Teachers have had a tough year adjusting from online to in-person school. COVID hit the education department really hard, with lots of teachers leaving, but also new teachers coming in their place. Blake has a number of new teachers from this year and last year, and the science staff welcomed Dr. Dana Felice last year as a biology teacher.
Dr. Felice grew up in New Jersey and went to Marist college in Poughkeepsie, New York. She attended graduate school and worked on her post-doc in Chicago, then moved to Virginia, and finally here, where she decided to grow her family.
She’s always had a passion for science, and learned to love education when she was in high school. “I first wanted to be a scientist, since I was a little, little kid. As long as I can remember. Probably, when I was in high school, I started thinking about being a teacher. And I just loved my high school and I loved my teachers,” she says. “So somewhere toward the end of my post-doc—and this is in my early thirties—by then, I figured it out and I told my advisor, ‘I need teaching experience, because I think this is what I like the best.’ And once I had a little bit experience, it just felt like, ‘This is what I’m supposed to be doing.’”
Dr. Felice actually first came to Blake in Jan. 2020, only a few months before we were sent back home. Technically, she’s been at Blake for two years, but has had less than a year’s worth of time teaching in the building.
“I came in as sort of an inexperienced teacher, but there’s so much support here from my colleagues and my supervisors, and so many opportunities for professional development, that I feel like I’m learning as I go,” she mentions. “There’s just a lot of support to grow as a teacher and to learn more skills and learn from my mistakes, and have my experienced colleagues around me supporting me and giving me advice as we go along.”
Although it was challenging, she found virtual teaching to be a valuable experience, and really appreciated all of the effort that was put in to make a semi-comprehensible learning year. “It was very strange because it took away that classroom management component, and yet, we were all so separated,” Dr. Felice remembers. “And somehow, I felt like we still made relationships, even during our whole year, which was really, really interesting. It forced us to make different materials, make different kinds of assignments, and we had to be really creative and try really hard to reach out to the kids who weren’t responding.”
This year being her third school year teaching at Blake, Dr. Felice has had a lot of scattered teaching experiences over the years. From being a kindergarten teacher’s aid to lecturing medical students, she’s worked with all different ages. “I substitute taught at [my kids’] school, which was—they put me with the little kids,” she says. “It was preschool to first grades, so I was with the little-little kids. Then I got hired with Montgomery College, so I did one year part-time at Montgomery College teaching Environmental Science, and then I got hired at Blake. So, all different ages.”
Throughout her teaching background, Dr. Felice finds that the hardest thing about teaching is being able to engage with students who have a difficulty with school and learning the curriculum. “I think it’s the challenge of wanting to connect with the students who are not quite there yet. The students who are having struggles, and you know that they can achieve their goals and you’re trying to encourage and engage them, but they’re not quite there yet,” she states. “And the challenge of trying to figure that out. How to engage them in their work, and show them that they can do it in a way that resonates for them, without them feeling too overwhelmed.”
“I feel like a lot of times my approach as a teacher is the same as what I would do as a mom, and sometimes that’s good and sometimes it’s bad,” Dr. Felice notes. “So I think if you guys know that I’m a mom and I have little ones, that maybe you understand my personality a little better.” When asked what other careers she would’ve loved to pursue, Dr. Felice mentioned that she would probably be “a baker. I love baking, it’s very relaxing.”
Even throughout all of the challenges she’s faced these past two years, her passion and teaching and love of her students are still strong as ever. “I love interacting with the students. I love seeing you guys work hard, I love seeing the light bulbs when you get something. I would say that’s the best thing,” Dr. Felice comments. “When you guys come in, we all say hello, and get to see the students grow over the year and what you’re accomplishing, and just being a part of this community. Seeing someone accomplish something that maybe they didn’t think they could, however big or small it is. And seeing the student realize for themselves that they can accomplish these things, or when they figure something out or understand it, or have that lightbulb or “a-ha” moment, those are some of my favorite kind of pick-me-up moments.”
Getting to know her students and seeing them every day is what motivates her. Dr. Felice is an amazing teacher, and we hope you all take the time to get to know her, even if you don’t end up having her for biology!