I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Dawn Samuel. As a 5th grade teacher, Ms. Samuel has a great opportunity to prepare scholars for what is coming next: Middle School. Samuel was awarded Teacher of the Year for 2014-15, and it is clear that her academic focus, consistent teaching methods and dedication are poured into making each and every one of her students a success.
Messer: Tell me about your teaching history.
Samuel: I was born and raised in Jersey. I started my teaching at Catholic and private schools in the area. After that, I spent 10 years at another charter school. Then I left to be a coach, but I really missed being with kids in the classroom. That is when I came to Challenge Prep, and I’ve been here for 4 years now.
Messer: Fifth grade can be a real transition period in a student’s life. What is great and also challenging about teaching 5th graders?
Samuel: Fifth graders are processing a lot better than before, and as they are learning you see they are able to do more critical thinking. They readily apply what they are learning more at this age. But on the other side, their bodies are changing, and they don’t know what to do with that fact. With those changes taking place, I feel they need a familiar base and as teachers, we provide something consistent and steady in their lives. It’s a challenge, but it’s exciting too.
Messer: What are you trying to prepare them for as they graduate the K-5 school?
Samuel: The biggest thing I encourage is responsibility. I look for ways for students to solve their own problems. I might say to a student, “What can you do to find the answer before you ask your teacher?” I want them to learn this type of independence which they will need as they go farther in school.
Messer: Congratulations on being Teacher of the Year 2014-15. What guiding principles inform your teaching?
Samuel: I’m very consistent with expectations. I want to know each and every one of my students so that I can figure out how to build them up and strengthen them. Our scholars need to be challenged, and I recognize that each and every one may have different levels of achievement in the various subject areas.
Our schedule makes for a long day for the scholars. While are plowing ahead academically, we also offer the chance to do non-academic activities. That is why I lead Boy Scouts and Cheer as well as teaching. These activities help so much because some students don’t excel as much in academics. With the extra activities a scholar can excel in other ways, and they still have a chance to show teachers how I they can be successful.
Messer: What is your favorite thing about being a teacher at Challenge Prep?
Samuel: My favorite thing is walking into my classroom everyday. I love it. I love seeing the students in the morning. Of course, I love my own kids and being at home, but when I’m here, I’m here 100%, and it feels so good.
- Article by Kim Messer, Executive Communications Director