Jennifer Dunn wants her students to know they don’t have to be perfect to achieve success. As a fifth grade teacher at Pharr Elementary and this year’s Gwinnett County Public Schools Teacher of Year, she encourages each of her students to overcome any obstacles that stand in their way and in return, they inspire her as an educator.
“My students remind me to believe in myself. I teach them to do the best that they can at everything they do and they teach and encourage me to be a better teacher,” says Dunn. “I look forward to going into the classroom and seeing my students each day!”
Dunn has conquered hurdles in her own life. She was diagnosed with dyslexia as a teenager and recalls, “When I attended Brookwood High School, it was discovered that I had a learning disability. Today, I take pride in teaching my students about my disability and letting them know that just because I reverse letters and numbers, I can still do anything I put my mind to.”
Although Dunn always thought she would pursue a career in acting, she discovered her passion for math while in high school when exposed to a new way of hands-on learning. Now she uses those visual and hands-on methods to help her students learn and understand math. Plus, as a mother of triplets, she knows that everyone learns differently, so she tries to utilize techniques that will work for each of her students.
“Everything I teach is done with a dance, a song or through a visual aid. I use real life examples to show my students how it will apply to their lives. It helps them remember and gives them reasons why they need to know math,” she says.
She also encourages small group learning through guided math. “As a kid, it can be intimidating to raise your hand in front of your peers and tell the teacher you have a problem. Every day we meet in small groups of about six students and discuss the types of issues each of them may be encountering.”
Since Pharr Elementary’s fifth grade level departmentalizes (dividing the subjects up between two or three teachers), Dunn is experienced with teaching in teams. “This year, I was in a team of two teachers, where I taught 53 students science and math. Next year, I’ll be in a team of three teachers, teaching math three times a day instead of just twice.” This approach to education is both beneficial to the teacher and the students.
“We get the opportunity teach what we’re experts in, while it allows the students to be more responsible because they have to switch classes. It really prepares students for middle school,” Dunn says.
This way of teaching also requires communication and teamwork between the educators, staff and administration. “The biggest thing I want teachers to understand is you can’t do it by yourself. You have to be a team with your fellow teachers to share and support each other. That’s what I love about Pharr – we’re truly a family.”
Humility is another important trait you need to have an as educator. “I think as a teacher you need to be humble to know when to ask for help. It’s important to share ideas with your peers and assist each other’s needs,” she says.
So what’s next for Dunn? She recently received her specialist degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee and was accepted into the class of 2013 Leadership Gwinnett program at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce. “Which I’m very excited about!” she exclaims. But her biggest role for this upcoming year will be that of a mom. “My triplets are starting kindergarten at my school, so I’m pulling back a little to enjoy being a mom.”