|Sumnerís educational journey nears its end
Well-respected Rancho Cotate teacher set to retire in June
Rancho Cotate High School will experience a loss at the end of the school year when longtime educator Ann Sumner retires after 35 years of teaching.
“She’s an excellent teacher, and she will be greatly missed,” history teacher John Anderson said. “We can plug someone else in the position, but she has an expertise that will be sorely missed.”
Being a child in a military family, she spent her youth moving from base to base all over the United States and Europe. Her family eventually settled in Tampa, Fla., where her family still resides.
Sumner was a sophomore English honors teacher at Ballwin, Mo., before taking a position with the Cotati Rohnert Park Unified School District in 1986.
Her first assignment in the district was at Rohnert Park Junior High, and then she was an original faculty member of Creekside Middle School. She has been at Rancho Cotate the past nine years.
“I’ve been here for nine years, at this particular school mainly teaching seniors, which is really the level I love the most,” Sumner said.
In 2000, she was an Educator in Residence at Sonoma State University, where she taught up-and-coming teachers in the credential program.
Sumner has always been enthusiastic about reading since she was young and continued this passion when she entered college and attended Niagara University in western New York.
“When I got to college, I wanted to keep doing what I really enjoyed, which is reading and writing and discussing ideas, so I had a major in English lit…I just really enjoy reading and writing and talking about it. And that’s what I do every day in my classroom, it’s really fun.”
English teacher Kirk Amos, who considers himself an avid reader, describes Sumner as a voracious reader with a greater appetite for the written word.
“Whenever I see her, we always ask each other what are you reading now or what have you read lately, so we have fun with that,” Amos said.
After obtaining her Bachelor’s degree in English literature, she wanted to continue her education and earn her Master’s degree. Her original career intention was to gain her Master’s in library science and become a librarian, a position that would surround her with the literature that she loves. However, in order to gain enough money to enter her Master’s program, she took a position teaching physical education in Tampa, which sparked her interest.
Sumner pursued her teaching career, received her master’s degree in English literature and another in school administration from UC Irvine and has been teaching ever since.
“It’s a calling; it’s not something you just go ‘hey, one day I guess I’ll be a teacher’, it’s really a vocation,” Sumner said. “I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t like it so much.”
Sumner is the current English department chair. Christina Borre co-chaired with Sumner and said “she’s always a great voice for our department. She’s really gracious in doing the evening parent things that we need to do or the extra meetings.”
Borre also said that Sumner helps bring out the best in her students.
“I think students feel as though they are letting her down often when they’re not passing her class,” Borre said. “I think that’s unique to her that she kind of brings that out in students, that they want to be successful for her. They want to live up to her expectations, and she makes sure that they have high expectations of themselves.”
Despite her many years in the teaching profession, Sumner still strives to learn new things and new ways to engage her students. Sumner said throughout her teaching career, she has taken classes at community colleges and universities in her area, “just because I like being a student as much as I like being a teacher.”
Principal Bob Steffen wrote in an e-mail, “Ann is constantly striving to improve her craft and reach each and every student in her class. She seeks opportunities to learn new ways of doing things, and readily listens to ideas from her colleagues who not only respect her, but like her.”
Kelly Cramer is a student teacher in the credential program at SSU. Sumner is the main resident teacher she works with and describes her teaching style as walking the line between a stern teacher who has earned the respect of her students and a mother figure who has earned their love.
“I wouldn’t say I know exactly how she does it, because it almost seems like it’s a mystery or a secret gift that she has, but she has abilities to teach and to be a friend or be there,” Cramer said. “I couldn’t think of a kid who doesn’t love her.”
Cramer has spent some time teaching for Sumner and is learning that it can be a challenge to win students over and engage them, especially at the high school level.
“She’s wild and crazy and enthusiastic about her job, participates with a lot of things that most normal people wouldn’t do,” English teacher Lanny Lowery said. “She’ll get out there and dance with the students at a rally and things like that. She’s pretty outlandish in her style of engaging students with her wildness.”
Sumner establishes a connection with her students, which makes her class a comfortable place to be. Whether it is during lunch or breaks, students frequently visit her classroom. Her walls are lined with photographs of past students, a handmade card from a particular class that reads “thank you,” and “we love you” and Beatles memorabilia.
Sumner’s colleagues know that retirement is a personal choice, and although she will be tremendously missed, they understand that while she is leaving Rancho she will never stop teaching those she interacts with.
“I feel happy for her as a person because I know she has worked really hard, and she’s not the kind of person who will just stop,” Cramer said. “She’ll still be doing something important, so in that way I feel happy.”