Spotlight: 10 Questions for Dale Adamson (FL '17)February 9, 2018
Teaching math is all in the family for Dale Adamson (FL '17). He works alongside his sister Katelyn and mother Karen, a 30-year math educator he considers his biggest professional inspiration: "She has instilled in me the belief that a teacher is never done learning." Both mom and sister were on hand at Miami’s Howard D. McMillan Middle School to see Dale receive Florida’s 2017-18 Milken Educator Award on December 15, 2017.
1. What went through your mind when you heard Jane [Dr. Jane Foley (IN ’94), senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards] call your name at your surprise notification?
Dale Adamson: The entire experience was just surreal. It really felt like I was watching this happen to someone else. I had absolutely no idea how to react. I can’t even begin to describe how honored it felt to be recognized in that way. And not just by the Milken Family Foundation, but also by my colleagues and my students. When does a teacher ever get a standing ovation from his students or hear his name chanted by hundreds of proud kids? It was unbelievably humbling and rewarding.
2. How did your students respond to your Milken Award? What impact has it had on them?
Dale: I think the student reactions have been the best part of the entire experience so far. It really started right on stage the moment my name was called. The six students who were chosen from the audience to participate had been in my class. It was so special to share that experience with them. And then I got back to my classroom in the afternoon and the kids were so excited to have had the opportunity to be part of the Award ceremony. As the day went on I got countless emails and notes from former students, some now in college, just wanting to reach out and thank me for helping them find success. It really meant the world to me to hear from so many former and current students about the positive impact I had on their lives. That is why I became a teacher—to get the chance to have a positive impact on the next generation.
3. How did you end up in education?
Dale: Teaching and learning were always in my blood, but not always part of my plan. My mother is a teacher, but growing up I never really gave much thought to making that my career. By the time I was graduating high school and entering college, my plan was to pursue a career in medicine. During a year off between undergrad and medical school, I worked as a substitute teacher and really fell in love with it. Ultimately, I decided to become a teacher because I found the experience highly rewarding. I found great joy in helping students learn and grow into the best versions of themselves.
4. Who are your role models as an educator?
Dale: My mother, Dr. Karen Adamson. She has been teaching mathematics for nearly 30 years. To this day she continues to experiment with new strategies and technology in her classroom and regularly adopts new practices to increase student achievement. I attribute my desire to continually grow and develop as an educator to her persistence in becoming a stronger teacher every day for the last three decades. She has instilled in me the belief that a teacher is never done learning.
5. What memories stand out from your first year of teaching?
Dale: My first year of teaching was an amazing experience. I wasn’t hired until the start of October and was assigned four different preps. I taught a section each of Algebra and Geometry—some of the highest-performing students in our building—but also taught three sections with students who had never been able to find success in math. I resolved to find ways to make math meaningful and enjoyable for all my students. That year was extremely challenging, but it had such a large impact on who I became as an educator. It gave me a unique look at the spectrum of students I needed to be prepared to educate in future years. In retrospect, I really wasn’t particularly well-equipped to handle that schedule, and I have grown so much as an educator since then, but I did my very best to help those students learn.
6. What are students most likely to remember about their time in your class?
Dale: That learning can be fun. One of the most important things I try to do to increase student engagement is to find ways to make learning relevant and meaningful to the students. In practice that means finding ways to engage in authentic project-based learning that relates to some of their collective interests and finding ways to connect content to their day-to-day lives.
7. What’s your biggest challenge in the classroom?
Dale: The sheer diversity of learners in every class. It takes a lot of careful planning to ensure that every student can find academic and personal success on a regular basis. But the diversity of my classroom is also its biggest strength. Having so many different learners in the same class provides so many unique opportunities for leadership and personal growth among my students.
8. How do you think you’ll use your $25,000 Award?
Dale: I am hoping to start a doctoral program this summer at the University of Florida, but I am still waiting to hear if I have been accepted. Either way I plan to go back to school and continue to hone my craft. I believe my journey towards being the most effective teacher I can be will never end. This Award will help me continue to develop as an educator and leader in the coming years.
9. What would you say to a student who expresses interest in a career in education?
Dale: I think that would be wonderful. There is always room in the world for more educators, enthusiastic and ready to inspire future generations. Recently I received a letter from a student who wanted to tell me that I had inspired him to become a teacher. He told me that his experience in my classroom motivated him to want to be able to provide that kind of experience to other students. I told him that teaching has the potential to be the most rewarding career in the world. For me personally, I can’t imagine doing anything more important than advancing the causes of enlightenment and critical thinking in our society.
10. What’s your definition of success?
Dale: Success is a journey, not a destination. Being successful means giving maximum effort and working towards realistic goals. In the classroom, as in life, success needs to be individually measured in terms of where someone is coming from and how far they have come. With students, success is often measured by setting goals that are appropriately frustrating but, ultimately, attainable. Each goal, however, is simply the starting line for a new goal, and it is for that reason that I believe success is truly a lifelong pursuit of excellence.
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