Lauren Hannani staff writer
Spanish teacher Susan Schneider just thought she was driving to a service on Kol Nidre, the night before Yom Kippur, where she would meet her waiting friends and family. Instead, she would be driving toward an incident that would give her a new sense of appreciation and gratitude for life.
After experiencing the severe car accident in late September, Schneider took a break from teaching to recover from her injuries. Now, since the start of second semester, she has returned to her desk with a new sense of who she is as a person.
“It feels really amazing and very life-affirming. It feels like I’ve gotten my identity back, because for a long time when you go through something like that, you lose your identity; I was a patient in a hospital, I was a patient in physical therapy, I was a patient getting help trying to emotionally deal with what had happened with me. So being at school and being with the healthy environment of young people and my colleagues and my friends, I feel like I’m a healthy person and that my identity is where I was before the accident,” she said.
Although Schneider came back to school with new optimism and gratitude, she had to take some time to emotionally understand her condition after the accident.
“When I first had the accident, my first response was, ‘Let’s hurry up and I’ll be back in a few days. The kids are waiting for me, I’m waiting for them, so let’s do this’ and it was clear early on that I was not going to be able to come back, so I kind of had to shift my expectations,” Schneider said.
Once she understood her situation more clearly, Schneider motivated herself while recovering by setting realistic goals.
“I was dealing with physical therapy and broken ribs and things like that, so having a mindset of returning and then having it set at the semester mark really allowed me to take some time emotionally and physically to recover and also to really get my strength and feel that once I’m back in the classroom, I’m going to have the energy and have the health and the physical strength to be here,” Schneider said.
While emotionally recovering, she also had the chance to reconnect with loved ones and the people that supported her through all of it.
“During my absence, I had a lot of contact with families, parents, students, colleagues, friends from the school, and the amount of support and the beautiful cards and the beautiful sentiments that were expressed really were my link to this healthy world and were also a real step in my recovery,” she said. “I think without that, I kind of what have been at a loss for how long it’s going to take to recover, but that was kind of a real help in the transition between being home and being at school.”
Not only is Schneider grateful for the loving people in her life, but she also feels very thankful for surviving an accident that was not a minor one.
“Anybody that saw my car still could not believe that I survived. My department chair, Ms. Madam Carlson, came to my home the day after my accident and saw my car before I ever saw it and she said it looked like the cars they put on the lawn for ‘Every 15 Minutes,’ that it was so destroyed that it was totally miraculous that I survived the physical accident. You do get a second sense of appreciation, so not only the physical part, but the appreciation you have of just having an opportunity to recover from something like that,” she said.
Schneider’s students are also very happy to have her back in class.
“Ms. Schneider is an amazing teacher, and to have her back for second semester is a dream come true. I was extremely happy to see her and really happy to see that she was okay,” sophomore Rachel Khorshad said.
Spending days and months in hospital rooms and physical therapy was a difficult task for Schneider, but returning back to her classroom “good as new,” she appreciates every single person that has helped her walk on her feet again so she could slowly make her way back to the place she started teaching 40 years ago.
“This place is healthy, and I feel really lucky that I received so much love and an expression of so much care and support. And ironically, we don’t want a bad accident to make that happen, but that was the benefit,” Schneider said. “I really had a chance to see my colleagues just come in here for me and had the chance to receive such loving words from my students, and that helps a lot. That makes every difference; that we’re a community and that everybody was able to express that kind of regard and appreciation in this. So I’m extremely thankful.”