Monday, October 22, 2001

First-year teacher counts victories

He still believes he made the right career decision

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ERLANGER — Terrorist attacks, a student's death and a grade book full of failing grades. Richard Dube's first nine weeks in the classroom have proven to be a greater challenge than he anticipated.

Teacher Richard Dube jokes with Micah Crouthers between classes.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        The rookie teacher at Lloyd Memorial High School knew he would have to learn how to manage a room of teen-agers as well as teach science.

        But he's also had to help them understand a nation at war and cope with the accidental death of a student.

        “I'm not sure what else they can throw at me,” he said. “It's never, never, never the same from one day to another. Some days the students are working hard and everything's flowing. Others, you make one joke and the zoo starts.”

        Mr. Dube, 44, of Taylor Mill launched his second career in August after 20 years as a microbiologist in the brewing industry. Originally from Quebec City, Quebec, Mr. Dube now teaches integrated sciences and earth and space science to freshmen and juniors in the 600-student high school in Kenton County.

  Look for reports on Mr. Dube throughout his first year teaching.
New teacher beats first-day anxieties Aug. 24, 2001
        “The beauty of teaching is in those daily victories and reinforcements you get from the kids,” he said. “It's 55 minutes at a time. Even if you get drained in one class, you start fresh with the next class.”

        He is one of the first participants in Northern Kentucky University's graduate program for people who hold degrees in other fields but want to teach. Designed as one answer to the Tristate's growing need for teachers, the fast-tracked certification program allows Mr. Dube to teach full time while taking evening and weekend classes to earn his teaching credentials.

        “He's soaking it up like a sponge,” said Joyce Fortney, one of Mr. Dube's professors and coordinator of the NKU teaching program. “All of the things he's learning, he's really taking back and using in his classroom.”

        Mr. Dube said he's learning the true meaning of being flexible, as he juggles the long hours required to be a student and teach students at the same time.

        Rewards and frustrations occur daily. The wide-eyed excitement he illuminated on his first day of school has dimmed a bit, but not his passion.

        His co-workers point to Mr. Dube's positive attitude, sense of humor and experience with the topic as reasons for his success.

        “He's doing much better than I would be in his shoes,” said Lloyd Principal John Riehemann. “He knows his science. He's just learning what it takes to get 14-year-olds motivated. But he knows that you don't change careers like that and have it be a snap.”

Dube often bounces ideas off his children, Kirk, 14, and Kim, 18, and wife Danielle Pare.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        Mr. Dube has had a few discipline problems, most quickly resolved with new seating charts — a tip from his NKU classes. A frustration is not always accomplishing what he wants each day.

        “You can plan for a day's lesson and then go in and none of that happens,” Mr. Riehemann said. “It's not always on your timetable.”

        But Mr. Dube's greatest strength, Mr. Riehemann said, is his maturity.

        “The hardest thing for most new teachers is classroom management,” he said. “(Mr. Dube) doesn't have that problem at all. His class is somewhere where kids can learn. He sees it as a job, and I don't think he cares as much as the younger teachers about being liked. If students are learning, they will like you.”

        Plus, he's determined.

        “He's still here,” joked Mary Lou Carter, chairwoman of Lloyd's science department. “That's a good thing. We've had some people quit right away, especially if they've got freshmen.

        “But he seems to be doing great. I have no complaints about his performance. And he's not complaining too much and seems to be having a good time.”

        A great time, Mr. Dube said, despite several unexpected tragedies.

        First, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Like classrooms across the Tristate, lessons were halted that day so students could follow non-stop television coverage.

        Mr. Dube faced an unexpected question from his students: Would he have to return to Canada because of tightening security and immigration rules?

        Although he and his family are living and working here on visas, Mr. Dube assured his students, he would not be leaving.

        Two weeks later, as life began to get back to normal, another tragedy shook the school when Jamie Lynn Finkenstedt, a 15-year-old freshman, was killed when struck by a train in Elsmere. The girl stumbled and fell as she crossed the tracks on her way to the grocery store.

        The next morning, Mr. Riehemann knocked on Mr. Dube's door during his 7 a.m. class to break the news. Jamie had been a student in his fourth-period class.

        “That day I ended up doing basically nothing. Tears came up a few times,” said Mr. Dube, who remembered helping Jamie with an assignment the day before.

        “She didn't get it the first time or the second time. But the third time, she finally got it,” he recalled. “She was a good student, not because of grades, but because she had the right attitude.”

        Attitude is central to Mr. Dube's classroom, hence his class motto: “All that separates me from success or failure is one simple, single word: Attitude.”

        Less than two weeks on the job, Mr. Dube mailed a letter to his students' parents to introduce himself and his expectations. Education is a partnership between schools and parents, he wrote.

        But he didn't know he'd be calling in on that partnership so soon.

        After the first few weeks of school, Lloyd teachers make calls home for the students who are failing a class. Mr. Dube had to call the parents of more than 120 of his 168 students.

        “It's too early to panic. The kids are adjusting,” he said to a concerned father. “This is only the first few weeks. We have a long way to go, and we're going to do better.”

        The student, Mr. Dube explained, needs to work harder on his bellwork — brief assignments given at the beginning of each class to help students review the previous day's lessons.

        “They're not kids anymore,” he said. “They're in high school.”

        He hung up the phone with a sigh, flipping through his grade book.

        “It's a little disheartening to see that I've worked with some of them for five weeks now and they're still not responding,” he said. “You don't want to lose anyone.”

        The poor grades are mostly related to students not completing assignments, rather than failing tests, he said. But things are improving as the quality and quantity of assignments grows.

        “If it goes really bad in one class, you have to blame yourself,” he said. “If I don't get the response I want, I don't spend any more time trying to figure out why they're not getting it, I just find another way.”

        Earlier this month, perched on a stool in front of the class, Mr. Dube explained how to calculate average speed, acceleration and velocity.

        Tough subject, but an even tougher crowd.

        Blank faces stared back as Mr. Dube prodded the class with questions sprinkled with hints.

        “I can see the fumes,” he said to the class as they tried to figure out an answer. “Think, think, think. I'm taking a break.”

        He rattled off a series of examples until something clicked. Hands went up. A light bulb came on.

        “You can't get frustrated because you think they should be somewhere and they're not,” Mr. Dube said. “You have to take them where they are and bring them up.”

        At the end of each school day, Mr. Dube spends several hours in his office at home, preparing for his classes at Lloyd or doing his own homework for his four NKU classes. He often bounces ideas off his 14-year-old son and 18-year-old daughter.

        The work load is heavy, but his stress levels are lower than when he worked in brewing, said his wife, Danielle Pare. He's happier, he's relaxed and he's doesn't bicker about his job like he used to, she said.

        “I made the right move,” he said. “I just don't know if I'm going to be successful at it yet.”

Aug. 24 story: New teacher beats first-day anxieties

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