Profile and photos by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News
Jen Duman and her brother, Dan, grew up in Livonia, the daughter of Sam and Diane Deckard. She started playing the flute in fourth grade, and continued on the flute and piccolo at Churchill High School in Livonia, from which she graduated in 1991. She was in the marching band both in high school and at Albion College, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in French with an elementary education certification.
During the fall semester of her senior year in college, Duman attended the Universite de Grenoble, where she studied French language and literature, and lived with a host family. She became fluent in the language, and traveled throughout Europe that semester.
Right out of college in 1995, Duman began teaching at Pittsfield Elementary. At that time, Pittsfield had a strong 3/4/5 multi-age classroom, and Duman was hired to help start a lower-el multi-age strand. Since then, she has taught various variations on lower-el multiage, as well as straight kindergarten, first and second grades.
Duman has earned a Master of Arts in Teaching from Marygrove College and a master’s degree in elementary reading and literacy from Walden University.
She lives in Pittsfield Township with her husband Bob, daughters, McKenna and Savannah, and their dog, Ringo. Savannah is in fourth grade at Pittsfield, and McKenna went through Pittsfield and is currently in sixth grade at Scarlett.
Why did you become a teacher? I realized in fourth grade that I either wanted to be a professional artist, or work with children. I quickly realized that my artistic talents were more suited toward craft type activities, which I am able to utilize when I teach. In high school, some of my fondest memories were in my child development classes, as well as working in the school pre-school. After school I worked in a neighborhood childcare center, so I knew for a long time that working with young children was my calling.
Why first grade? Young children bring such spirit and spunk into the classroom. This is why I love first grade. It doesn’t matter what kind of a morning I am having, my class greets me daily with a hug, handshake or high five. They have a smile on their faces, and are ready to take on the world. First graders see their teacher as somebody really special, and let them know that daily. First grade is also a major year in which students learn to read and love reading. They make such progress over a year, and I’m lucky to be a part of it.
What makes you well suited for the job? I am a pretty patient, even-keeled person. It takes a lot to flap me, which is good because you never know what each day will bring in the classroom.
What do you now know about teaching that you didn’t know right out of college? I never quite realized what an art there is to teaching. In my college education courses, I assumed that the way I was being taught was “the right way” to teach students. In theory, everything seemed very cut-and-dried. In reality, I have gained quite a repertoire of teaching strategies over the years. What works for one student, or one class doesn’t always work for the next. There is no one size fits all. The art is figuring out what strategies to use, and adapting them when they aren’t working any more. Each child is different.
How has the profession changed since you started teaching? How have students changed? It’s interesting how many things in education come around full circle. Everything old is new again. When I first started teaching, I was using six different math manuals to pick and choose lessons which would be appropriate to help my students achieve mastery. There was no guided reading curriculum, and it was very much “pick and choose what works best for your classroom.” It was sometimes difficult as a new teacher. Today, the math and other parts of the curriculum are very scripted. There is much more of an emphasis on common language, and things being taught with fidelity across the building in order to support student growth. There is less time for independent teacher thinking and activities. It’s not necessarily a bad thing—just very different. In the end, we just want what it best for student growth.
What would be your fantasy career? Honestly, teaching is my fantasy career. There are things about teaching that I think could be improved. For example, less of a focus on standardized testing and data, and more of a focus on the whole child. But overall, I am very lucky to be able to do what I love.
Do you collect anything? I get a little obsessive with Christmas decorating. I try to put a tree of some sort in every room of the house, so I’m always looking for new ornaments. I love putting up the ornaments, and remembering where I got them or who I got them from.
