Burgess Elementary Teacher Dana Arthur: "I Will Never Leave Burgess"

Burgess Elementary Teacher Dana Arthur: “I Will Never Leave Burgess”

This kindergarten teacher is dedicated to her school, no matter what comes


Dana Arthur


When Burgess kindergarten teacher Dana Arthur began teaching 22 years ago, she bought a house nearby with her husband, Mack, and settled into the neighborhood that would become not only her home but the home of the children and parents who would troop through her classroom. Today she’s woven so deeply into the fabric of Burgess and its neighborhood that she can’t go to Wal-Mart without meeting parents and talking for two to three hours. (“Go get the groceries,” she whispers to her husband as she chats.) This year, five children in her classroom are the offspring of parents she taught when they were in kindergarten there. “Every year that’s happening,” she said.


The academic challenges at Burgess over the years have driven off many teachers, but Mrs. Arthur applauds the tight web of dedicated teachers who remain. They are diligently applying the District’s Targeted Improvement Plan for this “Improvement Required” school. “If you can teach, this is the place to be,” she said.


Communications Specialist Ann Work Goodrich talked to Mrs. Arthur about her strategies with Burgess children, the changes she’s anticipating, and what the future holds. Mrs. Arthur earned her master’s in education in December 2006 and was the Burgess Teacher of the Year in 2016.


Ann: A lot of people have come and gone over the years at Burgess, but for 22 years you have remained. Why?

Dana: I believe these babies deserve to have good teachers as well. I will never leave Burgess. I don’t care what it’s going to take. I think this is what will happen to me: The janitor will come in some evening when I’ve had a heart attack. Just roll me up in the carpet I bought and give it to my husband! If my last breath is here, that will be fine with me. You have to be committed to the kids. Especially over here. And to the community. If you don’t have the connection, you don’t have anything going.


Ann: How have you built such a strong connection?

Dana: Here, you’re not just a teacher, you’re a social worker. My key is visiting parents. I go to my parents’ houses. The parents know me. They are no different than anybody else. They have needs. They love their children. Sometimes they need extra guidance. I feel that’s my job. I’ll be the social worker or whatever I need to be. It’s a lot, but it’s fulfilling to me. I don’t have children of my own, so these babies are my children.


Ann: What do you give to parents that helps them?

Dana: I think the parents trust in me. They come to me with their problems. In the summertime, if something is going on in their families, they come to my house. They know where I live! My next-door neighbors – I’ve had their high school kids, their junior high kids, and I will have their baby. I’ve taught the kids down the street. I just feel a part of everything because I live in the community. Whatever I need to do to help, I will.


Ann: If you could fix one thing for these children, what would it be?

Dana: Our kids can’t read. It’s scary to say that some of our parents can’t read either. I have to read the forms to some of the parents.


But in my classroom, every child is reading now. My babies are reading. I have nine boys, and seven of the nine are phonetic readers. They love it. They read up a storm.


Ann: So if all the kids could read on grade level, you’d be fine?

Dana: Yes. That’s the biggest key. (Principal) Ann (Pettit) has put in place a phonics program that is helping. Now we have a parent who comes at 7:30 a.m. to lead a program to buddy up and read with a child. Coach (Oyvind) Zahl has his swimmers come out and read with our kids on Thursdays. A PAL group from Hirschi also comes to read with first-graders.


We’ve also had a lot of behavior problems for years. Ann has put procedures in the school that all kids follow. Procedures and structure help children who struggle because they know what to expect. These procedures are now schoolwide. It’s made a difference.


Ann has been doing something else that is so cool. The kids keep track of their own test scores. They plot them on a graph. It’s really made a difference. Another key is to get the parents into the school building, believing in the teachers and school so they will do more work with their children in the home.


Ann: What is your background and how does that help you in your classroom?

Dana: Before I got my teaching degree, I was a criminal justice major. I visited several prisons. In my family, we were very structured because my dad was in the military. I graduated in 1987 from Midwestern State University with my criminal justice degree and went off to Austin and worked as a private investigator. I did undercover work. But I kept working in day cares – I was a day care director for two years – and I finally said I think I need to work with kids. I went back to MSU and earned my teacher certification in 1994. I did my student teaching at Burgess, then taught third-grade there for half a year. Then I came to kindergarten. You just kill them with kindness in kindergarten.


At one time, Burgess was a magnet school. We taught Japanese and Swahili. We still have Swahili words on the wall. Things change. Ann switched the building around so it made more sense. I’ve worked with Mrs. (Betty) Wood for 20 years. This is Jonelle Gurley’s 29th year here! Then there are teachers Sue Boaz, our reading interventionist, and Karen Evans. They have longevity here. People don’t think we connect over here because the teachers leave. Oh no! We connect! We have to connect! The kids come with so much baggage. Who else should a first-grade teacher talk to than the teacher who had them the year before?


Ann: What do you still need?

Dana: I don’t need anything. I have everything I need to be cutting edge as long as I have the Internet. I have $60,000 in books in my classroom that I bought myself, and who knows how much I’ve spent in equipment and strategies. Everything is here; this is my life. My husband is full force behind what I want to do. He says, “What do you want for your anniversary?” He knows it will be something for school. My brother is also supportive. He donates money. He says, “What are you doing this year?” Then he sends $200 to $300 to $400.


Well, I would like to have one of those smart boards. I even talked to my husband about buying one next year. I think I will get one next year.


My greatest joy is my babies. When you see their little light bulbs turn on and they start reading…(She tears up.) I’m very passionate about the school and the kids.


The first thing I do every morning is hug them and say good morning. You don’t know if that’s their only hug. When we get ready to go, I hug them again and tell them, “You’re going to be great today.” I keep it positive. I don’t know what these kids are going home to. And sometimes you do know. I just want school to be a positive experience for them.