Susan Ingraham Gendrich

Susan Ingraham Gendrich '73

1987 Distinguished Alumna Award for Professional Achievement

Susan Ingraham Gendrich '73 came from a long line of educators. Both of her grandmothers were “schoolmarms” in the early 1900s. Her mother, aunts and sisters all taught as well.  Gendrich went on to become nationally recognized for her work as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher using unique instructional methods in teaching beginning English to students from other countries such as Laos and Japan.

Susan graduated Carroll in 1973 with a major in elementary education and a minor in Spanish.  She went on to receive her master’s degree in early childhood education curriculum instruction at Middle Tennessee State University. She started her work in the Mursfreesboro Tennessee Schools as an assistant to the reading coordinator, taught kindergarten and then second grade. In 1980, she was tested with a career changing turn. Two weeks before the opening of the new school year, she became the first teacher of ESL with no example programs or established curriculum.  

Her new class consisted of 17 Laotian children, ages seven through eleven, who had just arrived to America. Four months later, several Japanese students were added to the class. They were the sons and daughters of executives who had been transferred to the area’s new Nissan USA car plant.  Using a style all her own, Gendrich developed a style to bridge the communication divide and begin the process of learning with students who had yet to understand American culture and the English language.

She didn’t use textbooks but taught her students the English language and American culture by relating things to real life—using concrete activities to teach practical, everyday things and circumstances. She encouraged drawing pictures, playing games, music, and writing for the children to have hands-on learning opportunities incorporating their experiences into the curriculum.  

Because of her efforts and achievements, Gendrich was named Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year in 1985 and was the first runner-up to the National Teacher of the Year. This recognition was sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers, Encyclopedia Britannica and Good Housekeeping magazine.  

Her accolades included being featured in newspapers and Good Housekeeping magazine; in a film and on television shows about education; serving on the NASA astronaut selection committee; and the governor of Tennessee and his staff visited her classroom. She was also recognized as Outstanding Tennessean and Esquire Register honored her as a professional under 40 who is changing the nation.   

Currently, Susan is enjoying retirement and is living in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

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