By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
Vanessa D’Souza, a first-year teacher at Burns Park Elementary, was raised in Ann Arbor by her mother, older brother, and grandmother. Because her mother worked two jobs, D’Souza’s grandmother took care of her and her brother throughout her years at Allen Elementary. D’Souza says she always admired her mother’s work ethic, which taught her that it’s important to work hard and go above and beyond.
After graduating from Huron High School, D’Souza attended Washtenaw Community College for two years before transferring to the University of Michigan to become the first in her family to earn a college degree. At U-M, D’Souza graduated with honors and was one of the top 10 ten students selected from the School of Education for the Dean’s Excellence Award.
D’Souza was Faith Chen’s third grade student teacher at Burns Park last year. After graduation, she stayed at Burns Park and spent the last two months of the school year in first grade with Nancy Ambrosino. D’Souza, who says she is “absolutely loving” teaching second grade, attributes her success to Chen and Ambrosino for helping her become the teacher she is today.
Burns Park Assistant Principal Laura Wolf recalls that D’Souza was a student at Allen when she was a teacher there.
“She does an excellent job of applying the practice taught at the University of Michigan while also learning the needs of the community and attending to all the things a new teacher must,” said Wolf, when nominating D’Souza as an Exceptional Teacher. “She’s phenomenal.”
What is your fondest memory of your own second-grade experience at Allen? One memory from my own experience in 2nd grade at Allen Elementary was being a part of a first/second grade combination class. I remember always being looked up to by the first graders as a leader and model student.
What inspired you to become a teacher? My mom inspired me to become a teacher. Through her personal experiences, she has taught me the importance of being educated. My family’s lack of education helped me realize how important it is to be knowledgeable and for children to learn skills to help them be successful in today’s society.
What’s the best compliment anyone could give you? The best compliment that anyone could give me is telling me how big of an impact I have had on a student’s life. I strive every day to make a difference in my students’ lives and let them know how intelligent, loved, and capable they are. The best compliment would be to know that I have had an impact on them being their best selves.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about teaching this year? About learning? The most important thing that I have learned about teaching is being able to differentiate my instruction so that it is tailored to the needs of each student. I have learned that every child is truly different and has strengths and areas to grow. I have learned how important it is to make sure each need is being met.
Describe an average work day: An average work day for me begins with me waking up around 6 a.m., packing my lunch, taking my dog out and then heading to school. I arrive at Burns Park about an hour before school starts so that I can make sure I have everything set for a successful day. Coming to school early also gives me the chance to talk with my team. After school, I go work out, cook dinner, shower, watch a show on Netflix, then read in bed.
What advice would you give to a first-year teacher? One piece of advice that I would give a first-year teacher is to get to know and build a connection with the other teachers on your team. My second-grade team has such an incredible bond. Three out of the four of us are new teachers which makes the experience so fun! We always communicate and collaborate with each other while learning together. Each one of us brings something special to the team which makes us work so well.
What’s the happiest part of your day? One of the happiest parts of my day is seeing my students care and look out for one another. Recently we started a peer-to-peer group for one of the students in my class. It warmed my heart to know that so many of our classmates wanted to step up and be a peer buddy. They are always protecting and helping each other out.
Favorite website: Amazon!
Apps you can’t live without: I couldn’t live without my alarm app and the weather app. I use both apps to start off my day. Other apps that I use are Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook. I’ve been trying to disconnect as much as I can from social media and be more present in my everyday life.
What makes teaching at Burns Park unique? Burns Park is a very unique school. One thing that makes teaching at Burns Park unique is our parents. The parents at Burns Park and in my class are incredible and have been very supportive my first year teaching.
If you could talk to your teenage self, what would you say? If I could talk to my teenage self, I would say to focus on the things that really matter. I would tell myself not to give up, even when things get extremely hard. I would also remind myself to always be kind and think of others.
How do you keep students engaged? One way that I keep students engaged is by being a culturally responsive teacher. I bring up experiences and interests that they have and tie it into my teaching. To be able to do this successfully, it is vital that I build relationships with every student, learning more about them and showing them that I care. Another thing that I do to keep students engaged is give them jobs. They are responsible for knowing what their job entails and how to accomplish it. I always make sure to keep things fun and interesting.
What is the most rewarding part of teaching? The most rewarding part of teaching is seeing the growth that students make in a school year. I am constantly assessing my students throughout the year in all aspects of their day to day school lives. I watch what they do during recess, how they interact with students, and of course their academics. Even with these formative assessments, I am still so amazed to see how much they have grown when I give them a summative assessment. It’s amazing to see that I had a part in helping a child grow.
What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher? I wish everyone realized that the work of a teacher is not just an 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. job. When I leave school and go home, I make sure I have time to reflect on how the day went, plan for the coming days, and think of how I can help my students in the days to come.
How do you recharge? I recharge by hanging out with my friends, watching Netflix, and reading a good book.
How do you spend your summers? This summer, I will be doing lots of traveling. I will spend a week in Cape San Blas, Florida to celebrate my best friend from elementary school who is getting married. After Florida, I will be traveling to Denver, Colorado with my fiancé. This is our first time going to Colorado, so I am very excited to explore. In July, I will be traveling to Kansas City, Kansas to spend time with my one-year-old niece, and I’ll also taking a trip to Traverse City.
What’s most exciting about your professional life right now? Your personal life? The most exciting thing about my professional life right now is being honored as an exceptional teacher my first year of teaching. It has been such an incredible year and I truly feel blessed to have such an amazing group of kids who have had such a big impact on me as a teacher.
One of the most exciting things happening in my personal life is that I recently got engaged to my high school sweetheart. We plan on getting married in the summer of 2020.
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