After being a parent of seven, Hayfield Secondary School teacher Nancy Dolan wanted to share her insider's knowledge of children with the community. She began teaching in Fairfax County Public Schools after graduating from Northern Virginia Community College and National Louis University with a bachelor's degree and Old Dominion University with a master's. This year, Dolan's interactive, real-world method of teaching business brought her the Middle School Teacher of the Year award from the Virginia Business Education Association (VBEA). Recently, she sat down to answer some questions about her life and teaching.
How long have you lived in the area? I've actually lived here most of my life. I grew up in Northern Virginia, went to Mount Vernon High School. The only time I left the area is during a small time, as a military spouse. I had moved to Tennessee for two years. I came back here to the same area, my children have attended local schools. I never got to attend Hayfield, because it was brand new when I was in school.
Tell us about your family. I'm married, I have seven children, four boys and three girls. I have two that have technically left home: one is an elementary school teacher; I have a son in the Army; and then I have a daughter who is a junior at Christopher Newport. I have a senior at Edison, a fresh at Edison, and I have a son that is actually here. We opted to pupil-place him here. I was so impressed with the school when I came here that, since teachers have ability to pupil-place their children, I decided to send him here, and he wanted to. And then I have a fifth-grader who can't wait to come to school where Mommy teaches. Obviously, I have a great love for children.
Education: I got my master's at ODU just last spring. I was one of those kids who told my dad I didn't need his money, and I didn't need college, and went off and worked for the federal government for, I guess, nine years and got married and had all these children. I stayed home for 15 years, and when I went to go back into the work world I decided I wanted to give back to the community that gave so much to us through sports and everything that my kids have done. I didn't want to back to work for the government, I wanted to go back to work for kids. So I went back to school, in 1997 I started back at NOVA, and took four years to complete the two-year program at NOVA. ... I finished my bachelor's degree at National Louis University.
Describe your job here. I'm teaching high school. I'd been teaching middle school up until this year. I'd been chosen for the lead business teacher position this year so I've switched over to teaching law, accounting and finance. It's very different from teaching middle school but yet in some ways there are a lot of things that are alike. They're still kids ... this morning we did a debate about cell phone use in cars, because we're studying a little bit about the law of torts and how things are happen because people do things to people. It's very different from criminal law. And so they really got into the cell phone debate ... it was a fun discussion.
What words would you use to describe Hayfield? Bright, fun, and I know that sounds like a funny word to use for a school, and caring. By bright, I mean the kids here are really bright kids. I think they have a lot going for them, and I think the administration sees that and wants to do everything they can. And the administration here — this is my third year here — it's fantastic. They support the teachers, they support the students, and I can't say enough about it. It's the third county school I've worked in, but it's the one I want to stay in.
How do you feel about being named Middle School Teacher of the Year? Shocked. I knew that I had been put in for it by one of my administrators, but I thought, "I'm a third-year teacher." I didn't think there was any way, I guess because to me, teaching is what I am here to do. So it didn't seem like I was doing anything special. I was here to help the kids, and I was doing that, but I didn't think I was doing anything out of the ordinary. But I read through the things that were submitted and was surprised. I wanted to hug my administrator, but decided not to.
When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up? The most important thing to me to be was a wife and mother. It was part of the generation I grew up in. My own mother was not able to have a large family, and so we joke and say that I made up for that. But I always knew I wanted to be a wife and that I wanted to have lots of kids. Hadn't quite planned on seven, but they are all very perfect. My kids are my world, and the administration here is very wonderful about that, family comes first. My father has been very ill and whatever I needed to do to take care of it, my family comes first. And I like that.
What are your community concerns? I have to say the only real concern that I have is obviously the concern of most parents, is the gang activity in the area. And I can't say that our area is extremely bad or extremely good, I can't know for sure. You know, I hate to see kids drawn into those types of activities ... I think we've gotten away from doing so much for the kids. Everything they want to do — not everything, but a lot of things — costs money and not all families can do that. My own son plays soccer, and to play soccer it's like $50 ... you think about the number of children who would probably do it if they didn't have to pay for it.
Last movie/book? I just re-read "Gone with the Wind," my favorite book. I could read it over and over and over again.
Personal goals? Educationally, I want to keep taking classes to try to better myself as a teacher, understand, take a few more classes in special-needs students, we get classes in our education program, but it's limited ... I don't know if you've ever heard the story "The Star-Thrower" by Loren Eiseley? It's my favorite little story about a little boy who's picking starfish up on the beach and throwing them back into the ocean, and people are walking by wondering why this little boy is throwing all these starfish back into the ocean, and the man says, "Why are you doing this?" and he says, "Because I want to save them." And the guy says, "Well, you can't save them all." And so he picks up one, throws it back in the ocean and says, "But I saved that one." And that's kind of my philosophy: if I can help one student go beyond what they thought they could do, then I've really done something.