Liberty Traditional School seventh grade language arts teacher Sara Dawson has a secret to teaching students who are more interested in socializing than opening books.
Do what the Greek philosopher Socrates did 1,600 or so years ago: Let them talk.
Dawson, who was named teacher of the year for sixth through eighth grades last month by the Yavapai County Education Foundation, said middle school students love to talk and socialize, so she emphasizes Socratic seminars and heavy discussions.
“Then they’re more willing to do the writing and the reading so they can have those heavy duty discussions,” Dawson said.
This is Dawson’s 15th year as a teacher having taught in Phoenix and some private schools before teaching at Liberty. She said she enjoys the interaction she has with the children, having a rapport with them and seeing them grow.
“When they come in, they aren’t really excited to write heavy duty papers or read novels. I think that we do some really great things in the classroom and I push them really hard,” Dawson said. “I care so much about them that they want to work hard. That’s absolutely rewarding.”
Building that rapport takes time, though, Dawson said. However the bottom line is that the kids will do what’s required of them if they feel that she cares about them, she said. The kids may not want to write those big papers, but they’ll do it as they feel that their best interests are at heart.
Her efforts have impressed her coworkers.
Dawson is one of the most charismatic, passionate teachers that sixth grade social studies and science teacher Cristina Poeppel said she has ever met. Dawson puts kids at the forefront of everything she does and is an advocate for teachers as well, Poeppel said.
Poeppel sees Dawson as an inspiration herself.
“I think it’s her love for children and no matter what’s going on politically, she always puts children first and she cares about each and every child so each child feels important to her, each child feels that she cares,” Poeppel said. “That’s rubbed off on me.”
Going forward, Dawson has the goal of cutting down on standardized testing and remembering to focus on the human beings in the classroom rather than test scores.
“I believe that standardized testing takes rigor out of education because it’s a really strong focus on recall and does not allow for the heavy discussions and the writing that you do,” Dawson said, noting the importance of standing for something as well as not forgetting “that our role is to help these kids be prepared for society and standardized testing negates that.”
Sounds like something Socrates might have said.
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