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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Ask an Alum: Don Dumas ’10, ’16

SDSU alumnus Don Dumas

Don Dumas ’10, ’16 holds a few different titles at Bonita Vista High School. The graduate of SDSU’s single-subject teacher credential program and Master’s in Teaching Online Program is a history teacher, a varsity boys’ basketball coach and — as of two months ago — Teacher of the Year in Sweetwater Union High School District. We recently sat down with Don to discuss his path from a disaffected high school student to a mentor who inspires young people every day.

What was your reaction to being named your district’s teacher of the year? 

"It was very gratifying. You kind of get caught in the grind of teaching: you're making lessons, you're teaching, you're working with kids. When I was presented with this award — first at my site and then for the district — it was kind of out of the blue. It felt like almost an award for the hard work of nine years, not just the one."

What are the most rewarding parts of being the teacher?

"Without a doubt, the most rewarding part is when students — whether they are current students or former students — let you know how impactful you've been. I'm very grateful to receive this award, but when a kid comes and says, 'You really changed my life,' that's the absolute best reward ever."

We're losing a lot of our kids because they're not being empowered in school. I wanted to try to change that in my little world, 150 students per year.

Are there any specific instances you can share?

“I had a student at Mar Vista High School. He told me that everyone had always said that he wouldn't amount to anything and that he was going to be a failure, and because of that he never really tried. But I convinced him to try to do something positive in his academic year. A year later in the spring, he comes running into my classroom all excited and said, 'Mr. Dumas, I've been accepted into Long Beach State — I'm going to college and it's all because of you.' I could have cried a river right there."

What's the biggest thing you try to impart on your students?

"I tell them that it's OK to be a little confused or otherwise unsure about what you want to do with your life. Don't make the mistake of thinking that you've got to have it all figured out, because nobody at that age really does. And don't ever think that you don't belong at the university. Whether you're going Ivy League, UC, CSU ... you belong there. And you deserve the best life has to offer as long as you're willing to work there."

How do you make them believe it?

"It's about relationships, and that's what I think my strongest suit is. My students know that I care about them and take interest in them and check up on them constantly. That's how I'm able to get those breakthroughs with kids. They know I'm authentic and that I care."

What made you want to teach?

"I realized that history can empower people; it empowered me. As I started learning about so many figures in history and the obstacles they overcame, I started feeling inspired. When I was in high school I had a terrible experience. I wasn't on the college track, I didn't feel like my teachers respected my intelligence and I felt alienated. So when I learned that history could empower people, I decided that I wanted to do that for people who were like me in high school. The people who were floating by and nobody seems to care. We're losing a lot of our kids because they're not being empowered in school. I wanted to try to change that in my little world, 150 students per year."

How did your COE experience impact you?

"I learned the importance of really listening to students and making sure that they have their own authentic voice in the classroom. You've got to let them be themselves — don't try to make kids conform to whatever you think success might be. Let students come in, be themselves and share their experiences. You can learn a lot from kids and the kids can learn a lot from each other."

Do you have any advice for future educators currently in COE programs?

"Whatever passion you had that made you want to enroll in the College of Education, you've got to keep that. Don't let them steal that from you in the first couple of years in the profession, because that can happen. It’s great to go in trying to change your campus with these lofty ideas, just know that when it doesn't happen like that you can't get frustrated. You've got to stay true to your own principles and your own philosophy and remember why you wanted to enter this profession."