Energetic.  Traiblazing Educator. Children’s Advocate.

photo by Justin Barr

By Diane Kline

Suzie Nall’s career almost sounds like a Zen riddle: How does somebody teach teachers to be effective at teaching? This question has consumed Nall, who is a lifelong educator of educators, with an emphasis on early childhood education.

Destined for a career in education – even as a young child, she could be found “playing school” with friends – Nall received her B.S. from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, a master’s degree from Webster University, and a Ph.D. from Saint Louis University.

At Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, where she spent 32 years in the school of education, Nall eventually became department chair and assistant dean of the graduate school, the first female to hold those positions. Today, the university offers a scholarship in her name, awarded to a student in early childhood education who is working while attending school, as Nall herself did.

Honored as a Woman of Achievement in 1992, Nall is a strong believer in giving back to the community. She volunteers for many organizations, including the USO Missouri at the airport, Metro Theater Company, Ready Readers, and the Women’s Leadership Council at Maryville University.

Nall, mother to two adult children and six grandchildren, explains that she has the “learning gene,” which is why she’s happy to teach others what she’s discovered on her journey.

I’m in my Renaissance.

I don’t say I’m retired, I say I’m in my Renaissance. That’s because there’s a stereotype about retirement. I am consulting internationally now—and even attended the Clayton Citizen Police Academy. For me, it’s a time to be active, involved, happy and balanced.

Young children are so malleable and motivated.

Early childhood education is critical. More than 80 percent of human development occurs by age 5. These kids need to be respected, honored and listened to by adults. Too often, we reprimand, punish and direct instead.

You just do what you have to do.

I worked my way through every degree – B.S., M.A. and Ph.D. I had no financial support. One summer, I worked as a tutor, a part-time sales clerk at a department store, playground supervisor, and a helper at a doctor’s office.

We have to maximize human potential.

A child comes to school as a person, not just as a brain. In order to learn, children have to develop a social attachment to their teachers. I instilled teachers with the importance of their jobs, and who they are in relationship to their students. Teaching is what goes on outside of you, but learning is what goes on inside your head.

It’s so easy to live in a tunnel.

It’s the natural course of things that friendships ebb and flow. That’s why it’s important to meet new people, people of all ages, and ethnicities with different life experiences. To understand the way they think, you have to listen to their opinions.

I always had people supporting me.

I was under a rock growing up in Iowa. My mother was from the greatest generation. She always had an opinion—my dad’s opinion! But when she saw me in a dual-career marriage and raising a family, she wasn’t judgmental. When I got married, my husband thought there was nothing I couldn’t do. Other husbands weren’t like that at the time.

Are you viewing the world from the balcony or from the dance floor?

It’s easy to come up with an idea or a project. People can see the big picture, but what does it take to get it done? I think I’m able to do both. And as I age, I’m committed to being open and getting more done.

You have to model compassion by living it. 

Growing up in Iowa, people were family-oriented with a strong work ethic and happy, warm relationships. My mother showed me how to be kind. Today, technology and overscheduling is robbing our children of relationships. Everything is pushing kids to go faster, which gets them out of balance. We need the kindness gene, the compassionate gene.

I exist in three tenses: past, present and future.

So much of life is timing. It’s a confluence of chance, hard work, and being at the right place at the right moment. I go to life, I don’t wait for life to go to me.