Sue Tennander is one of VRG’s veteran teachers and also my mentor of three years. I had the possibility to interview her this term. Asking her about her most memorable experiences as a teacher, her Christmas traditions, hopes for the new year, and what she loves most about VRG.
Where are you from? Could you tell me a little bit about your childhood and upbringing?
I grew up in a small place in the South-west of England. It’s quite famous because it is the nearest place to Stonhenge. […] On the train an hour and a quarter from London. So the village, it was a village when I grew up, is called Amesbury. The nearest town is Salisbury. So I went to school in Amesbury and then Salisbury. […] I can remember all my teachers. I loved school and on the very first day of school I was so excited to start and I had a new bag that my auntie had given me, and I woke up and I had chicken pox. I was so sad ‘cause I couldn’t go to school. So I had to start a few weeks later and I remember my mum taking me into school and she held my hand. The very next day I got told of for talking too much. That’s been the story of my life, talking too much! The very first day I got told off for talking, but I still love school.
What subjects do you teach?
At Viktor Rydberg’s I have Communications in the first year and then I have the third year in the specialised English programme. Which is contact with Stockholms University, it’s a literature course, which is for a lot of that first term, the tutor at the university […] runs seminars and then I do other things around those seminars. Thats the Thematic Specialisation course, its a strange course to explain, because there are only two schools in Sweden that run this programme, that we have, we are one and the other school is in Gothenburg. We have two Thematic Specialisation courses and then I oversee the diploma project, or gymnasiearbete. I have the rhetoric courses and I run the choir. So I have a wonderful job and it’s very varied! Which is why I’ve been at Viktor Rydberg for so long, because I really enjoy it.
How long have you been a teacher and why did you become one?
Well I’ve been a teacher, for many years actually, at many schools. My first job was in a village college in Cambridge. Then I came to Sweden, actually, and worked in the company world. […] After that I taught at an English school and a school in town called Enskilda Gymnasiet. Then I went to California and I worked in a high school there, I took the choir programme, which was great, it was a bit like that TV-programme Glee. […] Except it takes much longer to learn to sing a piece! […] I taught speech there as well. I’m digressing, because I’m not answering the question. […] I’ve been a teacher for over 30 years. Lots of changes! […] Why did I become a teacher? I can’t remember what I wanted to be. I always wanted to be one and then I did this post-graduate at Homerton College in Cambridge, I loved it. I was sent up for teaching practice to a place outside of Cambridge and really enjoyed it. I’ve been so fortunate because every job I have ever had I enjoyed. But this is the job that I’ve had the longest. I have to say I have never had a job this long. I came to Viktor Rydberg for a year and here I am 17 years later!
Why did you come to VRG Djursholm?
I had been working in California for a while and when I came back [to Sweden] I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do, whether I was gonna go back to the company world or continue in the school world. […] Then somebody I knew, who had my job now, at Viktor Rydberg Djursholm, she said “Oh we need somebody to help out with English as a substitute.” And I thought, well I’ll take that for a year until I find out what I wanted to do. So I was only going to be there for a year, but then I enjoyed it so much that I stayed! Then somehow I managed to carve out this job for myself, by taking the rhetoric courses, taking over the choir, and then taking over the English specialisation classes in the third year. So it has sort of grown!
What is your most memorable experience from your career as a teacher?
I’ll tell you one thing that really sticks in my mind. Is that in a rhetoric course that I had about seven or eight years ago, one of the assignments was to have a eulogy (a speech about somebody that has died) and one of the students’ mother had recently died. He gave this fantastic speech about his mother and after that nobody could speak because it was so moving. So we had switched the lights off for these speeches and once he had given his speech we decided we’d all go home. Because I couldn’t speak after it and neither could the students. It was very very moving. I’ve had many highlights in my teaching, but that’s one that sticks in my mind very much. […] I don’t think I’ve ever done that before, where I couldn’t speak after a student has spoken. It moved me so much! […] I thought it was tremendously strong of him to actually do that. So that’s something, one of many things, but the first thing that comes to mind.
If you weren’t a teacher what else would you work with?
I would probably be a full-time répétiteur, which is a rehearsal pianist. I’ve done a lot with music and I am a choir director. So I’m like an assistant conductor for a couple of motet choirs in town and I would probably be working with music full-time. […] I am a pianist, so I’ve worked as a piano player. In fact I’ve also had some interesting jobs. In America I used to demonstrate pianos at auctions. So before people would bid for a piano at an auction, they would be walking around and I would play these pianos. […] So yeah, it would be something to do with music, if I wasn’t a teacher at VRG.
Do you have any favorite British Christmas traditions and have you brought any with you to Sweden?
Yes! Because as you probably know when you have presents you open them on the morning of the 25th and Father Christmas comes during the night. So my children, who are grown up now, when they lived at home you put your stockings up and Father Christmas comes and fills up the stockings. So when you wake up in the morning it is filled with things, it is either on your bed or hanging on your door post. One year I couldn’t find my son’s stocking, so I filled a pair of tights. But I didn’t realise they stretch, so as soon as I started to put things in they stretched to like three or four meters. It was ridiculous! […] Another tradition is carol singing. I gather all my friends a week before Christmas, this year we are going to be in the woods, but normally we would be meeting at my house. They sit by the piano and we sing Christmas carols, then we eat Christmas cake and mince pies, traditional English food actually. […] We have a very good time! Because I have a basket underneath my grand piano, with all sorts of instruments, like a triangle, maracas, and drums. Everybody gets something. It’s a bit like being at kindergarten for grown-ups!
What is your favorite thing about celebrating Christmas in Sweden?
I love Christmas in Sweden! […] I love all the Christmas lights and the decorations, they’re very tasteful. When I lived in America, there were sort of colored lights flashing everywhere, that’s a bit British as well actually. But I love all the lights people put up around their houses and in the gardens. These lights in the windows and all the tomtar. It’s lovely and so cosy! I [also] love glögg!
What does your ideal weekend look like?
My ideal weekend starts with having a nice dinner on Friday evening. Normally I go running on Saturday morning, early with a friend in the woods. That’s a really good start to a weekend! […] At some point I always play the piano. I often do some work on the weekend and then look at student work, but I have to do that secretly because my husband thinks I work too much. Then we might meet friends, go out in the woods, or if it’s nice weather I have a kayak at the bottom of the garden, sometimes I have a tennis match, and I see family and friends. So that’s my ideal weekend. It’d be a mixture of all of those things.
What are you most looking forward to in 2021?
Well, probably like everybody else, release of all these restrictions. […] I am really looking forward to having my classes where I meet my students and it’s not online. Particularly these university ones, where the students get a chance to go to the university. Just being with people. […] I’m looking forward to going to concerts, theater, and doing cultural things. I’m culturally parched!
Thank you Sue for letting me interview you and for being such an amazing spirit at VRG!