Susan Beiles’ 48-Year Career at Poly


Emma Spring, Editor-in-Chief 2021-2022


United States History at Poly Prep is defined by history teacher of 48 years, Susan Beiles. A teacher at Poly since 1979, parent of three alums, and grandparent of four students, Beiles holds a deep connection to Poly. Her approaching retirement at the end of this year evokes bittersweet emotions for her. However, Beiles is unable to completely leave behind her reign at Poly, and will be coming in once a week as a writing specialist assistant.

A native New Yorker, Beiles grew up on Staten Island, where she attended Curtis High School. After graduating from Smith College and obtaining her master’s degree at Columbia, Beiles returned to Curtis to do some substitute teaching while balancing being a mother of three at home. After three years of substituting, Beiles was frustrated that she would never know her hours in advance. “They would call me in the morning, and if I could arrange a babysitter, then I could go,” said Beiles. 

Belies elaborates on her experience substitute teaching, “it wasn’t very satisfactory or dependable. I knew people who had gone both to Poly and Staten Island Academy, and I wrote to both schools to see if they had any part-time positions. Staten Island Academy told me they don’t take part time teachers and good luck with my life, and Poly wrote back and said, ‘we have no part-time positions now but we will keep your resume on file.’ Six months later I got a call that the man who was teaching AP U.S. History wasn’t well and he was reducing his teaching schedule. [I went] in for an interview, and it changed my life.”

Beiles came to Poly in January of 1979 and has been here ever since, serving as the AP U.S. History teacher from the first day she walked in the door to now. She has also taught almost every other core history course from 8th to 12th grade. Funnily enough, Beiles initially thought she would major in math or science in college. “I had never liked Social Studies, particularly in high school because the teachers I had would write outlines on the board and we would spend most of the time copying the outlines. There really wasn’t discussion,” said Beiles. 

Beiles’ view of history changed when she got to college. She shared, “When I got [to college], I realized I had been good at [math and science] in high school because I could duplicate what was asked of me, but I really wasn’t creative in that way of thinking. That happened at the same time I was taking a required history course called Modern European History from the fall of Rome to the present.” Exposed to engaging and challenging teachers like herself, Beiles was intrigued by the excitement of history. “I learned then [that history] is not static. It doesn’t happen and is frozen in place. It’s always being reassessed and reevaluated. And that was very exciting,” said Beiles. 

As well as teaching history, Beiles also served as a 9th-grade dean, college counselor, dean of the faculty, and member of the administrative council. Beiles held these positions until 2016 when she decided to work part-time and just focus on teaching. When Head of School Audrius Barzdukas first arrived at Poly in 2016, he reorganized the administrative structure, removing the then-unoccupied dean of the faculty and council position. “I think that this is an area that does need more attention,” said Beiles. “I always thought of the dean of the faculty of someone who had different hats –– being a career council, being a psychologist, being a social worker, being a liaison to others in the administration who was a more independent unfiltered voice [for the faculty]. I don’t feel that decisions have to be made by majority vote, but I feel that the voice of the faculty is important for the institution and validating for the individual faculty. One thing I have learned in my years here is that things change…Certainly I’ve been very happy at Poly or else I would not have been here for as long as I have. I have trusted the institution and respected it and I’ve always felt things were always done with the best intentions even though I might not agree.”

Beiles nor the history department is not quite sure yet what her role as writing specialist assistant will totally entail. From what she knows now, Beiles will be working with students of varying skill levels under Learning Specialist Juliet Moretti’s direction to help with their writing. 

Aside from her position next year, Beiles is excited to use more of her free time for herself. She hopes to engage in more drop-in lectures at museums or the 92nd Street Y, spend more time in the three book clubs she is a part of, and possibly even attempt something like Tai Chi to maintain balance. Additionally, Beiles mentioned with a chuckle, “when you get to be a certain age, doctor’s appointments for follow-ups becomes a full-time job in itself. I just wish for good health, physically, emotionally, and mentally.”  

In reflecting upon her career at Poly, Beiles said, “I’m always reminded of something [late longtime Middle School History Teacher] Ms. [Liane] Dougherty would say to me when I was dismayed over something: she’d listen, she’d acknowledge my feelings, and then she’d say, ‘Remember why we’re here. We’re here for the students.’”