Dani Davis, Skyline High School Intensified Algebra teacher

Dani Davis teaching Intensified Algebra last year.

Dani Davis grew up in Romeo, Michigan, with her parents, Sheila and Chris, and her two siblings, Justin and Ashley.

When she was young, Davis was very active and participated in a variety of sports. As she got older, she narrowed her focus, participating in Romeo High School’s cross country and soccer team, as well as the Gators’ travel soccer team. She excelled in school, graduating valedictorian of Romeo High School and finishing sixth in the nation in the SkillsUSA Related Technical Math competition in 2012. 

Davis continued to pursue her love for mathematics as she attended the University of Michigan, where she dual majored in actuarial mathematics and business. While in college, she co-founded a tutoring company, providing both paid and free services to students in nearly any quantitative subject.  In 2016, Davis graduated and worked at Boston Consulting Group in order to gain hands-on experience solving difficult problems for a variety of companies.

In 2017, she began her master’s degree in education at the University of Michigan to follow her passion for teaching. She student taught at Skyline High School during her master’s program and started working there full-time at the beginning of the 2018 school year.

Principal Cory McElmeel notes that Davis recently participated in a staff best practices panel discussion during Skyline’s staff meeting and says she is full of energy and good ideas. 

Davis lives in Ann Arbor with her husband, Frank, and their dog, Willow. They are expecting the arrival of their first child—a daughter—in February. She enjoys traveling, hiking, painting, and being outside. 

What is Intensified Algebra?

According to Agile Mind, “Intensified Algebra 1 is comprehensive, an extended-period course that is designed to help students who are one to three years behind in mathematics re-engage as motivated learners and succeed in Algebra 1 within a single academic year.”

I view it as a supportive environment for students to earn credit for Algebra 1, as the class is double blocked (extended time) and extra supported with co-teachers. The curriculum teaches the students about the importance of having a growth mindset and focuses on mathematical problems with real-world applications to engage the students.

What are the unique challenges you face teaching this subject?

In general, the students in Intensified Algebra have often had a difficult relationship with math in the past and as such often approach the subject matter with a negative connation. Both myself and my co-teacher, Young Park, work extremely hard to change this mindset and begin to get the students to enjoy math with its many interesting problems and real word applications. 

To what and to whom do you credit your success?

First, Intensified Algebra is co-taught and it has been a team effort by myself and Young Park to create a successful environment for our students. Without his help and support, the class would not be the same. Between the both of us, we are able to provide a classroom environment with individualized support and strong family communication.

Secondly, I have found that being flexible is key. Every student learns a different way and at different paces, so it’s important as a teacher to be a flexible as possible. During our prep time, Young and I have often sought out students to help them finish assessments or fix misconceptions. We had one student who would get ‘stage fright’ whenever we took an assessment, so we adapted their tests to be given verbally. 

Lastly, I found that being very enthusiastic and energic goes a long way with the students. If you ever walk by my room, you might wonder how much caffeine I had that morning. (Which is none, by the way.) I am almost never sitting down, but instead am walking around to students, asking them questions, and getting them to try to present their work. When I’m presenting, I always give 100 percent of my energy as I believe that students give back what you give to them. 

When you recall your first year of teaching, what memories stand out?

Honestly, the second day of school stands out the most, as I had the unfortunate experience of having a fight between two students and that experience has never left me. After questioning myself if I was capable of being a good teacher, I quickly learned the importance of establishing classroom norms and comradery. In this manner, I feel I have grown as a teacher as I strive to have the students in my class feel like everyone is working together to achieve a common goal. 

What advice would you give to a first-year teacher?

You can’t expect every lesson to go great. There were nights I would spend hours playing the perfect lesson and then nothing would go as planned. You learn to roll with the punches and adapt. As long as you come every day with a positive attitude, your students will be happy to be there with you. 

What inspired you to become a teacher?

There are two things that inspired me to be a teacher: First is my ninth-grade geometry teacher, Mrs. Hart. Mrs. Hart focused on challenging the students to apply what they learn, instead of just memorizing formulas. She showed me that math can be so much more than most people believe it to be.   

