STEUBENVILLE – Courtesy of day-to-day living, we all learn lessons of some sort.
And that goes for teachers in classrooms, too, ironically sometimes from the very students they are entrusted to educate.
That’s been Mary Ann Sunyoger’s experience in her 40 plus years as one who’s happy to be an educator, so much so that the Steubenville woman has compiled a book celebrating the lessons she’s learned and who’s helped her embrace them.
The end result is “Life Lessons: A Connection of Souls Throughout Life’s Journey,” its official release date on Sept. 10 through Tate Publishing, but it is available at personal signings in the pre-release stage.
An upcoming one is Tuesday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. hosted by Todd Piergallini at St. Florian Hall in Wintersville for those interested in purchasing a signed copy for $16, including tax. Finger foods, coffee and punch will be provided.
Also on the calendar is an Aug. 6 booksigning – one at 1 p.m. with a reading and discussion at the Main Library of the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County, the other at 6 p.m. at the Schiappa branch on Mall Drive, which also will include an overview of the publishing process.
Sunyoger’s book – a first-time effort – started to take shape about eight years ago, motivated partly by desire, partly by “bucket list” contemplation.
“I wanted to share my stories of students, stories that will die with me if I don’t get them down. This was my motivation, growing older, watching the years fly and not having told them,” said Sunyoger, who heeded the words of the late Ernest Hemingway: “Nobody can write your story.”
So Sunyoger decided to write her own.
“I simply wanted to celebrate my students – every one of them, but I couldn’t write every story, so I wrote the ones that came to mind without any prodding,” said Sunyoger, a veteran educator who began her teaching career at Catholic Central High School, having taught there from 1970-80. She also has taught part time at what was Jefferson Community College during the 1980s and then Franciscan University of Steubenville part time from 1982-88, where she’s been teaching full time ever since.
It’s a career that this professor of English says she loves.
The book, according to its jacket, “offers narratives of students who taught her a life lesson and provided meaning in her professional life.”
It is a compilation of 41 short chapters – representing her 41 years of teaching at that point – that tell the stories of the students Sunyoger has met throughout her teaching career.
“The book is a celebration of students whom I’ve taught from high school days to university days. It’s a thank-you to them for teaching me life lessons,” said Sunyoger, who grew up in Steubenville, attended Catholic Central High School and later the College of Steubenville. She earned her master’s and doctorate both from Kent State University.
It’s a diverse assortment of both high school and college students, “from the silently struggling student to the joyfully humble student, from the student who plagiarized to the student who protected Sunyoger in a frightening time of need. All of these chapters end with a reflection on the lesson learned and a personal ‘thank-you’ to each student addressed in the story,” according to a university-based press release about Sunyoger’s book.
“I have 41 chapters – a narrative in itself – celebrating a student who taught me a life lesson, one that touched me and changed me forever,” Sunyoger said.
“I have loved every single student, both my high school students and my higher education students. This has been such a blessed life because of them, and I just want to share that and to thank them – all,” she said.
Sunyoger changed most of the names, leaving the real ones from whom she received permission.
“My last chapter is about my mother (the late Sylvia T. Gallo) who always wanted to go to college and who sat in on a class I taught at Jeff Tech (now Eastern Gateway Community College),” she said.
“I failed my mother on her midterm and write about that. Boy – what a life lesson that was,” she lamented.
Sunyoger describes the book as uplifting.
“My students really made me stop and reflect, and they still do,” she said. “My passion for what I do is quite evident. Every day I walk into the classroom is like my first day – filled with love, caring, compassion and challenge. I have never looked at education and pedagogy as routine and common-place.”
She notes in her book that she “learned that persistence kept me in the classroom and that faith and confidence were the vehicles driving me throughout that first year and are still the vehicles that drive me throughout my life.”
Sunyoger said she’s learned a lot from having written the book.
“First, I learned how frightened I was to send it out. I can remember holding the send key for three weeks before I sent it off to the publisher for review,” she said.
“I learned that my life has had extraordinary people in it who need to be celebrated,” she continued.
“I learned that God is truly an ‘awesome’ God for blessing me with all of these individuals in my life, especially for the parents he gave me (the late Michael P and Sylvia T. Gallo); for my siblings, (Michael P. Gallo Jr. and JoAnn, both of Tuscon, Ariz.); for my husband, (Richard A.); my son (Richard M.); my grandchildren (Landon and Gabrella Sunyoger); for giving me the opportunity to become an educator; and for making me recognize that I can learn from my errors that I don’t have to be perfect in what I do in the classroom, from what I do in life,” she continued.
“I learned that we really do touch lives, that people learn from one another if they allow themselves to,” she said.
“I have learned that family is in the classroom and must be recognized as such. Through my book, I simply hope that my readers will, in turn, think about their own professions, their own purpose for doing what they do throughout their life journey. I simply want them to celebrate the extraordinariness of their own lives as they travel their paths with others who walk with them,” Sunyoger said.
She’s also grateful for the help and support she received along the way on the project, from her son’s sketches in each chapter to the proofreading assistance of her former Catholic Central High School colleague Eileen Krisak.
“Life Lessons: A Connection of Souls Throughout Life’s Journey” will be available to purchase in hard copy and eBook format on Sept. 10.
To pre-order, visit www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore/book.
For signed copies only, contact Sunyoger at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Kiaski can be contacted at email@example.com.)