First-Year Teacher: Makail Dugan

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Makail Dugan with her students
IU freshmen aren’t the only ones starting a new adventure this semester – recent School of Education graduates also began their journeys as first-year teachers. We will be profiling these alumni as they begin a career of changing lives through teaching. This profile is written by Makail Dugan, a first grade teacher at KIPP Texas public schools in Austin, TX.

I was so excited to be able to get into my classroom and begin teaching. IU School of Education made me feel like I was extremely prepared and ready to begin this journey. After graduating I got many job offers, which was so exciting. My life took a turn, and I ended up in Austin, Texas where I got a job offer at KIPP Texas public schools to teach first grade. I was excited but the school demographic was different than what I was used to. The school is 98% Latino and the other 2% is a mix of different students. I doubted myself and how I would connect with my students being from a different state as well as a different culture. Thankfully the School of Education prepared me to be courageous and embrace the cultures in my classroom. They emphasized being proud of our culture, and I wanted that for my students as well. I took EDUC-E 300 Elementary Education for Pluralistic Society when at the School of Education. It focused on different ethnicities and diverse cultures that you could experience in your classroom and how to incorporate them in your classroom. I have used that to make sure I am making my students feel safe and at home in my classroom. I also make it a point to let my students know I want to know their cultures and what makes them individually different. Different is always good in my classroom!

Starting my first year was very scary but it has turned out to be so much fun. My students love music as much as I do and enjoy learning new things together. I do my best to make sure every one of my students feel important and love being at school with me every day. We are both new and we are growing together in different ways. One thing that I found difficult was assessing kids’ reading abilities by listening to them read and taking notes on items like pronunciation and fluency. It was surprising the amount of work that went along with that, learning how to get this done on time, wondering, “Will I get in trouble if I don’t turn this in on time?” Kids’ reading assessments are turned in on time but not always easily; hopefully that won’t be as overwhelming next year. Reading/language arts was my minor, so I am experienced in RTI, but with English not being their first language, reading and site words can be a struggle. It is slowly coming together, and my students still LOVE reading.

As a teacher, you have this unique ability to help shape students and the future, and I wanted to become a teacher because I wanted to be part of the change. I want to be a person who students can see as safe and supportive, a person who sees their ability and believes in them. I strive to see the whole child in his or her learning process, and my goal is to create a safe space where students can be themselves and take risks in their learning. I hope to empower them with strategies and help them develop a desire to learn.

It is humbling to watch students grow and transform. They truly show you what is possible with determination and the right support. I find myself leaving school with a smile often, thinking back on their “lightbulb” moments or even just their jokes, and being honored by the connections we have made. One quote that I heard is, “Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” You have to get to know them as people so that they realize that you’re invested in them. And students, knowing that someone cares about them, will try harder to live up to their own capabilities.

One of the ways I foster deeper relationships with students is by listening. I don’t think kids are used to somebody listening to them fully but it’s something that they want. I also get over-the-top excited when I see students for the first time each day. And I find something positive to say about them when they are doing not-so-positive things, so they can think about if the way they are acting is who they really are. Students are still developing people and, as a teacher, I can help them become the best version of themselves.

Tips for future first-year teachers:

  • Take charge: Having a clear discipline plan set up, with both rewards and consequences. Explain it to the kids on day 1, and review throughout the first week. In addition, I'm very glad that I sent home a copy of the discipline plan. I asked parents to read it with their child and for parents and children to sign and return a contract stating that they agreed to the rules. This has come in handy a few times.
  • Keep students busy and engaged: I have one big piece of advice for first-year teachers: Before the first day of school, have plenty of activities prepared for emergency use. I learned the hard way that kids will misbehave if they have nothing to do. A class full of bored kids won't all sit quietly for ten minutes waiting for you to figure out what is next.
  • Get peer support: My biggest goal was to get a mentor, or at least a peer teacher. I have made a good friend whom I can go to for advice.
  • Get parental support: Use your parents as much as you can. Every time I needed supplies for a celebration, I just sent a note home asking for donations. Every time, the parents came through.
  • Organize yourself: Find an organization system that you can live and work with and stick with it. With 20 plus students, it's crucial that you stay organized!
  • Organize your students: Don't assume they know how to organize themselves, because they don't. Show them how to organize their notebooks and folders. Show them exactly what you want on their papers and homework.
  • Write and reflect: Start keeping a professional journal. After the course of the year, this journal will allow you to reflect on your professional practices and to witness what is probably going to be enormous personal growth.
  • Have fun: Do your best and have fun doing it. Once I finally relaxed, I had a blast!