Yes, YOU Are Making a Difference in the Life of a Student

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November 15, 2022

This is the third in a series of guest blogs by the 2022-23 Michigan Regional Teachers of the Year. Dawn Perez is a business and technology teacher at Swan Valley High School in the Swan Valley School District.

I have been teaching at Swan Valley School District for 31 years, and this is my second home. I am a business and technology teacher in the alternative/adult education and high school classes. I love my career. I love working with students to help them better themselves and learn skills that prepare them for career readiness. In addition, half of my career, I have been an adjunct professor at Saginaw Valley State University (13 years), Mid-Michigan College (2 years) and Delta College (1 year).

No way could I be a teacher! I was too timid and shy to be a teacher. It was my senior year of high school, and the pressure was on. My high school guidance counselor encouraged me to decide on what I wanted to do for my future. I had no clue what I was going to do! I was the student that did not do homework and had attendance problems. My best grades (above average) were in my classes at Bay Arenac Career Center, where there was not much homework.

The first three years of high school, I was on the swim and softball teams. During my senior year, I decided to get a Cooperative Work Experience position through the career center instead of participating in sports. In doing this, I became very determined that I was going to change this cycle in my family. I was going to apply to go to college and do something with my life.

Money was a big issue; I did not know how I was going to afford college. Since my parents lived check to check and could barely pay their monthly bills, they were not able to help. I was scraping for change to do laundry during the first semester. The second semester, I obtained a part-time position working on weekends to pay for necessities (bar soap, laundry detergent, toothpaste, etc.). Student loans are what I lived on for four years of my life, but I was set on earning my degree.

I believe I was a big part of helping my mother decide to go to college; I told her it is never too late. My mom and I went to college together at Central Michigan University for the next four years. We took one class together and graduated with our bachelor's degrees a semester apart. My mom went on to receive her master's in psychology and was an advocate for adolescent alcohol prevention in the Bay City Schools for the next 25 years.

My high school guidance counselor at the Career Center, my mother (MY HERO) and my dysfunctional childhood are what inspired me to get a college education and do something with my life. We had absolutely no money. Both my parents were alcoholics as I was growing up, and let’s just say I had experiences no child or adult should ever have to endure. Thankfully, my mom became a recovering alcoholic after I graduated high school. I was 18. My dad recovered when I was 21.

Deep down, I knew I wanted to help our future and help those that have been in my situation.

My story is one of many, many, many out there. Always try to make a difference and prepare students for their future. You will be surprised at the students that come back after they graduate and tell you that you were their favorite teacher. I have had students that never smiled in class and were very grumpy, the clown, the jock and a class officer that come back to visit with me just to say “hi” and to see how I am doing.

You have to build a positive relationship with your students and get to know them. Get to know their likes and dislikes. The reward of teaching is internal for me; the rewards of helping and changing futures is enough for me. Go into a career that you can call your second home. You should be happy when you go to work, not dreading it every day. I tell my students this all the time “THIS is the difference between a career and a job.” I am happy to be here to teach; I would not want to be anywhere else.

I want students to know, no matter what situation they are in at their home lives, they have the power to change it. You can overcome anything as long as you are motivated, self-individualized and a problem solver. Teach the students to become life-long learners! Also, that they need to THINK BIG and DREAM BIG and make it happen! Kids know my area is a safe environment to learn and grow, and they can talk to me! I am there for my students. Please keep making the difference in the life of a student.