At what every day thing do you excel, and what’s your secret? Thanks to Google apps, I’m pretty good at keeping my family running smoothly. I schedule all events, meals, etc. in google calendar, because if I have to keep it all in my head, it would be a disaster. I’m a big list maker to keep organized, so Google Keep helps a lot with that.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget do you find indispensible? My Ladybug document camera – I’m still learning all the things I can do with it
What’s your best timesaving tip? I get to school pretty early, usually between 7 and 7:30, so my mornings need to be pretty streamlined. I put anything I need for school the next day in my car the night before—if possible—as well as pack my lunch, lay out clothes, and get dinner ready for the next day. Crockpot meals are a big go-to in our house, and I often batch cook a bunch of freezer meals that I can pop in the crockpot in the mornings. I’m lucky that my husband is able to get the girls off to school so I can get in early. Early morning work time is much more productive for me than after school.
Favorite vacation spot: Every summer, the Monday after school is out, my family travels to Traverse City with my parents. We go to the Sleeping Bear Dunes, Fishtown, wineries, and generally just relax. It forces me to shut down my classroom on-time, and not stretch it out over the summer. It also gives my summer a jump-start. It may not be the most exotic place I have traveled, but it holds many fond memories for me.
Favorite Ann Arbor hangouts:
- Café Felix
- Movies at the Michigan Theater
- The summer reading game at the AADL (not really a hangout – but provides a variety of places to explore)
Recurring bad dream: I used to have a recurring dream about being really late for work, and then getting fired for it. For the first 20 years of my career, I was driving down 23 from Whitmore Lake, so being late was an anxiety of mine. Luckily in 20-plus years, I have only been late once, due to an accident on 23. Now that we moved into the AAPS district, and I live less than 10 minutes from Pittsfield, I don’t have it any more.
What are your top three tips for new teachers?
Tip 1: Be flexible. You never know when your daily plans will change, it’s important to be able to roll with it. Whether there is a missing sub, an assembly canceled, a parent shows up with a birthday treat, or just an impromptu teachable moment…it’s so important to be flexible with your day and your students. It also shows students a very important lifeskill – so students don’t fall apart when things suddenly change. Sometimes the best lessons are unscripted, and come together based on a change in your plans.
Tip 2: Do your best to balance your professional and personal life. My first year of teaching I spent every night at school planning until 8 or 9 at night. The custodian would often bring me dinner, and tell me to take a break. One weekend, security came to the building because I had been there so long, they thought I forgot to call out. It was one of the most challenging years of my life, as I was second-guessing everything I did, and not taking the time for myself. Over time I have learned to set a time limit on my planning, and then so something with family or friends. It enables me to be fully present in my personal life, and I am more refreshed in my teaching.
Tip 3: Always keep learning. Education is constantly changing – students and society are constantly changing. It is important not to stagnate. Push out of your comfort zone, try something new. Especially as you gain experience, it would be easy to fall back upon the way you have always done things. It’s important to push yourself, and continue to grow.
What was the most rewarding experience of the past school year? It has been really rewarding this year being a Lighthouse teacher at Pittsfield. I’ve been learning to use various online tools and strategies to differentiate my instruction in the classroom. Students have been using SeeSaw in the classroom to document their learning, as a sort of digital portfolio. Students are excited to share what they are learning, and show what they know online. It also helps strengthen the home-school connection, as parents have access to their student’s work.
It is amazing to see how quickly students learn to use technology in such a meaningful way. They are often teaching me as we learn together.
What doesn’t the general public understand about a day in the life of an AAPS teacher? I don’t know if it’s that the public doesn’t understand, but more the public sometimes gets a skewed perception of teachers. I have met many amazing teachers over the years, very few of whom didn’t give their all. In our current climate, more and more is being asked of teachers. While your child is in our care, we are teaching them, nurturing them, keeping them safe, nourishing them, creating personalized learning plans for them, and the list goes on. It can be very disheartening to read negative comments about teachers and our schools in the media and on the internet. We love our jobs, we wouldn’t do them if we didn’t. We love your kids, and we want them to succeed as much as you do! So if you have an issue with something happening in your child’s classroom, come to us. That’s what we are here for. If you have a concern with the education system, lobby for change, make your voice heard. Together, we can make a difference.