De’Marko Thurman, A2 Virtual+ teacher

De´Marko Thurman and his two siblings were born and raised in Detroit by his mother, Carolyn, a retired Office Professional for Detroit Public Schools, and his late father, Wilfred, who worked as a steel worker in Ecorse.

Thurman attended Detroit Public Schools, graduating from Detroit Redford High School. He went on to earn his bachelor’s degree from Lane College, and master’s degrees from both Lawrence Tech, and the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

After earning his bachelor’s degree, Thurman embarked on a career in education in 1997. Over the years, he has served as a teacher, administrator, department chair, union representative, basketball coach, educational consultant, tutor, and adjunct college instructor.

Thurman continues to reside in Detroit and commutes daily to work. He enjoys sports, recreation, fitness, and coaching in his spare time. Thurman remains connected to his roots in the Motor City.

Thurman was nominated for this honor by A2 Virtual+ Principal Anthony Lauer.

“De’Marko’s leadership style and passion for online learning is evident in his approach to supporting teachers, students, and families,” says Lauer. “His tireless work ethic as the A2 Virtual+ Summer Term Principal does not go unnoticed by the over 800 students who take summer classes through A2 Virtual+.”

Why did you pursue a career in teaching?
I pursued a career in teaching because dating back to my childhood, I realized that I found self-gratification passing knowledge onto others and seeing their confidence and skills grow in those teachable moments.

How does teaching virtually compare to teaching in the classroom?
Teaching virtually, and specifically in the asynchronous format, is unique because it is tailored to each student’s self-paced learning capabilities.  It requires effective front-end planning and setup in order to successfully manage highly effective student learning and achievement.

How many students in which grades are enrolled in A2 Virtual+ for this coming year?
More than 1000 students are currently enrolled in A2V. Our student grades range from 6-12, and fifth graders are also able to benefit from our Math Acceleration component.

What don’t people know about A2 Virtual+?

  1. This style of teaching, monitoring, engaging, and time management is extremely unique and much more challenging than what most outside of our program perceive it to be.  Rather than coming to a classroom of students on a daily basis, it is the teacher’s task to effectively establish individual connections with each student and families throughout the entire district without the advantages of regular face-to-face interactions.  A teacher can easily be tasked with doing this with 100 students or more who are spread throughout all the secondary schools in the district, including 5th grade students from the elementary schools.  Keeping track of and managing student success requires top-notch organization and time management skills from the teacher.
  2. A2 Virtual+ is constantly evolving and prioritizes staying aligned with the values, initiatives, policies, and practices of AAPS as a whole.  Our mission is to provide a quality alternative educational experience using technology.

What type of student excels at A2 Virtual+?
Historically, A2 Virtual+ students have been highly motivated students who have traditionally demonstrated the ability to excel academically as independent learners.  Those who are self-motivated, and personify essential time management skills usually find success.

Describe an average workday.  
An average workday consists of being available to support families both in person and virtually throughout all of the middle and high schools in the district.  Grades and support needs are constantly changing and being updated in real-time.  Communication, solution-finding, and follow-ups are constantly taking place throughout the day.

Are you concerned about AI when students work virtually?
AI poses educational challenges as it relates to academic integrity that are a major concern for most—if not all—educational institutions.  Those concerns transcend to our program as well.  Hopefully, as we adapt to this new phenomenon, we can be a part of a solution that finds the balance of taking advantage of its benefits, while neutralizing the academic dishonesty aspect of it.

Why did you want to work for Ann Arbor Public Schools?
Coming from inner city schools in Nashville and Detroit, I wanted an opportunity to work in a smaller and more culturally diverse district.  As a minority, I felt it was important to make a contribution to the AAPS efforts to address the achievement gap.

What do you like about working at A2 Virtual+ specifically?
What I like about A2 Virtual+ specifically is that we have a strong staff where each staff member is able to display the unique skill set necessary to effectively manage learning in an asynchronous environment.

What do you want most for your students?
The thing I want most for all my students is for them to reach their highest academic and personal potential.  I’m honored to be a part of this process in their lives.

How do you feel about the district’s focus this year on dignity, belonging, and well-being?
I feel the district is on the right path with this focus.  Dignity, belonging, and well-being all contribute to strong mental health.  Strong mental health allows for the motivation, self-confidence, and inspiration needed in order to be successful.  This leads to making a positive impact on one’s life, and the lives of others. 

What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Being asynchronous and not being able to see students regularly leaves you with the challenge of finding solutions for making unorthodox connections.  I’m fortunate to be a part of a staff who has the creativity and skills necessary for finding these solutions.

Favorite podcasts, websites, apps:
Anything related to sports, pop culture, or current events.

What’s the happiest part of your day?
The happiest part of my day is coming home to my wife and two sons.

What’s the best compliment anyone could give you?
That they’ve learned something positive from me.

What is the most rewarding part of teaching?
Seeing growth and confidence take place in that moment and knowing that I was a part of it.

What do you remember most about being in first grade?
I remember my first fire drill when I innocently walked home because I thought school was dismissed.  I thought school was only for a half day as it was when I was in kindergarten.  As an adult and teacher, I’m sure a teacher or a monitor got in trouble that day and the principal wasn’t happy.

How do you spend your summers?
Working, exercising, and taking a family vacation.

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