Secondly, I was inspired to make a meaningful impact. When reflecting on my life and what I wanted, I realized all the joy that came out of helping my friends and family with math. When I co-founded a tutoring company, the company was bringing in over $8,000 in revenue per semester. However, I was seeing very little of that, despite having the most clients, as I spent most of my time helping students for free. Reflecting back on that made me realize that it was the joy of helping others reach their goals and seeing the excitement on their faces for their accomplishment that was fulfilling to me. 

With both of those things inspiring me and the encouragement of my mom and husband to follow my dreams, I decided to take the leap and switch my career path from business to teaching. It has been one of the best decisions I ever made. 

How would you compare working from home to actually working in the building at Skyline?

Working from home is very difficult and something that no teacher signed up for. That being said, it’s been a great experience to provide some sense of normalcy in our students lives. It’s been more difficult to build relationships and engage the students to want to learn math. Being at home, I found it even more important to be enthusiastic and bring energy to the classroom every day. 

What’s the best compliment anyone could give you?

The best compliment from a student is when they tell me how they have never enjoyed math or understand why we learned it until they had me as a teacher. Seeing the transformation and growth in that student is absolutely incredible and there is no better compliment as a teacher than when a student can see the beauty in mathematics that I see. 

In your three years in AAPS, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned about teaching? About learning?

The most important thing I’ve learned about teaching and learning go hand and hand. To foster an environment that is truly about learning, you need to create a space that where to make mistakes and where math is fun! This cannot be done by ‘teaching to the test’ teaching students to memorize a process. To foster true learning, teaching needs to get to the how a process works the way it does and the why behind we are learning it. 

Apps you can’t live without: 

I could not live without my Petcube app. It allows me to see and talk to my dog while I’m not home and give her lots of treats! 

If you could talk to your teenage self, what would you say?

If I could talk to teenage self, or honestly any teenager, I would tell her that it truly doesn’t matter what others think. You can’t find happiness until you accept who you are and be yourself. Even though many people, especially my mom, use to tell me that, I didn’t quite believe them. I wish I could go back and tell my teenage self that and I hope other teenagers listen. 

How do you keep students engaged?

I haven’t found any magical secrets to keep students engaged, but trying to keep math relatable and fun has helped. Whenever possible, I try to relate what we are doing to real world application. For example, in Calculus, I showed the student how rotating an area is used to make Pixar animations. In addition, I also try to create projects or problems that allow students to do create something. For example, students have created artwork using functions and conics or created carnival games and calculated the probability of winning their game.

Also listening and adapting to what the students want to see more of less of helps to show that you care, which keeps them engaged. I also ask for feedback on how the class is going and what I can do to help them more. Students are often surprised when I actually enact the change, which helps to keep engagement levels high. 

I’m also obnoxiously energic and enthusiastic. That always helps! 

How do you show school spirit?

I really enjoy going to students sporting events after school. If I’m unable to attend the events, I always make sure to ask about how their games, competitions, or activities went. Students always are so proud to share and love seeing teachers at their activities. 

What is the most rewarding part of teaching?

I absolutely love watching students grow as mathematical learners. My favorite part is when I have a group of students who are struggling with a concept and one of them gets to that ah-ha moment and they take over to explain it to the other students. That moment is so rewarding to watch as the students are taking ownership of their own learning.

What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher?

I wish everyone realized that teaching is more than just teaching math or some subject from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the school year. 

In addition, teachers spend numerous of hours outside of school developing lessons and preparing to engage our students. 

How do you recharge?

I like to shut everything down and go without technology in order to recharge. I also frequently go on walks with my dog while listening to Taylor Swift. 

How do you spend your summers?

In the summer, I enjoy spending time with friends and family. In particular, I try to spend some time traveling, painting, and completing DIY projects. The warm weather is my favorite, so I spend as much as possible outside going for walks with my husband and dog. 

What’s most exciting about your professional life right now? Your personal life?

Professionally, I am enjoying taking on the new challenge of teaching online and the strong collaboration that is happening. We as teachers are working together across the district designing curriculum as a team.

In my personal life, my husband and I are excited for the arrival of our daughter in February.  We are looking forward to the new adventures that await us. 

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