MERCED -- Since she was a little girl, Susan Avelar has held her teachers in high esteem and wanted to be just like them when she grew up.
Years ago Avelar got a chance to do just that, and now she's in her 26th year of teaching. She instructs first-graders at McSwain Elementary School and likes to see the growth they exhibit during the school year.
Avelar, 56, a native of Merced who was raised in Chowchilla, remembers her teachers had an air of confidence and always were in control of their environment.
"I always loved school as a child," Avelar said. "To me school was magical."
She started out as an accounting major at Merced College before transferring to California State University, Stanislaus, in Turlock, where she got her bachelor's degree, followed by a teaching credential from Chapman University.
Teaching soon won out over accounting when Avelar realized she didn't want to be stuck in an office. She said she loves the fresh attitude of little children, adding that 99 percent of them come to school eager to learn.
Leslie Murphy, a fourth-grade teacher at McSwain School, said Avelar is a very dedicated teacher and sets an example for other teachers to follow.
"She accepts all students," Murphy said, "and is very positive. She fosters lifelong learners and makes them want to keep going."
Avelar, who has three grown children -- ages 24, 29 and 32 -- said working with young students does wonders for one's self-esteem.
"They think you're beautiful," Avelar said. "I love every day coming to this place and working with children. I'm not ready to retire."
She said her biggest challenge is to create an even playing field so all students can be successful. She said any child can learn, but a teacher has to find a way to help them on that journey.
Vicky Lopez-Macias, who has worked with Avelar for 20 years, also teaches first-graders.
"Susan has a love for learning and the education of children," Lopez-Macias said.
"She is dedicated to teaching her students to be strong and capable readers and writers. It is my privilege to have worked with Susan for many years, and I have learned many techniques from her that I use with my own students."
In her free time, Avelar loves cooking, particularly pasta dishes and desserts. She jokingly calls herself the cupcake queen, explaining that her culinary talents are in demand during school events.
McSwain is the only school where Avelar has taught. She taught second grade for eight years and a special education class for one year but has since concentrated on first grade.
"I'm passionate about what I do," Avelar said. "I couldn't have picked a better career. I feel like I touch the future."
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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