Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Teacher Feature - Dan Dooher

"Mostly though, I read because reading is awesome," is an important takeaway quotation and a brief introduction to Moorhead English Language Arts teacher Dan Dooher, this week's Featured Teacher on the blog.

 What are you currently reading?
As I often start conversations with this question, I better start this interview by answering it myself. I just read the first book in Faith Erin Hicks' new series The Nameless City. This beautiful graphic novel comes out in April and is bound to be popular with students, especially those students who have enjoyed BONE, Amulet, or Avatar series. I would be remiss if I didn't also mention a book called Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt, which has quickly become one of the most popular books in my classroom this year.

How do you encourage your students to read?
Three Ts can sum my answer up: Text, Time, and Talk. I believe when we provide students access to a rich and current collection of texts they can choose from, time to read those texts and talk about them with their classmates and caring adults, good things happen.

My classroom library of approximately 3,000 books is the heart and soul of our learning environment. 
I start each year by immersing my current students with books that were popular with my former students and books that I have recently read which I think students will enjoy. As the year goes on, my favorite aspect of this investment is seeing students' attitudes and preferences change. Student to student recommendations grow as the year moves forward too, which helps to create a positive and intrinsically motivated reading environment.

Who encouraged you to be a teacher?
I have been blessed to have great teachers and storytellers within my extended family and throughout my traditional schooling experiences. The teachers I remember most hid some of their most important lessons within stories that I still remember to this day. Stories inspire us, help us build empathy, and move us to consider our world from new perspectives. Stories changed everything for me, and it was then that I realized teachers had helped me discover those stories and inspired me to live out my own.

Why do you read?
To paraphrase a C.S. Lewis quote, I read because it reminds me I am not alone. I read to be entertained, to be able to recommend books to people, and to learn more about myself and others. I read because it helps me continue to reflect and learn about the teaching profession.

Mostly though, I read because reading is awesome.

Do any of your writing philosophies/interests translate to your teaching?
I know this: as a student, I improved as a reader and a writer when I set aside time to read and write about that which I was passionate about.

There is this song that's been stuck in my head since I first heard it last year. It's by Brandi Carlile, and it's called, "Wherever is Your Heart."  In a lot of ways, this song encompasses an aspect of my belief about the English Language Arts classroom. The song starts out:

I think it's time we found a way back home
You lose so many things you love as you grow
I missed the days when I was just a kid
My fear became my shadow, I swear it did

Wherever is your heart I call home
Wherever is your heart I call home
Though your feet may take you far from me, I know
Wherever is your heart I call home

For whatever the reason, I think as students make their way through school, they have a tendency to lose their passion for learning. When we, as educators, provide choices that speak to the heart, and support those choices within a structure which allows students to focus on self-improvement, I think we can help young people grow, improve, and hang on to their passions within our teaching context and, more importantly, beyond the time they spend with us. In doing so we, as educators, can meet our students where they are and help them on their journey as learners and young people.

Who inspires you?
I am inspired by my family for their love and support.

I am inspired by my colleagues at Horizon Middle School who work hard each day to give students a positive middle school experience.

Finally, I am inspired by my students and the efforts they make throughout each year. Being a middle school student can be really hard, but it's also a time in which students begin to think more for themselves, about who they are, and what they want to be. It's a privilege to work with these amazing young people, who teach me more than they will ever know.

Dan Dooher (@MisterDReads) believes reading can change everything. He is an eighth grade English Language Arts teacher at Horizon Middle School in Moorhead, Minnesota. Dan is a certified reading specialist and recently completed a Middle Years Programme International Baccalaureate® (IB) Certificate in Teaching & Learning. He also coordinates the RRVWP Fargo-Moorhead Area YAL Book Club for teachers.