Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/1130rodeldunne30.html

No-nonsense classroom gets results
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 30, 2003
Pat Kossan
12:00 AM

Parents appreciate practical lessons

Editor's note: The Arizona Republic is profiling the 10 winners of the 2004 Rodel Teacher Initiative. The program gives $10,000 Savings Bonds to teachers in low-income schools who will mentor an outstanding Arizona State University student teacher.

Educators spend a lot of time debating what makes a quality teacher.

Principals have known for years: It's the teacher every parent requests for his or her child.

Count among that select group Andrea Dunne at Mesa's Holmes Elementary, where most students come from poor families and many have limited English skills. She has been named one of 10 exemplary teachers in the 2004 Rodel Teacher Initiative.

Dunne, who has taught for 23 years, runs a no-nonsense classroom where kids are happy and make obvious progress in reading, writing and math.

When it comes to helping kids  learn, the painfully shy Dunne doesn't hesitate to call herself a natural.

Since she was a teen baby-sitter, Dunne knew how to teach a child to play a board game: Introduce the subject, check for understanding, review the material. Dunne gets a kick out of the science of how kids learn and then watches it work in front of her eyes, be it teaching a student to read or teaching him or her to pay attention. "It's like being an artist or a seamstress, you're just good at it," Dunne said.

Dunne faces 27 kids every day. One student speaks only Spanish; a third of the students are struggling with English. She has something up her sleeve for each one, every day, in every lesson. One of her secrets is to ensure that each child, no matter how far behind, can be praised for one success. If a child can't yet multiply, at least he can show off by counting by twos or fives. It's a step, Dunne said. "You have to find out what they can do," Dunne said, "and then go there."

She also stays in close contact with parents, parents she has just met and those who have sent a stream of kids through her class. Parents don't come back because she coddles them. They come back because she is straight-talking and practical. Dunne tells them she expects parents to keep up with their children's lessons and work on homework each night. "I tell them if they don't, they're jeopardizing their own child's education," Dunne said. "I ask them, 'Do you want your child to grow up and have choices?' "

She doesn't accept the excuse that parents have little time, money or capacity to help their kids through school. Dunne raised two children as a single parent while she worked and went to school.

Here are some of the tips she tell parents to do, whether they speak English or Spanish:

When you're in the car, review spelling words with your child.

Ask your child to count the change in your purse.

Get them a watch and regularly ask them the time.

Take them to the grocery store and ask them the price of a can of soup. Then ask them how much it will cost for three cans.

When kids don't take their learning seriously, Dunne has no warm and fuzzy answer. She asks them if they understand how hard their parents work for money and if they understand that their parents pay her to teach them. "I tell them if they don't pay attention, it's like taking $20 out of their mother's purse and tearing it up in tiny pieces," she said.

She isn't happy about the latest round of government intrusion into her classroom. It's her job to diagnose each child and determine the best lesson plan for that student. What works one year changes the next year because the children change, Dunne said. Now, new state and federal rules often assume one size fits all.

"That's like saying every 18-year-old should fit equally into the same size dress," Dunne said. "Sometimes, I feel as if I'm trying to put a Size 7 on a Size 11 person."

Reach the reporter at pat.kossan@arizonarepublic.com.