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Amy Dunlap made history this year when she was named Michigan Charter School Teacher of the Year 2022, the first online public school educator to win the award. We caught up with Amy to ask her about her school freedom story and her journey as a public school educator.
How long have you been teaching?
I graduated with my Bachelor’s from Western Michigan University in 2009. Prior to graduation I was busy substitute teaching and even spent time as a paraprofessional. After graduation, I spent quite a bit of time substitute teaching looking for my educational home. Teaching positions were hard to come by at that time and I ended up working at a daycare center where I met an incredible child and left the center to be his (and eventually his sister’s) full time nanny. When the time came I went back into the classroom in various long-term positions and finally landed my first full-time position as a 6th grade teacher. I have been at Michigan Connections Academy now for 10 years. I was hired as a 4th grade teacher. I also spent a semester teaching a 4th and 5th grade split. In my 3rd year I took over the role as field trip coordinator while still teaching 4th grade. After my 6th year, I moved out of the classroom and into an instructional coach role where I still kept my field trip coordinator position and added mentor coordinator onto my title as well. The last two years I have also been our marketing liaison in addition to my involvement in educational advocacy, advocating for equity in education and educational choice.
What inspired you to pursue a career in teaching?
I have always enjoyed working with children. I knew from a young age that I wanted to work with kids and after having some incredibly inspirational teachers I knew that I needed to give back what they had given me. I cannot pinpoint the turning point for me in all of that, but throughout my own educational journey I knew what I wanted to be and what I didn’t want to be and I have worked hard to take all the positive attributes I learned from my teachers and apply them in my own career and life.
What is the most memorable moment in your teaching career?
I am not sure I could remotely pick just one moment so I will reflect on the last year. In the fall of 2021, I found out I had been nominated for Michigan’s Charter School Teacher of the Year. Once I found out, there was a lot of paperwork to do including asking for personal letters of recommendation. The worst thing you can ask me to do is to talk about myself or have me ask anyone else to do the same. I really had to step out of my comfort zone to not only “brag” about myself, but to ask others to do the same. After it was announced I was a semi-finalist, I had to go through a personal interview. As you can imagine this was once again a time when I had to talk about myself. I cried through the majority of it which isn’t normal for folks in my educational realm to see. Then we had to do an Instagram takeover which again I had to ask folks to contribute to. It was then announced in a Zoom meeting that I had indeed been named the 2022 Michigan Charter School Teacher of the Year. I don’t think what they were saying sunk in because I was too busy looking at the faces and the names in the room. I realized that folks were there literally from before I began my teaching career to the present. Oftentimes in education we don’t realize the impact that we truly have. We don’t do what we do for recognition, but rather do what we do because it is who we are. Throughout this whole process, I was able to reflect on what I have done in my career and hear from others’ what I have done for them or for the educational field. As someone who wanted to leave education 10 years ago, this was not something I ever imagined. As an educator who is tired, it gave me the reminder of why I continue to do what I do.
As an educator, what does the term “School Freedom” mean to you?
This question hits me fairly personally. I was ready to give up on education. I couldn’t find a job and then I found one where I wasn’t happy. I was overlooked too many times and honestly I began to wonder if I really had what it took to be in the education world. I learned quickly that education isn’t a one size fits all approach for students OR educators. Educational freedom to me means allowing both students AND educators to find their perfect fit in education. I firmly believe that when a teacher has found their perfect fit AND a student has found their perfect fit amazing success, learning, and growth can happen. I have been afforded a lot of amazing opportunities in my career and I owe that all in part to school freedom and to my school, Michigan Connections Academy taking a chance on me.
What is the #1 advice you give your students?
Use your voice. You can make a difference and you matter. Remember that you may not always be recognized for your efforts but they are seen and valued.
What have your students taught you?
What haven’t my students taught me? Early on my students taught me that it is okay to show your emotions and make mistakes. They taught me the importance of building a solid relationship. They’ve taught me the importance of being proud of where you’ve come from. They have taught me to listen to what I preach to them. They have taught me that I can and do make a difference. They’ve taught me the importance of reaching out and sharing the positives.They have taught me that I should believe in myself as much as they do. They have been my biggest inspiration and my loudest cheerleaders through my highs and my lows in my career. And they have taught me the importance of showing up because boy do they sure show up for me.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a teacher?
At this point in my career, If I wasn’t teaching I would most definitely be working in the advocacy world full time. I recognize that if I do not use my voice, the families we serve may not have anyone else to do it for them. School choice changed my whole teaching trajectory. Everyone should have that opportunity.
Favorite book - The Dot by Peter Reynolds - for someone who isn’t an artist and gets frustrated at trying to be one, this reminds me that if we persevere and just try we can achieve great things. When I was still in the classroom I would read this book to my students and have them create their own dot that represented them.
Favorite quote - “Stand up for what you believe in even if you are standing alone.” I can’t remember why but I vividly remember my 7th grade social studies teacher giving me a quote card with a personal note on the back. The card said, “Stand up for what you believe in even if you are standing alone,” and it has stuck with me ever since.
Favorite movie - The easy answer would be any of those teacher type movies - Dangerous Minds, The Ron Clark Story, Freedom Writers. The list goes on and on. I always hoped I would make half the impact on the students I served as these teachers did on theirs.
Favorite hobby - Being on our family farm, photography, volunteering to do things with my son’s school and through youth sports, and advocating at the state and national level.
Coffee or tea? - Only my mother’s southern sweet tea.