NEA Foundation Grantee Dwayne Dahlbeck shares how he went from slacker to educator in new “Lessons Learned” Q&A
Tell us about your plans for your NEA Foundation grant project.
I teach in an Alternatives Program, and we plan to use the grant money to purchase desktop computers. These computers will allow us to continue to expand our Dual Enrollment Program. Our students who qualify take online courses from local community colleges. These courses give them a feel for what will be expected from them in college and are a great opportunity for credit recovery. Many students who end up in our program have struggled or failed in the traditional classroom and Dual Enrollment gives us one more option for them. We have exhausted the technology available in the school, and I would hate to deny a student this opportunity because of something as small as a lack of computers. This grant will ensure that we can continue to offer this exciting and rewarding opportunity to as many students as possible.
How do you think your NEA Foundation grant project will help your students?
Dual Enrollment has been amazing for our students. They take great pride in qualifying for and completing college level classes, when at one time they were struggling to pass their classes at the high school. Students have cited it as a reason to join or stay in the Alternatives Program, and others have said it has motivated them in all of their classes to do well in order to qualify or be considered. Dual Enrollment has really changed the entire tenor of our program, and it would not be possible without additional support.
Why did you start teaching?
When I was in high school, I was a slacker— one of those kids whose parents heard the same things at every parent conference. "If he would just apply himself … " and "he has a lot of potential.” There were only two teachers who really got through to me. Mr. Bronski, my eight grade English Language Arts (ELA) teacher at Boston Latin School, taught with an enthusiasm and sense of humor unheard of from a man his age. Mr. Berger, my junior-year Spanish teacher, did not accept anything less than my best, and, during my senior year, regularly checked in on me, even though I was no longer his student. These two men made me want to make a difference in the lives of students by becoming a teacher.
Photo by Flickr user leafar
What is your passion— in or outside the classroom?
One passion that I have is journalism. When I attended Northeastern, I worked part time in the sports department of the Boston Globe. I covered high school sports and loved every second of it. One of the bigger thrills of my life was when I convinced my boss to let me take the lead on our girls' hockey coverage and work on the weekly “top ten.” I was also able to cover Boston Public Schools, which was great because there is so much negativity around them sometimes. As a Boston resident, I loved going to the [John D. O'Bryant School of Math & Science] for a basketball game or to Hyde Park for some football. I even got to cover the Boston Latin vs. Boston English Thanksgiving game a couple of times, which was a thrill.
I am also passionate about teaching students to question the world around them and look at things in a new way. Too many students want answers handed to them. I like to make them think, not just regurgitate.
Describe an “a-ha” moment, when you or your students (or both) have experienced a transformation in your thinking or learning.
I took a class at University of Massachusetts Boston called, "Teaching Writing K-12," and the professors really opened my eyes to the ways that I teach writing. They forced me to look at what I wanted as an outcome from each assignment, and that really there is no such thing as bad writing. The use of personal writings and journals in my own classroom has allowed my students to explore their own lives, while also working on their writing skills.
Featured NEA Foundation grantee Dwayne Dahlbeck teaches English Language Arts (ELA) at Braintree High School in Braintree, MA. Find more information about how to apply for a grant and how to support this program.