard time because we would play school a lot and I always wanted them to be the students so I could be the teacher.”
Sunderman said what she enjoys the most about being a teacher is there’s never a dull moment.
“You never know from one day to the next what’s going to happen,” said Sunderman. “I enjoy being with the kids because they are lighthearted, happy and they don’t take things too seriously. It’s just fun to be part of their growing up and to watch them as they evolve into the adults that they are going to be someday.”
Sunderman doesn’t take teaching lightly.
“It’s a big responsibility,” said Sunderman. “Parents and community are entrusting you with the future of the kids and the future of the community.”
She said it could also be a challenging profession.
“I think one of the bigger challenges is when things come up that are beyond your ability to help the kids with,” said Sunderman.
She said struggles in life are, in part, what helps shape us.
“We all have struggles as we grow up,” said Sunderman. “but it’s hard to see the kids struggling and not be able to help them.”
Sunderman said she has gotten better with separating work life from home life.
“I think it helps that I teach in Essex, but I live in Clarinda,” said Sunderman, “It does give me a little separation. But there definitely are times when something is going on and it’s hard to not think about it.”
Sunderman said the closure of school during the COVID-19 pandemic has implemented a different setting for learning and has brought a lot of different challenges along with it.
“It’s harder to have a good read on how they’re doing,” said Sunderman. “and how they understand things. It’s harder to know what’s going on with them, like are they having a good day or a bad day. Those things all affect their ability to learn. It’s harder to make lessons meaningful and to hold the kids accountable for getting their work done.”
Sunderman said there are a lot of outside distractions for students learning from home. She said she meets with her class three days a week with video and puts assignments in google class for them daily.
Sunderman is one of a group of teachers who formed a communications committee at the Essex School. The committee promotes the school in different ways and reaches out to children and their families that may be interested in the district.
“Effective teaching is a team effort,” said Sunderman. “I love working at Essex because I work with a team of teachers who care about their students and work incredibly hard to give our students a great education. I could give you multiple examples, but it’s very clear to me that the teachers I work with care about their students and school, and that’s very motivating for me also.”
Sunderman said Wells has been a blessing for the district.
“We have been working really hard to make our school the best that it can be,” said Sunderman. “I’m really excited about where we are headed. It’s fun to be at a school where some new innovative things are happening.”
Sunderman said she has no regrets about becoming a teacher.
“It’s definitely what I feel like I’ve been called to do,” said Sunderman. “I have a passion for teaching that I don’t have for other things.”