Nathaniel Dunn III is a 3rd grade teacher at i3 Academy in Birmingham, Alabama and a 2023 Changemaker being honored for National Charter Schools Week 2023, May 7-13.
Nathaniel is an inspiring educator who was previously been honored as the 2021 Henry Nelson Teacher of Excellence by the Alabama Charter School Commission. Nathaniel’s passion is driven by the desire to be the kind of teacher he wish he had growing up. As a teacher, Nathaniel doesn’t shy away from new methods and innovation. Outside of his regular school day, he is an EdFarm Teacher Fellow where he is equipped to be a designer and facilitator of future-focused learning. Nathaniel’s impact also extends outside of his classroom as a long-time baseball coach and mentor in his community.
The National Alliance connected with Nathaniel for a Q&A about his experience as a teacher and in a charter school:
How has working at a charter school shaped your career as an educator?
Working for a charter school has shaped my career in a number of ways. It has given me the opportunity to develop new teaching methods and curricula that are not possible in traditional public schools. Working for a charter school allows me to place a heavy focus on social and emotional learning, a practice that keeps me focused on how my students are feeling emotionally each day. I really appreciate how charter schools focus on mental health.
I feel extremely supported on this journey. There are resources in place that allow us to talk with therapists who are willing to assist us when needed. Being a part of a charter school has given me a clearer vision of how to become a more innovative teacher for my students. I have learned that attention must be paid.
Tell us one of your favorite anecdotes from being a teacher that showcases why you do this work.
In my first year of teaching, I had a child whose family had some financial setbacks. One day I heard some children talking about his clothes. So naturally I did what any other teacher did and came to his defense. I also told him “Someone else’s opinion of you does not have to become your reality.” Just last year that student (who is now seven years older) visited me and he explained how important it was for him to hear those words. He stated he has spent his life overcoming incredible odds and pursuing his goals with passion and fervor because I was the first person that made him believe he was bigger than his circumstances. He thanked me for the powerful revelation. I will never forget this student or this experience.
There are many times where my students would text or FaceTime me, just to feel the connection. I always encourage my students to reach out to me at any time. The bond that we create helps us gel together as a class.
What do you love about being a teacher?
I absolutely love teaching at a charter school because it gives me the freedom to teach again. Being creative and inspiring is what I love to do when I’m teaching my students. When they are pumped up, it feels like we can do anything. Working for a charter school allows me to create a space where my students have the freedom to express themselves through academics and innovation. My goal is to help create productive members and changemakers of society. I absolutely love teaching my students through music they are familiar with. Meeting children where they are is extremely important. Building relationships with my students is key. I get the most excited when I attend an event that my students are involved in. I place heavy importance on attending ball games, dance recitals, birthday parties, and any extracurricular activities that they are involved in.
What made you become a teacher?
I became a teacher because I wanted to become the teacher I’ve always needed. I have a passion for helping children learn and grow. Teaching is rewarding and refreshing on so many levels. Making my students feel comfortable and confident while learning is something that I felt I needed as a child. Often, I share with my students the importance of making mistakes in the classroom. I believe that the classroom should be a relaxing intimate environment where all students can learn at a pace that is comfortable for them. I truly believe that when students are happy in the classroom, they will thrive.
What makes you most excited about the future of public education or what opportunities do you see?
What I’m most excited about is the use of technology to enhance learning experiences. With this we can create more engaging and interactive experiences that meet the needs of individual students. I am also excited to continue to build onto the culture of our charter school. I’m excited to see the culture and climate grow within our school. I love the increased emphasis on social and emotional learning (SEL) in helping students develop skills such as self-awareness, empathy, and responsible decision making. Incorporating SEL into the curriculum can help to create a more positive and supportive learning environment. I am looking forward to the opportunities for collaboration and professional development that are available to teach today’s child. With the growth of social media and online communities, educators can connect with colleagues around the world and share ideas and resources.