Science Teacher Anne Soos Retires After 50 Years in the Classroom
“THE JOB THAT WAS MADE FOR ME:” After 50 years as an educator, Anne Soos retired last month from The Hun School of Princeton, where she taught science for five years. For the first 45 years of her career she taught at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, also chairing the science department for 16 years and serving as Upper School head for 12 years. (Photo courtesy of The Hun School)
By Donald Gilpin
This fall will be different for science teacher Anne Soos, who just retired after five years at The Hun School of Princeton and 45 years before that at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart. “This will probably be the first September since I was 4 that I won’t be thinking about school,” she said.
Soos served as science department chair at Stuart for 16 years, then head of the Upper School for 12 years before she arrived at Hun, where she taught a variety of different science courses. A teacher of teachers as well as students, she has worked as a reader of Advanced Placement (AP) Biology and Environmental Science tests for many years, edited an AP study guide, taught week-long College Board Institutes for teachers, and served as a consultant to the College Board.
Even when she was running the Upper School at Stuart, however, Soos insisted that she continue to teach at least one or two classes. “Many people spend their lives trying to find out what they want to do,” she said. “I couldn’t believe I was so lucky 50 years ago to find the right job for me.”
Hun Science Chair Jacqueline O’Gorman praised Soos’s patience, curiosity, kindness, “and her never wavering selflessness.” She described Soos as “a seasoned master teacher.”
“She has incredible professional expertise in science education and school leadership and has often shared her knowledge and experiences with her colleagues to influence them to delve deeper, think bigger, and take risks in the classroom,” O’Gorman added. “She guides us all in becoming better teachers and better citizens.”
Soos grew up in Ithaca, N.Y., where her father was a professor at Cornell University. There were other educators in the family, an aunt who was a professor at Goucher College and a grandfather who was a high school teacher, but teaching was not on Soos’s agenda from the start.
“I had no intention of becoming a teacher,” she said. “I had no idea what I wanted to do.” She attended Radcliffe College as an undergraduate (before its merger with Harvard), then Stanford University for a year of graduate school, where she met her husband.
When he was hired as a chemistry professor at Princeton University, they moved to Princeton, and she became a graduate student there. “That was before they admitted undergraduate women — a very interesting experience,” she recalled. “There weren’t many women around and not many ladies rooms.”
After a semester at Princeton, she was enjoying her duties as teaching assistant but decided she was not interested in a PhD in chemistry, so she enrolled in Rutgers’ Graduate School of Education, at which point “I got a call from a nun at a school I’d never heard of, Stuart Country Day. She said she’d seen my name on the professional job roster and had two biology classes that needed to be taught — would you be interested?”
Soos started teaching two classes at Stuart in the fall of 1968 (Stuart Road had just been paved), while she was working on her master’s degree at Rutgers. “What I realized,” she said, “was that I loved teaching high school students. I realized that this was the job that was made for me.”
She soon expanded her schedule to full-time and went on to eventually teach every science class in the school. And science at Stuart, gender stereotypes of the past 50 years notwithstanding, has always been serious business.
“At Stuart girls do a lot of science,” Soos explained. “We were very proud of the fact that most of our students graduated with four or five years of science and a lot of kids were involved in AP or advanced level courses. So the girls almost regarded as a badge of honor that they knew science was something that they could do and they were going to show the world that they could do it.”
For the past 50 years, until last month, Soos has been a classroom teacher, but in 1999 she could not turn down a plea from her headmistress to be head of the Upper School at Stuart. “I didn’t think I could do it,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d be good at it. It was one of the most terrifying job changes I’ve ever made — being somehow in charge. I remember sitting there one of the first days in the fall, listening to people moving back and forth, and realizing: I’m in some way responsible for all of them.”
Continuing to teach one or two classes every year during her 12 years as Upper School head helped Soos to stay grounded and in touch with students and teachers at Stuart. “My reputation as a teacher was something that I was very proud of and students seemed to like me as a teacher,” she said. “As administrator you don’t have contact with students in the classroom and you can lose an essential part of what a school is all about. I also think that being in the trenches makes both your colleagues and your students see you in a different light than the administrator in the office. My teaching made it easier for me to continue to relate to my colleagues as a teacher, and I’m also sure that my teaching made me able to relate to the girls at Stuart in a much different way.”
As Upper School head at Stuart, Soos was surprised to realize “how much more I learned about people as an administrator that I really hadn’t known or been aware of when I was a classroom teacher. After some difficult parent conferences, I learned to try and understand where the person I was meeting with was coming from and what their issues were before I started giving my own opinion about things.”
She continued, “As a teacher I maybe didn’t understand the depth of human behavior until I became an administrator and saw a lot of different aspects beyond the classroom. But it’s an incredible tension being a division head, a 24-hour job.”
After stepping down as Upper School head at Stuart in 2013, Soos was eager to focus her energies on teaching, so when the call came from Hun to teach environmental science and forensic science, she eagerly accepted the new position, which expanded to include a range of different science courses over the following five years.
Noting that “if they were willing to work they learned a lot,” Soos reflected on her goals in teaching. She is especially proud of the fact that “a lot of my students have gone on to major in science in college,” and she expressed her hope that she helped her students to become well educated citizens, “able to understand issues and to vote intelligently. I want them to be able to think and to figure out what’s real and what’s fake.”
Soos, who lives on Hun Road with her husband who is now a professor emeritus at Princeton, is waiting to “get past September” before making any major plans. With AP exam
grading, leading College Board teacher institutes, “maybe a little tutoring at Hun,” and a big vegetable garden specializing in bumper crops of fiery hot peppers, her retirement might be almost as busy as her 50-year career in education.