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By: Melissa Gaul
Today I want to feature another incredible dance educator in her first year of teaching at a public school: Melissa Denholtz! I chose to feature Melissa and Veronica (from Dance Ed Tip #48 Chronicles of a New High School Dance Teacher), because your first year of teaching in a public school is life changing. It is the year where you try to implement your teaching vision for the first time. It is the year that you discover the truth about how much dance is valued in public education. It is the year that you most clearly see your strengths and weaknesses as an educator.
That is why I think that there is atremendous amount to learn from people starting their careers in education. They bring a fresh perspective and new solutions to situations veteran teachers have been dealing with for a long time. I'm really excited to share with you Melissa's blogpost. She has really opened up and shared many gems with you. Without further ado, here is Melissa's reflection:
Upon finishing graduate school, I received a job offer in the district in which I completed my 4-month student teaching internship. I was excited, but nervous! This district is one of a few public school districts in New Jersey that offers dance to students from Pre-K through 12thgrade. I am one of 9 dance educators in the district (how cool is that!). I split my time 50/50 between two of the elementary schools where I teach Pre-K through 5thgrade. All of my students in the elementary school are required to take dance. It is considered a “special” in their schedule (just like art, P.E., music, and library).
Between my two schools, I teach almost 700 students. It is truly a unique experience! Each school represents its own set of demographics as well. To summarize them briefly: one school has a very large Hispanic population in which the majority of my students there speak Spanish as their primary/home language; the other school is very diverse in ethnic and racial backgrounds, but I teach 5 self-contained special education classes in addition to my general education classes. Needless to say, my lesson plans are jam-packed with modifications and differentiation techniques for language differences and a wide range of physical/cognitive abilities and levels.
The main challenge I face each day is making it through the day with the same genuine enthusiasm and diligence that I started the day with. As a new teacher, I am energetic and driven with my goals and objectives for my students (and myself), but it is EXHAUSTING. I teach 7 classes a day, in addition to a dance club before school 3 times a week. I work really hard to meet the needs of every student in the diverse population I teach, and I feel that I grow with this each day.
Although I am calling this a “challenge” it is also what makes me love my job. It is never a dull moment! I am constantly moving, demonstrating, talking, assessing, consoling, and wearing ALL the other hats that we wear as educators! Most days go by so quickly that I honestly forget to simply breathe and let my mind slow down for a few minutes. I’ve learned that every 40-minute lunch period and prep must be used wisely! My hour-long commute to and from work is the time I use to re-group myself and reflect on my work.
It is the intrinsic value that makes teaching so special. My favorite part of my job is simple but invaluable; it is that my students always surprise me. Whether it is a small compliment from a kindergartner or a brilliant complex question from one of my 5thgraders, I am amazed at the innate curiosity and interest my students exemplify (even the ones I least expect it from!).
For instance, I am just wrapping up on a Hip Hop unit with my 3rd-5thgrade students. They love this stuff! I have a 3rd grade class that is particularly difficult for me. Many individuals in this class have extremely impulsive and distractive behaviors. I spend so much time focusing on classroom management strategies and corrective solutions for their behavior, that I often feel I am barely even getting anywhere with the actual dance content compared to my other 3rd grade classes. Regrettably, every week I feel so defeated after teaching this class.
Last week I was guiding them in a unit review before the performance assessment of their physical knowledge. They have learned a very basic history of Hip Hop; the cultural/historical elements, styles, movement qualities etc. I asked the students to take turns with the markers and fill in the chart I made on the board. To be honest, I thought the board was going to be left blank. Within minutes, my students were pairing and sharing ideas, filling in each other’s thoughts, and writing answers on the board. It was like magic right in front of my eyes! When it came down to it, they knew a pretty decent amount of stuff!
For weeks, I’ve been convinced that these students enjoy any negative attention they can get and could care less about any reward system or positive reinforcements I was offering. I definitely thought that all of the information I was giving them went in one ear and right out the other. To my surprise, they were somehow listening to me the whole time. Though they are my most difficult and draining class, they are learning! At the end of the day, that is what matters. Surprises like this one is what makes our job, as dance educators, so valuable and rewarding each day.
Melissa Denholtz graduated from Rutgers University Graduate School of Education where she received her masters of education (EdM) and PK-12 dance teaching certification. She completed her undergraduate degree at Muhlenberg College where she received a BA in dance with a concentration in education. At Muhlenberg, Melissa was a teacher at the Muhlenberg Community Dance Center for three years. She designed and coordinated the first ever Muhlenberg Community Dance Day, drawing on the resources of Muhlenberg’s dance department to cultivate a relationship with the larger Lehigh Valley community of young dancers. Melissa is an American Ballet Theater® Certified Teacher and has taught at the ABT® Certified School of Ballet at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers. While at Rutgers, she also taught in and managed the community partnership between the Mason Gross Extension Division and East Brunswick After School Kids Program, enriching their after-school program with creative movement classes for all elementary and middle school students. She was the President of the graduate chapter of the Rutgers National Honor Society for Dance Arts. During her semester of student teaching, she was a recipient of the 2018 New Jersey Distinguished Clinical Intern Award. Melissa is a New Jersey native, where she has trained in ballet, modern, tap, and jazz throughout her childhood. Her enthusiasm and dedication to be an educator has continued to grow through her extensive dance education coursework and teaching experiences in the K-12 public school setting. Melissa is currently a full time dance educator in Somerset, New Jersey, teaching PK-5.