ALBANY, N.Y. Sept. 18, 2018 — A visually impaired Bronx high school teacher who immigrated to this country from West Africa and entered teaching because he wanted to transform the lives of young people — all while commuting four hours round-trip each day from the Hudson Valley to do so — today was named the state’s 2019 Teacher of the Year.
Alhassan Susso, a member of United Federation of Teachers, teaches government, economics and personal development at the International Community High School in the South Bronx, where nearly every student is poor and a new arrival to this country. He rises well before dawn each school day, usually at 4 a.m., for the two-hour trip from his home in Poughkeepsie to the South Bronx, where he has taught since 2012.
In addition to his regular teaching duties, Susso leads a course during what he calls “zero period” — which begins one hour before the official school day but is nonetheless jammed with eager students. His self-designed special course helps his South Bronx students — mainly from Latin American countries, Yemen, Bangladesh and nations in West Africa — plan for their future. Susso helps his students develop the leadership, communication and financial management skills necessary to achieve their dreams. Last year, every student who completed Susso’s course graduated high school and 97 percent are enrolled in college.
“Alhassan Susso’s incredible life story and his unwavering commitment to his students at the International Community High School are an inspiration, and a reminder of the dedication, excellence and professionalism found in classrooms all across the state,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta. “Our profession is lifted by innovative educators like Mr. Susso, who, like his colleagues, are changing lives through their passion for teaching and learning.”
NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango said, “Alhassan Susso is a champion for children. His impact on his students — and his community — is immeasurable. Even in a state like New York, which is nationally renowned for the very high caliber of its teaching force, Alhassan’s life story, his passion for teaching, and his dedication to students and public education stand out. He is a shining example of what it means to be an educator.”
Susso immigrated to the United States from Gambia as a junior at Poughkeepsie High School, where school became his refuge. At one time, he planned to be a lawyer, but switched to teaching because he wanted to help young people. He graduated from the University of Vermont and earned his masters from Bard College. He is the author of The Light of Darkness: The Story of the Griots’ Son, which traces his journey to America as a nearly blind teenager and the challenges of becoming an American while maintaining his deep African roots. Susso also was a 2017 Top 50 finalist for the Global Teacher Prize awarded by the Rockefeller Foundation.
In his statement for the Teacher of Year application, Sussso wrote: “Teaching should bring joy and happiness each day because teaching is all about cultivating and nurturing relationships. It does not matter how outstanding our lessons are, how skilled we are in delivering those lessons, or how knowledgeable we are in our subject matter … if our students do not know how much we care about them.”
New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.