Tahlequah Daily Press


April 15, 2014

Dickerson believes in putting the student first

TAHLEQUAH — As a child growing up in Elk City, Cherokee Elementary teacher Debra Dickerson lined up the neighborhood children and animals to play school.

“I’ve been a teacher ever since I could talk. My mother always said she knew where I was because she could hear me bossing everyone,” she said.

The classroom then was a blanket tossed over limbs of her big cherry tree on Eisenhower Street. Recess was spent tree-climbing, running, riding in the bus (her red wagon) and being creative.

“Those were the days before video games and TV,” she said.

Dickerson, 2013-’14 Cherokee Elementary Teacher of the Year, believes a classroom should be a safe haven for children, because school is often the best part of their day.

“It is so important to greet our students each morning with a smile, a gentle touch and a kind word,” said Dickerson. “The school day is a buffer of eight hours against the uncertainty of their young lives.”

Dickerson has much to share about her love of teaching, and her career spans 38 years. This is the third time she’s been awarded Teacher of the Year.

It was her third-grade teacher who inspired her love of reading.

“She was beautiful. She read to her class each day. I loved, ‘The Boxcar Children,’” she said. “This was the first book I read to my classes when I became a teacher.”

Her parents taught Sunday school and Vacation Bible School – examples very important to Dickerson, who was the first in her family to graduate from college.

She earned her Bachelor of Music Education degree from Southwestern State University, and in 1978, she completed her master’s degree in education.

Before her 29 years teaching math, music and language arts at Cherokee Elementary, she taught at Wagoner, Arapaho, Clinton, Carnegie and Roosevelt, starting in 1976.

Putting the student first sums up Dickerson’s philosophy of teaching. It is based on her own positive experiences as a student.

“The great teachers in my life practiced this philosophy, and I have made it my mantra,” she said.

As a professional, she feels responsible for reaching all students.

“Most of all, I enjoy the students. Every day brings something new and exciting,” said Dickerson. “I have enjoyed teaching all ages, kindergarten through high school, but I love my fourth-graders.”

For two years, she taught a gender-based class of boys, which she called her hardest but most rewarding years. The class was called “Dickerson’s Dudes.” During that time, Cherokee’s recycling program began.

“We were one of the 10 schools in Oklahoma to receive a $1,000 Excellence in Recycling grant at the State Capitol,” said Dickerson. “They sang our recycling song on the House of Representatives floor. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how those boys looked that day.”

Although she’s enjoyed teaching music, it’s math she’s really loved helping children come to appreciate.

“The joy reflected in a child’s eyes when they grasp a concept is immeasurable,” she said. “And girls often are told they can’t do math, but I have worked hard to help girls find out they can be good at math.”

This year marks her third and final time to received the honor of Teacher of the Year, and twice as District Teacher of the Year, in 1993-’94 and 2008-2009. She will retire in May.

“I was speechless! I have been privileged to be chosen three times. There is no higher honor than to be told by your peers, ‘job well done,’” she said.

The faculty and staff at Cherokee have been dedicated to the students and worked as a team, Dickerson said.

“Our student body is diverse and accepts educational challenges,” she said.

She’s been married to husband Larry for 36 years, and  he’s a retired teacher. They have two daughters, Courtney Dickerson and Kylee Battenfield. Their grandchildren are Abigail, 7 and Sydni, 3.

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