By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News
Erika Daman grew up with her older brother and parents in Canton. During her years at Canton High School, she played many district and regional soccer games against the Pioneers and River Rats back in the day. Her parents were very supportive of her extra-curricular activities. Her dad, Ray Swegles, was a plant manager at various companies. Her mom, Rebecca Swegles, started as a medical secretary and moved to manage a hematology and oncology office. They both retired and moved to Florida.
Daman lives in Chelsea with her husband, Jeff, and daughter, Angelia, an exercise science major at Eastern Michigan University. Son Alec lives in Adrian while attending Adrian College, studying sports management, and playing for the college’s ACHA Division 1 hockey team. Both children are graduating college this year—much to her relief, she jokes.
When Daman started college, she thought she would go into the medical field, but after taking one of the classes on people with disabilities, she was inspired to go into special education. She attended Eastern Michigan University and earned a bachelor’s degree in Hearing Impaired Education.
Daman began her teaching career as a K-6 Resource program teacher at Merriman Elementary in Romulus Community Schools. She stayed at Merriman for six years before moving on to Romulus High School for 14 years, where she was a resource teacher and co-taught a variety of subjects.
After commuting from Chelsea to Romulus for 20 years, Daman looked for an opportunity closer to home. Four years ago, she was hired to work in the ASD Self-Contained Program at Forsythe Middle
School, and says she’s fallen in love with the Forsythe team, students, and families. She has coached volleyball, been the yearbook advisor, and mentors teachers at her building.
In her spare time, she loves to read, attend her son’s hockey games, and do various crafts. Now that her children are older and mostly out of the house, she dedicates her time to her classroom and her German Shepherd, Sunshine. She loves going on road trips, and her favorite place to go is anywhere there is water. Lake Michigan is a favorite place.
What do you think of AAPS’s emphasis on dignity and belonging this year?
As a special educator for 24 years, I am passionate about these topics. Students with disabilities can be overlooked or thought of as an other. First and foremost, students that receive special education services are general education students first. I appreciate that the district is starting to look at how our students’ dignity and considering the feeling of belonging. I have spent time asking myself hard questions and changing my practices to ensure I address these issues. This is hard work, and I hope the change will come with this emphasis.
What inspired you to become a teacher? Why special education?
Since I decided to become a teacher, it has always been going to be special education. My biggest inspiration was my Aunt Meegan. Meegan is sixty-one years old, she was born 11 weeks early, with the cord wrapped around her neck twice. She was diagnosed with cognitive impairment and cerebral palsy. Around the time she was born, my grandparents were told she wouldn’t live past three and they lost their oldest son, my Uncle Dave, in the Vietnam War. It was also a different time, and the opportunities weren’t the same as today for someone with as significant of needs as my Aunt Meegan had. She was sent away to programs, and as I grew up, she wasn’t around except for holidays and big family events. I didn’t understand, and it bothered me that she wasn’t home. This inspired my passion for helping others, regardless of their disability, to reach their potential. Twenty-four years later, I feel the same and love what I am doing and my students. They inspire me to be better every day.
When you recall your first year of teaching, what memories stand out?
I remember my special education director telling me I was learning by trial under fire. Having to hand-write IEPs and progress reports was the worst.
What advice would you give to a first-year teacher?
Take a breath, list to-do’s, and then prioritize. Start working on the most important and then knock stuff out as you can. You won’t be able to do everything, but you will get to what is important. Finally, ask questions of experienced teachers; they are amazing resources.
What was always written on your report card in middle school?
I often was recognized for good citizenship. And told that I talked too much!
What’s the best compliment anyone could give you?
“Thanks for being there for me.”
In your 24 years of teaching—four of those in AAPS—what’s the most important thing you’ve learned
about teaching? About learning?
I have learned that we can’t do this job alone. The team you have around you can make a difference in how you enjoy your job and how well you can do it. I also learned that learning never stops, even after 24 years, I know I need to learn more to be better than I am today. I also learned that you have to ask questions and, at times, ask for help. This goes back to not being able to do this alone. This is a hard job, but it is rewarding as well.
Describe an average workday.
I am one of the first to arrive in the building. I need some quiet time to prepare for the day. Once the students arrive, there is always something to do. I have to make sure my students eat breakfast and get to where they need to go. Throughout the day, I teach math, ELA, science, and social studies. I start with a mini-lesson, and then we break into centers. The students move through the stations working on the
skills they need to understand and access the curriculum. Behaviors pop up and need to be dealt with. Sometimes I lunch with the students, and other times I take a moment to catch my breath. I work on planning through my prep time, and we finish our lessons for the day. Then my students head home.
If you could know the definitive answer to any one question, what would that question be?
How can I reach every student to access their full potential?
What’s your classroom management strategy?
Less talking, more visuals, anticipate issues, and diffuse them before they become too much of an issue.
Apps you can’t live without: My Kindle app and Audible and Google Drive.
What’s your earliest memory?
Going to my grandparents’ house and baking with my grandmother.
What makes teaching at your school unique?
Forsythe is unique and special because of the staff and students that are there. The special education team and building administration I work with are so special. The support and camaraderie are like no other. Through their support, I can be the best teacher I am meant to be. The students and families I work with also make this an amazing place to work. Before coming to Ann Arbor, I thought I might get out of the teaching profession. However, working at Forsythe makes me realize that I was made for this job.
What is the most rewarding part of teaching?
When a student finally gets something they have been working on. Also, notes from past students or families who thank me for believing in them.
What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher?
That we deserve to be respected for being professionals and experts in what we do. I work hard on learning to be a better teacher and want to reach every student. My day doesn’t end when the students go home. I work on preparing materials and planning lessons beyond the classroom. I know most teachers do this as well, we deserve to be included in the discussion where education policy is being made.
How do you recharge? Spending time with my family, reading books, and trying a new craft.
How do you spend your summers?
I like to travel. Last year, I visited my parents in Florida. Annually my husband and I celebrate our August anniversary by traveling. We love exploring the west side of Michigan and I like when we can find lake-front accommodations. I have taught summer school for a few summers. And this summer, my family will be holding our 100th family reunion on a camping trip.