Donnie Dicus Education, Elementary, Life in the Classroom, Love

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One of the things I wish I could do more is to be able to share the stories about the most important part of my profession; my students. Due to ethical and legal issues, I have to be very careful about what I share. I do have a story about one of my students that I couldn’t resist.

When I showed up at my school late July, I ran to the office to get my class list so I could begin learning my new students. I poured over that list reading the names, and trying to put faces to each one. Every spring as I begin to send my kids up to the next grade level, I begin to pay more attention to the upcoming kids as they move around our school. As I looked over my list, I saw one name that I was not looking forward to; Tyler. Tyler was a student in 2nd grade that was constantly in trouble for something. I was never privy to all of the details because it was not ethical for me to be in the loop at that time. However, I did know that the police had been to his classroom on more than one occasion. (I still can’t wrap my head around what would cause the police to come manage a second grader!?) As I looked over my list, my administrator noticed the concern on my face. When I opened up to her, she admitted that Tyler’s placement was deliberate. Her thought was that he needed a positive male role model. I’ve heard this before. Over the years, I have been loaded up with boys and girls who needed that positive male role model. These students are not always the easiest but these students are why I chose to be a male teacher at the primary level. I girded my loins, if you would, and began to prepare for Tyler and welcome him to my classroom.

Knowing Tyler’s history, I decided that it would be best to turn a blind eye to many of his minor offenses. I would let Tyler slide a bit if he was chatting out of turn or if he was out of his seat at a time when it wasn’t necessary. I didn’t want to focus on his negative behavior because I wanted his third grade experience to be different. I chose to limit negative consequences for times when it was absolutely necessary such as fighting or destructive behavior. I am ashamed to admit but even though I hoped for the best, I expected the worst out of Tyler. However, an unexpected thing happened. Tyler showed up at school everyday. He asked to sit in the desk that was closest to me. He stayed in his seat all of the time. When the class was asked to get out a book or a folder, he would quietly follow directions and do what was asked. He would answer questions when called upon and ignore distractions during lessons. My worries and concerns about Tyler at the beginning of the year were completely unfounded. Tyler went from “that kid” who was always in trouble to a role model student.
Even though his behavior improved, his grades were still far below his peers due to the classroom time he missed the previous years. The leadership team at my school helped place him in several intervention classrooms to help close his gap. Starting after Halloween, Tyler began leaving my room for an hour and a half everyday. That’s when the bottom fell out. In my room, Tyler barely called attention to himself. In other rooms, he would act up and argue with the other teachers. Because of this, he would get assigned detentions with our monitors. He would fight with them and then find himself in the principal’s office. He was repeating numerous bad patterns from previous years. After weeks of escalation, my principal finally asked him what he wanted to gain from all of this acting out that he was doing. He screamed at her, “I just want to stay in Mr. Dicus’s room!” When she met with me later and shared this, I got a little teary eyed. We decided that it would be best for Tyler to give him what he wanted. He would stay with me the whole day.

When I think about Tyler, I think about how important the relationships that we form with our students are. Many times, it is not the lesson, the rewards, or the interventions that gets through to students; it is the fact that they know we care. I am so proud of the growth that has happened in Tyler this year and I am so proud that I had a part in his success. Many great things have happened to me this year, but Tyler is one of the proudest achievements in my career. What’s your success story?


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 2

  1. Sandy Merz

    We have an 8th grader who lived in a small border town last year and didn’t attend school. He’s got three or four tats, has done time, lives with his girlfriend, and comes to school about twice a week. When he’s in school he pretty much makes up all his work. He also shares his stories about his girlfriend’s pregnancy test, the guys who jumped him to take his money but he ended up beating them down and taking theirs – he was flashing close to $300 cash that day. He wanted to move into high school, but God knows why, they didn’t let him. So he’s a hero for a lot of our boys for his exploits. That may not seem related to your story, but the element that sometimes it’s best give a student want for the overall is what they have in common. My student could easily handle freshman work. He’s probably responsible enough that he could take a lot of classes online. But here he is stuck in 8th grade, which doesn’t really work for anyone.

  2. Jordan Segal

    What a heart-warming story! I’m so glad that you could make a difference in this child’s life, and that you believed in him when other teachers didn’t. The only thing I would worry about is how he will adapt to different learning environments in the future. I remember in middle school, there was this one kid in my class who was very disruptive. He was always in time-out or the principal’s office. One teacher finally seemed to break through to him, though. She really motivated him to try to better his behavior. However, other teachers didn’t “get” him or how to handle him. He ended up getting kicked out of school. I wonder how we could make teaching methods like yours more universal, so children aren’t misunderstood at school.

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