Humans of P-CEP: Janet Sutherland

Janet Sutherland, Plymouth video teacher, has a surprising revelation for being such an accomplished, supportive teacher. “I never really decided to teach video production,” she said, “I was offered the position and accepted. My undergraduate major from The University of Michigan was Communication.  As part of that degree I took classes which gave me foundational knowledge in television production.”

Her crowning achievement is the Student Television Show (STS), which airs in and out of school, and has a rich history. “In 1993, when televisions were going to be installed in all classrooms, Dr. MacKenzie, the Canton principal at that time, asked me if I’d like to start a TV class and produce content for the school,” she said, “We started the spring of 1993 with five kids meeting before school on Tuesdays to produce a ten minute show that aired on a TV on a cart in front of the Canton cafeteria on Fridays. STS went on the air in February 1994 and we have not missed a scheduled show in all those years.”

Her favorite part about teaching? The students. “Meeting all the new students and watching them learn and develop new skills is the thing I love most about teaching,” said Sutherland, “Every year I get to witness some pretty impressive changes and it is those changes that make me enthusiastic for each year.”
“When it comes to least favorite thing about teaching, it is probably the students that don’t recognize the value of the free education they are getting.  After students leave P-CEP, most of their learning will have a price tag attached.  This is the chance to learn a lot for no charge,” she said, “It isn’t just the students that don’t put forth effort, but all the ones addicted to their phones who don’t take the five minutes before class starts to talk to the people around them and practice social skills, or the ones trying to sneak a text during a lesson or work time.  Every study I have read speaks to the mental distraction of phones and the cost to learning, yet sadly, the kids don’t get it and can’t disconnect.”

She has so many memories from her 31-year-long teaching career; it’s hard for her to pick a favorite memory. “Some things that I look back on positively were the time I spent as the Canton Class of 1995 advisor, the ten years I was Canton’s activity director, and some of work we have done outside of school for the video production classes, especially our cable shows from ‘94-‘99 and our movie ‘Finding Focus’,” said Sutherland, “I think one of the funniest memories was when I was freshman class advisor and we built this giant Homecoming float in a backyard.  When it was finally done, we realized we couldn’t lift it out of the backyard.  We had to take it apart to even move it, and then we had to get my brother and some of his college friends to carry it around the track at half time because my freshmen council kids weren’t strong enough.  If there is one thing I have no shortage of, it is memories.”
Sutherland knows how difficult the work can be (especially in technology), but she takes time to reflect on the best parts. “It is hard work to get everything done in 50 minutes. We get last minute announcements, last minute team cancellations, last minute computer crashes, microphone problems, but we find a way to get it done. The class teaches much more than just video production.  It teaches group work, responsibility, writing, problem solving and also consideration.  We have to consider everything we air and how it might impact our audience or any segment of our audience.  Most of my advanced video students do not pursue careers in film and video, but they get a great experience that translates to many settings,” she said, “I think [the most rewarding part] it is watching the students gain skills and independence. I let them produce and create all their own segments for our shows. When something goes wrong, especially on STS, we have a limited amount of time to get it fixed and move on. Every morning is exciting.  I also like providing engaging information for all of our campus.”
She also enjoys passing along her knowledge to students. “As any of my students will attest, I always have advice,” said Sutherland, “First, turn off your phone and enjoy the people and situations that are around you.  Second, don’t be afraid to try and learn new things.  Never determine you can’t do something until you’ve tried it, at least twice.  Three, don’t judge people too quickly.  In 31 years I can honestly say I’d have a hard time identifying any student in whom I couldn’t find some good.  Yes, there have been some that have challenged me for almost a whole semester, but deep down there was something there.  Give people a chance. You might be surprised. And always, always find something good in every day.”