Talking with the Teacher of the Year: Meredith Dadigan

September 21, 2011

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One of the most fun and rewarding parts of our work at CCSA is shining a spotlight on outstanding individuals from the charter community. Every year, we honor several individuals with Hart Vision Awards, which are given out at the annual California Charter Schools Conference. CCSA is now accepting nominations for 2012 Hart Vision Teacher and Volunteer of the Year. Do you know an amazing teacher or volunteer? Nominate them! The deadline to submit a nomination is Friday, October 28, 2011.

We recently took advantage of the summer break to squeeze in a few minutes with Meredith Dadigan, the 2011 Hart Vision Teacher of the Year. Dadigan is an elementary school teacher at Aspire Titan Academy in Los Angeles, one of 30 Aspire schools throughout California. She started her career teaching in Catholic schools in Boston, then teaching at an Aspire school in Oakland before becoming part of the founding team at Aspire Titan.

How did you get into teaching?

I was a rare case. I always hear about people who had another career and later decided to become teachers, but I always wanted to be a teacher since I was very little. I worked for a nursery in high school, was a babysitter and worked at summer camps. I was first drawn to teaching because I loved kids, then when I was in college, I saw all the injustices that were happening in school systems and that deepened my commitment to changing things in our urban schools. I want to be a part of the change.

What was it like in your first years as a teacher?

The first two years of teaching, I remember crying multiple times throughout the year. As a teacher, you are so many things to your class, you're the mom, the counselor, the therapist. It's hard when you don't have all the experience you should have and these children with such great needs. It's important to be reflective about your teaching. You need to think, 'I'm going to do something differently, because I didn't do it well enough yesterday.'

How did you end up working for Aspire?

At the Catholic school where I was teaching in Boston, I kind of felt like an island. There were a few other teachers that had the same mission, but I wanted to be part of a community where everyone had the same mission and the same high expectation for kids. I was looking for a school that was innovating and trying new things. I think I seriously might have Googled something like 'great inner city schools.' I found Aspire, went to visit and kind of fell in love with it. I really didn't know much about charter schools - I knew what I was looking for and happened to find it in a charter school.

Aspire Berkley Maynard in Oakland was a great fit for me and I was really torn when I was invited to come to Los Angeles to help open Aspire Titan. It was the best decision I made - it was so amazing to work with families and kids who weren't used to Aspire and charter schools and to see the progress the students made and the impact. It makes me want to continue to start schools.

What advice do you have for someone considering teaching?

Ask yourself: Why do you want to become a teacher? You should become a teacher for the right reasons - not because you think it is easy or want to have summers off. Teaching brings new challenges each and every school year, but it is so rewarding. Also, it's important to find a school that fits well with your beliefs and philosophy of education - where you feel like people are on the same page as you.

What changes would you like to see in our public education system?

Because of the state budget situations, schools haven't been able to cater to the whole child. At Titan Academy, we don't only focus on the academics - kids also need to be fed emotionally. Also, it's so important to teach kids to think critically.

Standardized testing is a reality - it's not going away. At the same time, you have to teach beyond the test, so your students know they can tackle any problem they encounter. I truly believe that if you are teaching conceptually and teaching critical thinking, your students will do well on any test.

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