As the first day of school kicks off today, Richardson ISD will welcome more than 400 new teachers, including five who graduated together in Lake Highlands High School’s Class of 2012.
Jordan Inman will teach first grade at Northlake Elementary, Megan Thompson will teach sixth grade at Aikin Elementary, Chandler McAlister will teach fifth grade at Spring Valley Elementary, Kate Dodgen will teach Algebra and Math Models at Richardson High and Allie Heath will teach Algebra and Geometry, also at Richardson High.
All say they have looked forward to this day since they became students themselves, and they understand their kids (and perhaps even some parents) may be a little anxious.
“I am sure that my students are nervous about the first day,” says Thompson. ”Starting something new, with new teachers, and new expectations can be scary. I am facing some of those same nerves. I hope to put the kids and their parents at ease by emphasizing that my main focus is on the students and their growth. Once they get more comfortable in their surroundings, and in their abilities with my support, I think those fears will subside.”
“I am so excited to meet my students and to start building relationships with them,” says McAlister. “I find relationships to be so important in the classroom. I know we are going to have a great year. My students are probably looking forward to seeing their friends again. I am sure they are curious about me as well.”
“I am excited to set a welcoming and family-based environment in my classroom where my students know every time they walk in the door that they are known, loved, and valued,” says Inman. “First grade is a big transition year where reading begins to become even more of a focal point of education. Many of my students may not come from English speaking homes where reading is practiced a lot. I know that many of my students and their families may be worried about their reading skills being behind others. I will remind the parents on Meet the Teacher Night that my goal for the year is individual growth in each student. I will ask parents to come alongside me in encouraging their children to practice and that they are capable of growth.”
Dodgen and Heath, dubbed by veteran teachers at RHS as “the twins,” face issues slightly different from their elementary-teaching counterparts.
“I think some freshman will be nervous about being in a new, bigger building and being the youngest students there,” says Heath. “Some students and parents may also be nervous about Algebra in general. To help them not worry, I will provide many resources to help them best succeed. I feel like freshman year is a very exciting time for students to be able to explore all the different clubs and ways to get involved at the school.”
“I think that when many people hear the word math,” agrees Dodgen, “they automatically stop paying attention because they ‘were never good at math’ or just ‘don’t get math.’ So many students come in with a negative mindset surrounding math and I want them to know that when they come into my classroom that they are in a safe place where they can make mistakes because how else are we supposed to learn? They can indeed succeed in math as long as they try.”
Though the five don’t all teach the same subjects at the same schools, they agree on one thing – returning to RISD was an easy decision.
“When I graduated in 2012 I knew I wanted to come back,” says McAlister. “I’ve spent a lot of time in other districts over my four years in college and I can honestly say that there is no other district like RISD. This district made me who I am today. They fostered my passion for teaching in the ETI [Early Teaching Internship] program in high school. They taught me so many life lessons and gave me so many experiences. Now that I am back, I couldn’t imagine going anywhere else.”
“My mother, Beth Heath, has worked In RISD at Moss Haven Elementary for 30 years, and is still going,” says Heath. ”I have grown up, not only going through RISD schools, but also watching my mother prepare her classroom and teach her students. Seeing students visit her years after she has taught them and say that she was one of their favorite teachers is always a joy to see. I hope to make an impact on students as much as she has. My mom has loved working in this district, which made it very easy for me to make the decision that I wanted to come back to RISD.”
“RISD is an incredible district that seeks growth with every student, faculty member, and the schools as a whole,” says Inman, whose mom, Susan, also works for RISD. “RISD encourages teachers to make their students feel known and valued, which is a core value of mine. Overall, RISD aligns with my viewpoints on educating each individual student. Another reason I returned to RISD, specifically Lake Highlands, is the community does an excellent job of supporting one another. I have already seen this as multiple people have supported me in offering supplies, resources, advice, and encouragement. I am excited to be back in a community that shaped me.”
“I wanted to return to RISD because it is home,” says Thompson. “I had an amazing experience in this district and in the Lake Highlands area. I am honored to get the opportunity to provide students the same amazing experience. I also highly value the sense of diversity and inclusion that RISD embodies.”
“After seeing many different districts in two different states, none of them were quite like RISD,” says Dodgen. “RISD has the family feel that some districts struggle to have, and it will always be where I grew up. There is just so much support and everyone wants you to succeed. It really is an incredibly positive atmosphere and just felt like the right fit.”
Dodgen also credits LHHS 2010 grad Megan Hancock, by now an RHS teaching oldtimer, for mentoring her.
“Megan has been extremely helpful in the transition to being a teacher, but also in the transition to being an Eagle. She has continuously gone above and beyond in showing support.”
Dodgen’s former Forest Meadow Junior High principal, Charles Bruner – now her boss at Richardson High – has helped her, too.
“I think the best advice that I have gotten has been to build relationships with the students. As Mr. Bruner always says, ‘You can’t reach their minds until you reach their hearts.’”
RISD Superintendent Dr. Jeannie Stone is celebrating the district’s choice to welcome homegrown talent back to the fold.
“I spent time with new teachers last week,” says Dr. Stone, “and I love to share in their excitement for the start of a new school year. I welcomed them all to our Welcome Week last Monday morning in the Berkner auditorium, and I asked for a show of hands of RISD graduates and hands went up everywhere. I’ll tell you some of what I told them. There is nothing better than to have RISD graduates return home to teach for us. They are the very best hires because they innately understand the rich traditions, expectations and the greatness of the district. Having graduated from RISD, they have a foundation that puts them at the head of their new teacher peers. Our greatest hope is that all RISD grads who pursue teaching will return home and find a place in an RISD school. We want them all back with us teaching in our classrooms.”
Some of the emailed answers were slightly edited for brevity or clarity.