Dream Big

Donnie Dicus Uncategorized

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Do you ever find yourself day dreaming about the “perfect” school that you would like to work at? How would that school be different from the one that you are currently teaching? I have spent many hours laying in bed or driving in the car imagining how I would change things if I didn’t have to factor in budget, money or schedules. My school would be much different!

First of all, I would change the schedule. I do not find this 9 month schedule to be very useful in our current day and age. I don’t understand the necessity for students to have 9 weeks off or teachers to have 3 weeks. Many of our students, especially the lower ones with the most need, digress over the summer and return to school with less ability than the previous year. With a 12 month schedule, we can maintain structure, growth, and progress for our students. Teachers will not have to spend the first month of every year reviewing concepts that students learned the year before. This will also give teachers more time to give instruction so students can master standards. Someone asked if we should just reduce standards. That is an option, but I think our standards are pretty important. Teachers just need more time to teach them at a deeper level. It is hard for students to master and retain everything in the short 180-210 school day calendar that most districts offer.

Another factor of the schedule I would change is the length of the school day. Students need time in all disciplines. Too often schools focus too much time on the trinity of math, reading, and writing. Science and social studies are put to the side or completely ignored. My dream schedule would allow an hour and a half each for reading and math and an hour each for writing, science, and social studies. This would most likely change the school day to an 8-5 schedule. I can already hear teachers screaming, “That would never work!” There are a few other things I would change to make this schedule successful.

Changing the length of the school day from 6 hours to nearly 9 would be exhausting for most students. It is impossible for students to spend that much time learning. My dream school would include time for physical activity, play, socialization, and free choice. My schedule would include a 20-30 minute morning and afternoon recess with playground monitors. It would also include an hour for lunch. During lunch, the library and a classroom or work area to serve as a study hall would be open. Students could eat lunch, wander through the library, read a book, or listen to the librarian read a story. Students could also have time to work on independent work or projects. Students could even rest with their heads down and take a nap. In addition to this, students would also get at least 30 minutes a day of physical education and also 30 minutes a day of either art or music.

My dream school would also include a computer lab with a certified teacher preparing lessons for each class. A classroom teacher could bring their class to the computer lab. The computer teacher would teach the class how to use technology and the classroom teacher could apply it or extend it in the classroom. In addition to a computer lab, my dream school would have a science lab with a science teacher. This teacher would plan highly engaging and in depth lessons to teach students important science concepts. Most science lessons require numerous materials and resources which take a lot of time to prepare. A teacher who only focuses on this would be more effective than 30 teachers trying to throw together a science lesson.

My dream schedule has nearly 2 ½ hours a day for a classroom teacher without students. If a teacher takes an hour for lunch, that leaves 90 minutes a day to plan and prepare lessons, analyze student work and to reflect on best practices. My reading, math, writing, and social studies instruction would blow through the roof if I had that much time! My schedule would also allow students to have one day such as Friday off every other week. Teachers would still be expected to work at school. This would be a collaboration and professional development day. Teachers would spend part of the day planning with groups and the other part of the day receiving professional development that is applicable to each teacher. My school would plan professional development based on the needs of my staff so an art teacher may be in a different class than a science teacher.

My dream school would also have coaches in each curriculum area. These coaches would be used to help improve instruction in their respective area. They will help mentor teachers and teach the staff how to be more effective. My dream school would have caps on classes. No class will have more than 20 students. Students will be able to get more attention from teachers. My dream school would also have a copy room employee. It is a waste of time for a teacher to stand in line at a copy machine or to fight with a copy machine to get it to work. A copy room employee could take care of this for teachers so teachers can spend more time preparing instruction.

You can see that my dream school would require a lot more money and a lot more staffing. Salaries for teachers would have to increase since more time is required out of teachers. The trade off would be that teachers would not have to spend as much of their free time grading papers or planning.

As a parent, would you like your child to attend my dream school? As a teacher, would you like to work at my dream school? What would your dream school include?


