Turbulent times require tough teachers, and Lanier Middle School has seventh-grade teacher Dena Dale ready for the task. Teaching at Lanier Middle School since 2016, Ms. Dale has been named Teacher of the Year for the 2020-2021 school year.

Originally hailing from Florida, she moved up to Georgia in 2007. After graduating from the University of Florida, she began her 22-year career teaching elementary students. After 18 years at the elementary level, she made the switch to middle school, which she has really enjoyed.

“Middle school is definitely my thing,” she said. “I love what I do and the kids I work with. They make me laugh and they teach me every day.”

Ms. Dale is a language arts teacher, as well as an avid reader and writer. She explained that she loves to read her students’ writing because writing is a very personal way for kids to express themselves.

“I love getting inside their brains and seeing who they are,” she said. “Kids today have so many ways to express themselves, usually not to adults, and so they feel very unappreciated or like their voice isn’t heard. I love their voices, their questions, their view of the world, and I love that they share it with me. Most days I feel like they understand the world better than I do.”

Ms. Dale’s outlook when teaching is to put herself in her student’s shoes.

“Truthfully,” she said, “it’s all about being relatable and remembering what it’s like to be a kid at this age. They want to know the why’s of the world, the why’s of the information, and those are the selling points for making any learning more applicable to them.”

She explains the importance of treating her students respectfully, to “treat them as equals, to not demand perfection, to learn along with them and to use each other’s strengths and weaknesses to help every single person learn.”

Ms. Dale said her students really appreciate the gesture.

“The biggest compliment I get from kids is telling me that I don’t treat them like they’re kids,” she said, “that I value who they are, and that is really the best thing any teacher of teens can do.”

Ms. Dale said being recognized has been very meaningful for her, and she greatly appreciates the acknowledgment of her efforts.

“All teachers appreciate being validated, being told their contributions matter, so to be honored by the staff here at Lanier Middle School is a great honor,” she said. “I’m a pretty quiet person, I love working with students and so I’m flattered that the staff notices my hard work and love of teaching.”

As Teacher of the Year for Lanier Middle School, Ms. Dale will now be in consideration for the district-wide Gwinnett Teacher of the Year.

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