Hope everyone is having a fabulous Wednesday! As you know, one of my all-time favorite things to do as Miss Nashville is make school visits. I taught this past summer in South Africa, and there’s something about the energy of a classroom that gives me a renewed sense of purpose. Today, I’m interviewing someone who has made education his life’s passion, and is doing such incredible work here in the city of Nashville. Without further ado, here’s this week’s Power of One Wednesday guest—Mr. Dan Lee!
Mr. Lee grew up in Four Oaks, North Carolina—a small, rural farming community about 30 miles southeast of the capitol. He describes it as “a southern town where everyone knew just about everyone on a first name basis.” Mr. Lee was raised by his grandparents, both of whom were born in August 1920 and lived during The Great Depression. He was greatly influenced by their hard work ethic and the many sacrifices they made so that he could obtain his education. His grandfather passed away just before he turned 15, a loss that lead him to reevaluate the course of his life, even through attending community college.
While unsure of his next steps, Mr. Lee knew he had a passion for both travel and teaching. In the 1980’s, he pursued that first passion by working in the airline industry as a flight attendant for American Airlines. In this job, Mr. Lee met people from all walks of life and various cultures as well as former presidents, governors, a former Secretary of State, and a host of celebrities. During this time, he was also awarded the Professional Flight Attendant Award, and later became an instructor. This experience really helped Mr. Lee develop his love for teaching. He eventually left the airline industry to pursue his passion in education. He graduated from Trevecca Nazarene University and obtained his degree in Child Development and Learning / Elementary Education with certification to teach kindergarten through eighth grade. While at Trevecca, he was awarded the Outstanding Student Teacher of the Year by the School of Education at Trevecca University. Mr. Lee has spent the past 11 years as a teacher with Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools.
Mr. Lee is a deep man of faith, summarizing his testimony as “I tried to turn, I tried to run, but God was, and IS, always pursuing me!” His love for teaching is obvious (I had the privilege of visiting his class earlier this year as Miss Nashville) and passion for life is contagious. I’m excited to share his stories and insight with you today!
Who is someone that has inspired you and how?
First and foremost, I would have to say my inspiration comes from my relationship with Jesus Christ. One of the keys to seeing the abundance of God in my life is to be thankful. Learning to take my focus off lack, which is rooted in fear, and begin to be thankful to experience peace, you begin to hear the voice of God. Several times in my life, I’ve had to reteach myself the difference between needs and wants. I had to think about true riches – spiritual riches; realizing that out of scarcity, comes abundance. I see kids each day that are struggling on so many different levels, whether it be a diagnosed or undiagnosed learning disability or perhaps just environmental influences. I’m thankful that I can be there for them in some way, no matter how big or small. I also tell my kids each day that I love them and how thankful I am for them in my life and that we can share our school days together. Some children never hear “I love you” spoken at home. The students can sense my love for them and vice versa. I see it in their commitment to school and usually I see absenteeism among my students decrease and I’d like to believe it’s because I make coming to school fun for them and they feel secure and most of all, loved. I come home at night with worry about what’s going on in a student’s home life. Some of our kids have it rough beyond our wildest dreams.
I think we all have a teacher in our lives that influenced us in a positive way and mine was my 7th grade teacher, Ms. Annette Parker. She and her family were well known in our small community, but she had a sweet personality, excellent teaching style that made me want to learn, and I can honestly say, she laid the foundation for my career in education. I used to return home to NC to visit and I would often see her and we’d talk about the personal influence she had on me. It just so happened that I was home in NC visiting several years ago when I learned that Ms. Parker had passed away. I had the privilege of attending her visitation and sharing with her daughter the impact that her mother’s legacy made on me.
Tell me about a time when you knew that you were making a difference in someone’s life.
This happened just this year in the 2nd grade class that I teach. At the beginning of each school year, we conduct text-leveled reading assessments within the first few weeks of school for each of our students. This comprehensive system for one-on-one assessment matches students’ instructional and independent reading abilities as they read selected books and passages. I have a student, that when he came to my reading table to read aloud for me during our assessment time, he just sat there almost in tears. When I asked what was on his mind, he said, “Mr. Lee, I can’t read. I don’t know how to read.” I smiled at him and comforted him by saying, “Don’t you worry. We’re going to learn to read this year and once you learn, you’re going to LOVE it!” He brushed his tears away and smiled at me.