Donnie Dicus

Tucson, Arizona

My name is Donnie Dicus and I have been teaching in Arizona for 12 years. I came to Arizona from Southern Illinois to attend the University of Arizona in Tucson. I graduated in 2003 and began teaching second grade. I taught second grade in Tucson for 8 years before moving to Phoenix. I now teach third grade. I achieved National Board Certification in 2012 and I received my Master's Degree from Grand Canyon University in 2015. I achieved a National Board Certificate in Middle Childhood Generalist in 2012. I’ve been teaching mainstream and SEI 3rd grade classrooms in the Cartwright School District in Phoenix since 2013. I taught 2nd grade and was a math interventionist in Tucson in the Amphitheater School District. I’ve been a technology coach and have helped teachers apply technology to improve instruction. I facilitate coaching cohorts for teachers going through the National Board process and organize peer groups at my site to pair new teachers with experienced teachers. In 2010 I was nominated as a Rodel Semi-Finalist for Exemplary teaching in 2010 and featured as a Teacher Leader in February 2016 by the Arizona K12 Center. I have class pictures of every single student I have taught behind my desk on my wall. After 12 years, that is approximately 350 students. My students know that this is my Wall of Accomplishments. I am so proud of the difference I made in their lives. I became a teacher to make a difference and I strive to do so every day.

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Comments 8

  1. Jen Robinson

    Donnie you give us a lot to think about. I love that you are thinking outside the box and looking at what is best for students.

  2. Beth Maloney

    Donnie, can I come work at your dream school? I love the idea of the year round school with longer days. But my favorite aspects are the time for teachers away from students. That is the way that other successful countries run their schools with great results. That is what has to happen to have true collaboration occur – not over a 30 minute prep once a week. Count me in!

  3. Sandy Merz

    In my dream school each team of three or four teachers would have their own paraprofessional who would be much more than a teacher’s aide, although aiding teachers would be a big part of their workload. The paraprofessional would help a lot with phoning parents, helping to set up meetings, fill supply requests and copying, but they would also help teachers with students – tutoring them one on one, for example. They could serve as a substitute when a teacher was absent. Paraprofessionals could earn college credit in education for their work and if they so desired could become certified and become full-time teachers. Or, if they were content to do the pp work, they could stay in the position. It seems like an ideal way for a district to grow its own workforce while enabling schools to better complete their responsibilities.

  4. Danielle Brown


    I love dreaming big! The beautiful thing about it, is that sometimes those dreams come true. I love the idea of more planning time, that is built into the day. Even when were are creative with time, we could use more! I also like how you mentioned a pay increase. I am sure no teacher wold argue with that. It’s important to show value for the work people do, it is’t always about money but it is nice.

    The addition of the science lab teacher is so integral in supporting our students. I truly believe it’s one of the subjects they find pleasure in, because it doesn’t necessarily feel like “learning”. Having a dedicated space/ teacher for this would be amazing!

    Let’s keep dreaming big so our dreams can one day become a reality! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Angelia Ebner

    Thank you for sharing your dream Donnie! The idea of shifting the schedule and providing lots of extra curricular opportunities during the day is amazing. So many more kids would benefit from this type of support and would spend a lot less time at home alone. Thank you Donnie.

  6. Christine Porter Marsh

    I’ll work there! I love the idea of changing the calendar. I would add one crucial piece: no classes that are larger than 22 students (for high school). Nice posting. Thanks for sharing your dreams with us.

  7. Nancy Cahill

    Sorry but I can’t agree to 30 min. Art classes! Just as a science teacher needs time to prepare for class, so does the Art instructor. A quality Visual Arts lesson should include 10 – 20 minutes of direct instruction which would cover vocabulary, art history, examples of art from other cultures to provide inspiration or artworks from famous artists, proper use of materials and technique. Instructional time would be followed with 20 – 30 minutes of studio time. Class would be concluded with 5 (dry media) – 10 (wet media) minutes of clean-up. A minimum of 10 -15 minutes between classes would allow the teacher to begin setup for the next class, reflect and make notes on the class that just left. Most Art teachers only see their groups once a week and this reflection time ensures that the next time you see these students, you know exactly where you left off in the previous lesson. Trying to do this at the end of day, after 150 – 200 students have passed through your door, is impossible!

    I love how you’ve broken up the day for your students with physical and mental breaks! Study after study has shown our kids learn better by being able to get up and move during the day. It’s wonderful that you’ve done the same for your teachers, time to recharge and regroup before moving on. Please don’t leave your Special Area teachers out of this time necessity! Today’s rigid block schedule that seems to be all the rage is killing us! Teaching back to back groups that vary in ages/grade levels all day long with few if any breaks, has changed our profession to managing materials rather than teaching children…

  8. Lisa Moberg

    I like the idea of having coaches in every subject area, but one thing I “dream” about changing in the schools- coaches should have a 2-3 year “shelf life,” and then they should go back to the classroom as a teacher. I get a little tired of being “coached” by someone who hasn’t worked with students in years. Yes, they may be in the classroom, observing and co-teaching, but they aren’t in the trenches of the classroom, dealing with everything else.

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