ST: Would you describe your school setting?
DL: The campus of the SC Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities is located in downtown Greenville overlooking the Reedy River Falls Park. It was designed to emulate a Tuscan village.
(According to the school website:“The South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities is a public residential high school for emerging artists. The school gives artistically talented high school students from across the state the opportunity to study their art in a supportive environment of artistic and academic excellence. Arts concentrations include Creative Writing, Dance, Drama, Music and Visual Arts.”It looks like a really cool place to go to school. It makes me picture it as our local Julliard!)
ST: What is your official title(s) and what services do you provide?
DL: My title is Academic Assistance Coordinator. I serve as the Special Education Coordinator, 504 Coordinator, Special Education Teacher, and also serve the students that have not been identified as having disabilities that are struggling academically. I tutor multiple subjects one on one or in small group settings and also work to improve the executive skills of the students, such as time management and organization.
ST: How long have you been teaching?
DL: 16 years
ST: What ages/grades/subject did you teach prior to this current assignment?
DL: I have taught students ages 5-55, maybe older. I have taught resource in elementary and high school. I have also taught self-contained classes in elementary and high school for students with learning disabilities, mental disabilities, and emotional disabilities. I have also served as the Disability Services Coordinator at the college level. The only age group I have never worked with is middle school.
ST: What inspired you to become a teacher?
DL: When I was in high school, I took a Community Service Learning class. It was a pilot program my school was launching and my parents were friends with the teacher, so they signed me up. I ended up spending a lot of time in the self-contained class for students with neurological disabilities and fell in love with it. There was a student in the class who used a keyboard for communication. Watching him overcome his difficulties without the slightest complaint was inspiring to say the least. His biggest passion was watching the demolition derby at our county fair. I'll never forget the first time I saw him there, watching the derby. Sitting in his wheelchair yelling and waving his arms, I had never seen anyone happier. I knew I wanted to help kids like him.
ST: What is the best thing that a student has ever said to you?
DL: Several Thanksgivings ago, a student I taught my first year contacted me through Facebook. I was only 21 when I started teaching. This particular student struggled with bipolar disorder. He was a brilliant artist and creative thinker, but extremely depressed and misunderstood. I took him under my wing that first year of my teaching career. I got him when not many other people did because I am also a person that was misunderstood in high school. He wrote me a letter Thanksgiving Day. I had not heard from him in 10 years. He told me thank you for saving his life and not giving up on him.
ST: What do you feel is the most difficult thing about teaching?
DL: The most difficult thing has always been and will always be not being able to help everyone that needs help. Sometimes due to the student's family situation or lack of time in the day or whatever the case may be, I can't do all that I want to do. It bothers me tremendously.
ST: What do you feel is the best thing about teaching?
DL: On the flip side of the most difficult thing, the best thing is helping students who need it the most. My passion is working with the students that others don't always see the value in. Working with kids who learning comes to easily or come from great backgrounds has never been my thing. I crave finding that student who really, really needs someone to help them. Those can be the biggest heartbreakers, but they can also be the most rewarding people in your life.
ST: What is the biggest issue in education that you wish the state or federal government would address and why?
DL: There are not enough opportunities for students who struggle academically and don't learn in the traditional way. There needs to be more money and support put into our tech prep programs at the middle and high school levels. I've read some great articles about programs across the country that prepare high school students for careers in technical fields. Many of the students I work with are hands on, kinesthetic learners. These programs recognize and embrace that.
ST: What piece of advice would you give to a new teacher just starting out in their career?
DL: Have control of your classroom. Be organized. Challenge your learners. Adapt when you need to. Recognize your mistakes. Care about the students you work with and find ways to connect with them.
ST: If money was no object, what would you want for your school to help the students you serve be more successful?
DL: I would have the school hire a tutor for our math and science classes who could be here each night to work with the students. Many of my students struggle to understand math and science.
ST: If you could have anybody in the world visit your school (alive or dead), who would it be?
DL: Louis Zamperini, the WWII Prisoner of War and Olympic Runner, who the book Unbroken was based on, would be my current pick. I read the book about a year ago and found his story so incredibly inspiring. He's someone that every high school student should be aware of. His story should inspire anyone to not give up.
If you want to nominate a teacher for me to feature in the upcoming months, please email me (successfulteaching at gmail dot com) their name, school, and contact info. Please consider helping me recognize teachers who sometimes don’t get the recognition that they deserve!
Original photo by Pat Hensley