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Firwood reading specialist tailors lessons to students' individual learning styles

POST PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - A classroom teacher for 23 years, Susan Tong is now a reading specialist at Firwood Elementary School where she's taught for 12 years. It was always Susan Tong's dream to teach, and as a junior high school student she had the blackboard and lesson plans to prove it.

"I've always wanted to teach," Tong said. "At the time, I guess it's because I loved school. I've always loved to read and I love math."

Tong received her bachelor's degrees in elementary education and business from the University of Central Florida in her home state, and her master's degree in reading from Grand Canyon University.

Starting in Florida, Tong has taught for 27 years, 12 of which have been at Firwood Elementary, where she's now a reading specialist and instruction coach.

For Tong, reading as a main subject was a no-brainer, though she has taught multiple subjects as a teacher in a self-contained classroom for 23 years. Besides working as a reading specialist, Tong also helps teachers with professional development and models best practices for teaching math, writing and reading.

"Reading is fundamental," Tong explained. "It's part of everything you teach. I have a lot of knowledge about the classroom and what works in the classroom."

When it comes to developing students' reading skills, Tong finds a link between success and flexibility.

"There's no magic wand," she noted. "You always have to be learning, trying to find out what works for each child. I try to problem solve."

This required effort and variety of techniques present a welcome challenge for Tong though. Her reward is that she receives multiple opportunities to keep learning.

"I'm not someone who could sit at a desk from 9 to 5," Tong explained. "I like to be up and moving and problem solving and active. Plus, I never want to stop learning. That's the thing about teaching. You never know it all."

A lifelong nature enthusiast, Tong enjoys spending her time outside of the classroom.

"I love being outdoors," she said. "I've been fishing since I was a kid."

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