Letting Student Work Lead Yours

The department works to honor Tennessee teachers every day, but we are especially excited to celebrate educators during National Teacher Appreciation Week, May 5-9.

By David Williams

David with his former colleagues at Hillsboro High School

I am deeply grateful for my experience at McMurray (then junior high) in Nashville as a seventh-grade student in Ms. Dobbins Language Arts class.  There was something about the way she was able to connect to her students and their learning that epitomized what an educator should be.  It could have been the fact that we worked really hard, but with a touch of grace she made certain our work was purposeful.

We would frequently write in our journals and by analyzing our writing, she found the most common grammatical mistakes the class was making. Using our work to lead hers, Ms. Dobbins then put together a grammar unit that addressed our mistakes head on. We learned quickly that the details matter and that one day our college professors and future employers would care about the difference between its and it’s. Her instruction was so empowering that for several months I corrected everyone’s grammar: newscasters, celebrities, my siblings, teachers, and my parents (some of these corrections went over better than others).  But, I had learned my grammar and to this day remember the importance of paying attention to these details.

Ms. Dobbins idea was simple: find out where students are in their development by creating a window into their thinking and create a way to press them forward.  Our learning was immediately applicable, and while I am still working on my writing as a graduate student, I am extremely confident in my grammar.

Despite solid instruction in grammar, David (ironically) serves as the department’s state math coordinator.