Dawn Dennis, Allen Elementary first grade teacher

Dawn Dennis

Profile and photos by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor

Dawn Dennis was born and raised in Detroit, the daughter of Herman and Marva Jenkins, a retired postal supervisor and retired executive secretary for the UAW.   Family and education were greatly stressed in her household growing up. Her parents often reminded her that while there are many things people can take away from you, they can never take away your education.

Dennis attended St. Brigid Catholic School and Immaculate Heart of Mary School during her elementary and junior high years.  Realizing in high school that she wanted to work with children, she volunteered at a local elementary school during her senior year.  After graduating from Our Lady of Mercy High School in Farmington Hills, Dennis attended Spelman College in Atlanta for two years before transferring to Eastern Michigan University to earn her teaching certificate. She is certified to teach K-5 all subjects; K-8 special education (social studies); K-12 orthopedically handicapped; homebound students; and Specialized ZA Endorsement (Early Childhood Pre-K and K). She also went on to complete her master’s degree in reading.

Dennis started her career teaching second grade, and loved it. Throughout her career, she taught in a multi-aged classroom with Marie Lemmer, who retired last year. The students looped from first grade to second grade in the multi-aged classroom. Teaching in a multi-aged classroom has been her favorite teaching experience because of their academic and personal growth.

Dennis has two daughters, Nicole and Sabrina. Nicole, 22, graduated from Spelman College with a degree in sociology and will pursue a nursing degree in the fall. Sabrina, 18, graduated from Lincoln High School and is attending Eastern Michigan University. Her ultimate goal is to train to be a firefighter.

Outside of school, Dennis enjoys reading, attending her cycling classes and spending time with family and friends.

How tough has it been this year to make the temporary move to Ypsilanti following the flooding at Allen? The move from Allen to Ypsilanti was extremely challenging this year. There were so many things taken for granted after “living” in a building for so long, including the fact that teachers know where everything is located. There are various challenges that the staff has had to overcome and to figure out solutions to make this huge transition smoother for the students, which is what our teachers do every day, except at Allen things ran like a well-oiled machine. In Ypsilanti, there are a few wrenches in their everyday life, but teachers are figuring things out quickly and making adjustments as needed.

With all the challenges they’ve faced with this year, I’m hoping the students learn an important lesson: Life will not always be easy. There are many events that will happen that are out of your control. It all comes down to how you handle an unexpected, adverse situation.   With the outpouring of support from Ann Arbor Public Schools, Ypsilanti Community Schools, every school in the district of Ann Arbor, parents, teachers, neighbors and students, Allen has been able to remain together as a staff and work to make their temporary space meet their needs. Students have been able to learn in a safe and caring environment, just like at Allen. I hope that even though the Allen community has been pushed out of its comfort zone, students realize that it has helped them grow stronger and reach higher goals.   Through it all, their phenomenal Allen teachers greet them with smiles every morning, with the intent of having “the best day ever!”

What was often written on your report card in grade school? “Dawn is shy, quiet and has great potential.”

What do you remember most about first grade? I remember making lots of new friends.

Describe a typical work day: There is no such thing as an average day. Every day is so uniquely different. Plans will be written out, the classroom set up will be prepared, supplies and materials will be taken care of…and then the bell rings and the students arrive. I need to be prepared to switch gears at a moments notice. Students will come with important issues, exciting stories, sad events and many more things that will effect their school day—all of which they want to share with me immediately. That’s the first 5-7 minutes.

Dawn Dennis says Allen’s temporary move to Ypsilanti this school year has been a valuable learning experience for the students.

After that, it’s on to morning jobs, bell work, guided reading, handwriting, snack and writer’s workshop. After lunch, it’s math, social studies, science and specials during the morning and afternoon. Throughout the day there is whole group instruction, small group instruction, small group work and independent work periods. During a very busy day, I need to be prepared to help students resolve conflicts with classmates, stay focused during work periods, give praise and reminders about positive interactions, while continuously checking for understanding of concepts, and meeting the individual, academic needs of all 23 of my students.

What three devices can you not live without? It takes a bit of effort for me to use technology. However, the three devices I can’t live without in the classroom are my Apple computer, Ladybug doc camera, and my necklace microphone.

How do you stay organized? I write lists on stickies, and use a timer. If it’s not on my list, chances are it won’t get completed. I use the timer for both myself and my students to efficiently complete tasks in the classroom.

What’s the most rewarding part about teaching? One of the most rewarding parts of teaching is getting genuine appreciation from students I’ve worked extremely hard with. When they finally get it, they appreciate that I didn’t give up on them, and continued to believe they could succeed.

What has surprised you most about being a teacher? It has been a surprise to see the amount of abundant effort that teachers put into their daily work. Even when they think they’ve done all they can to support and encourage their students to reach higher goals, through further research and collaboration with colleagues, they manage to come up with new things to try.

What do you wish everyone knew about teaching? I wish people knew that most teachers go above and beyond what is required in order to help students succeed. I also wish people acknowledged that teachers are human and make mistakes. I always tell my students, “It’s okay to make mistakes because that’s how we learn.”

What would you change about public education? It would be the excessive amount of testing that students are required to do that takes away huge chunks of instruction time that teachers should be using to educate their students.

What would you tell a college student considering becoming a teacher?

  • Get as much experience as possible in the classroom before you commit to teaching.
  • This career is extremely rewarding, yet equally as challenging.
  • There’s a reason for every student behavior and teachers usually only see the “tip of the iceberg.”
  • Students who respect and trust you will work their hardest.
  • You will work harder than you ever dreamed possible.
  • You will grow to care deeply for your students and think constantly of ways to help them improve—no matter what their academic level.
  • You deserve every vacation day you get.
  • Be sure to take time for yourself and recharge.
  • Hold your head high and be confident because you have one of the most important careers in the world—and not everyone can do what you do every day.

What’s most exciting about your professional life right now? After 29 years in the classroom, I feel very blessed that I have been able to do what I love, in a supportive community, with an amazing group of educators. This year I have been mentoring first-year teacher Megan Harper, who has proven to be a wonderful asset to the Allen community.

What’s next? I’m not really sure yet, but the possibilities are limitless.


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