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What’s it like to be a new teacher in Michigan today?

Obay Dabaja, Allison Vernon and, Keisha Dukes
Mercedes Mejia
Michigan Radio
New teachers Obay Dabaja, Allison Vernon and, Keisha Dukes discuss the obstacles they face as new teachers.

Enrollment in teacher preparation programs is down in Michigan. Fewer people are choosing to become teachers. There have also been reports in the last few years that some of the state’s newest teachers aren’t sticking around.

Three new teachers sat down with Stateside’s Lester Graham to discuss the challenges, and rewards, of teaching in Michigan.

Oday Dabaja teaches Language Arts at Fordson High School in Dearborn, Keisha Dukes is a special education teacher at Erickson Elementary School in Ypsilanti, and Allison Vernon is an elementary music teacher at University Hills Elementary School in Rochester.

See highlights of their conversation below, or listen to the full interview above.

On becoming a teacher

Oday Dabaja: "I recalled how my teachers made me feel in my classrooms. This was through high school, through college as well. And I thought to myself, I could hold that position that they held at the head of the classroom. And if I could make one of my students feel the same way that I did in my classroom, I feel like it would be worth it. It would be a job that I’d be excited to go to everyday."

On the harsh reality of teaching

Keisha Dukes: "My particular experiences with dealing with children with behavior disorders, they’ve had some type of trauma early on that impacts their ability to learn and function in a typical general ed setting. And my idea going into it was ‘I’m gonna get in there, and I’m gonna love them, and they’ll be able to learn, and they’re gonna relate to me,’ things like that. And I was not ready. At all."

[Lester Graham: What happened?]

"In my student teaching experience, I was more of the observer, and I was assisting these professionals, so to speak. And when I got in there, and I saw behaviors escalated to the point where the children were volatile and calling names to me directly and not to the other teacher. I didn’t have to intervene in any way before, now I’m the person who’s taking the brunt of all of this."

Allison Vernon: "There’s no college class that can prepare you for that."

On needing a support system.

Allison: "Last year, I taught in a very small district on the east side of Michigan. Struggling kids, struggling families, struggling school district. And I learned a lot about myself. I left last year in the summer thinking I not gonna be a teacher again.

"It's a lot more lonely than I thought it would be." - Oday Dabaja on his first year of teaching

I was beaten down, I was discouraged. The kids I were working with needed so much more than I was able to give them, and I needed support. I had very little support.

Teaching can be very lonely. You can feel very isolated, and if you don’t have a support system behind you, if your principal isn’t behind you, if your colleagues aren’t behind you, you go to work everyday feeling like, ‘Why am I doing this?’ It’s too hard to go in and not be supported. Because the kids need you, and you need people behind you. You need people to help you."

On the public perception of teaching

Allison: "I think part of what people miss when they say, ‘Oh you just have to go in and teach a lesson,' they’re missing the fact that we’re not just teaching the kids English, we’re not just teaching them music or math. We’re teaching them how to be people. And that takes so much more time and love and energy."

On the biggest obstacles to success for new teachers in Michigan

Allison: "I think we need support from our administrators, and we need support from our communities, too. A lot of our job happens within the community. And so if we don’t feel supported from the community, from the district, from the state… I think it becomes harder to do our job."

Keisha: "There’s a lot of demands and expectations that are placed on us as new teachers. Standardized tests and evaluations that are met based on what the students’ scores are. And parental support is equally as important as a teacher’s job. We need that support from the parents."

On what makes a good day

Oday: "I approach it like a five-game series, if we’re talking sports, where I don’t have to sweep the week, I just gotta win three out of five. And there are some days where I walk thinking, ‘Yeah, today was a good day.’

[The kids] are on task, and they walk out and I can tell from their responses that they’ve got it. And then you also get that social interaction, if you build those blocks. And I think that’s what makes it a good day."

Keisha: "For me, I think, when I’m working one-on-one with a student that has been struggling for so long, and I see a light bulb go off. Even if it’s just one student. If I know that there was something that clicked, that wasn’t clicking for them before, that was a good day for me."

Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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