In the days and weeks that followed, I would accompany him to the library. On our first visit to the library together, he aimlessly wandered through the aisles of books. He would select a book, look at it, and put it back. He wouldn’t even get past the cover. I observed him for a few moments and approached him, sitting down on the carpet beside him, and just started a casual conversation with him. I asked him questions about his family, his siblings, his pets, hobbies, and even found out he liked insects. Basically, I was doing an assessment of his interests. I tried to put him at ease in talking with me and it also provided me an opportunity to know him better by learning more about him. Based on his responses to my questions, we hopped up and together, we started looking at various books that related to the things he told me about during our conversation. He liked dogs; he has a dog at home and so do I. We talked about his dog and my awesome Basset Hound, Salem, and together we laughed about some of the funny things that we had in common that our dogs do. So, I found books on his reading level about dogs. He’s Hispanic. I found cultural books that related to his culture and traditions. I always get to know my kids and their families on a personal level so that I can make real world connections to them.
Since the beginning of school, this child has not only increased his reading levels, but his increase in comprehension has also assisted him with his writing and speaking skills as well. Each time he eagerly goes to the library on his own during the week, he always comes to me after he reads a book and shares with me interesting things he learned and asks me questions about things that sparked his curiosity. I always look forward to his personal book reviews that he shares with me! He’s comfortable talking with me about his learning. Again, building that relationship with that one child during his formative years will impact him positively for the rest of his life.
As a teacher here in Nashville, what is one lesson you’d like all young people to learn at some point in their life?
I do my best to model kindness and respect and demonstrate a sense of humor in my classroom. Our society today has gotten away from just common sense kindness and respect. I’m not sure where the breakdown of such positive character building skills started, but they’re lacking in our world today. We see it in our schools, in places of businesses, and on the highways, and on TV. Building a respectful classroom community increases a child’s sense of awareness to other’s feelings and emotions. I try to relate everything I teach to the real world. I share personal stories with my students about my own experiences in life where I practice kindness and respectfulness.
What’s your favorite thing about Nashville?
I appreciate the diversity of this rapidly growing city. As a teacher, I’m always viewing things from a learning perspective. There’s so much to do in and around Nashville. We live in a city and region full of rich history and heritage to be proud of. I love sharing things about our city with my students. There are so many things and places right outside my classroom that my kids were never aware of until we discussed them. I’ll never forget taking a field trip one year to the Adventure Science Museum. As the bus was traveling along Interstate 40 as we were approaching downtown Nashville, over to the right you could see the skyline of the Nashville with the iconic AT&T building that every child refers to as the Batman building. One of my students quickly shouted in awe, “Mr. Lee, what’s the big city over there?” He had no idea that what he was looking at was his city, Nashville! People don’t understand that when these kids in my school community leave school each day, they go home and there’s no exposure to the real world other than parental substance abuse, domestic violence, profanity, and poverty to name a few. Again, building those relationships with the kids and their families is vitally important to the overall wellbeing of a child.
What’s one area that we can improve in as a city?
As an educator, I would have to say that our schools need more technology. Not all schools have the same amount of technology resources available for student use. We have schools with only a few working desktop computers in a classroom. We have schools with entire class sets of laptops in each classroom. We have schools with no laptops. We have schools with tablets for each student. We have schools with no tablets. In order for our students to be successful with technology, they have to have the technology and must receive the necessary training on how to use the technology. I’ve seen students struggling with maneuvering and mastering basic keyboarding skills while taking district and state testing on a laptops and desktop computers because they simply do not have the skills, nor do they have the accessibility to technology resources in which to practice. I’ve also seen kids break down in tears as they attempt to type and they’re searching for the right keys/letters, using one or two fingers, on the keyboard because they don’t have the skills necessary. These are life skills needed in the real world.
Nashville is so, so lucky to have such passionate teachers like Mr. Lee bringing not only education but hope and encouragement to Nashville’s future leaders. I am so happy that he decided to share his story with us and I hope that you will continue your week looking for opportunities to encourage others the way Mr. Lee does in his classroom and beyond. Here’s to a great rest of the week!