An Interview with Elementary School Teacher Dawn Little

I am so excited about today's bitch! Dawn is my oldest friend. To borrow from Shonda Rhimes, Dawn is a Ride or Die friend. When I was in middle school, my parents moved from Nashville to Smyrna, and unknowingly, down the street from Dawn's dad. I didn't know anyone in Smyrna, so I decided to invite all the girls in my class that I wanted to be friends with to my house for a slumber party. (P.S. This is almost exactly how I still make friends.) Dawn came to that slumber party and we've been friends ever since!

Dawn and I lived together through college, and then moved away at the same time after graduation. I moved to NYC and Dawn moved to Japan. Dawn came to visit me in NYC and in-between we talked on the phone and mailed each other boxes of contraband (Spoiler alert:  one of us needed deodorant and one of us needed Pocky).

Dawn is kind, patient, generous, funny, and unnervingly optimistic. It's no surprise that she found her calling in elementary education. I'm so excited to introduce you to this amazing person I've known for 27 years! Meet today's bitch, Dawn Little!

What is your job title and where do you work? 

I'm an Elementary School Teacher for the Los Angeles Unified School District in California.

When did you first learn about this field of work? 

I had considered teaching in undergrad (I was an education major for a year), but ended up obtaining my diploma in Psychology with a minor in Social Work.  

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University, I decided I wanted to move to Japan. Teaching English in Japan provided an opportunity for me to move. While in Japan, I realized that I loved teaching!

What was your path that lead you to the job you have now?

As I had wanted, I moved to Japan for nearly 8 years. There I taught with an after-school program, then in the English department of a community college, and, finally, Kindergarten at the Dalton School Tokyo (sister school of Dalton NYC). 

I left Dalton in 2006 to try out recruiting; however, I continued to feel a pull back to education as well as back to the States. I came back to the States to attain my MA in Elementary Education while working for the Consulate General of Japan, Nashville. Then, after suffering through a hiring freeze that most school districts held, I landed an interim teaching position for Cockrill Elementary in Metro Nashville Public Schools, which led to a full-time position with Cockrill. While teaching there I completed another MA program in English Language Acquisition at Lipscomb University and I also met my now husband (who lived in Northern California at the time). 

The idea of moving to California began to grow and, by coincidence, I was contacted by a recruiter from Los Angeles Unified School District asking me to meet. I met with him, although I was not sure that I would want to move to Los Angeles; however, by the end of the interview I was sold. The recruiter offered me an early contract for hire and my husband proposed a few days later. So I began that process and moved to Los Angeles in June of 2014.

Favorite piece of advice, business or otherwise?

Teaching can take a lot out of a person mentally. It’s difficult, but I try to make sure that I do not bring my work home with me (even if that means I stay extra late a few days a week). It’s important to have your own space and time. 

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

I’m definitely more organized now. In the past, I was not always organized which would occasionally cause a lapse in time. You don’t want to have any lapse in time with 24 little ones.

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?


What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your professional life? 

This is something I get to experience yearly - seeing students who have struggled academically grow.

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning? 

Gmail, Facebook, and Instagram (in that order).

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

I workout and enjoy watching crime shows.

What’s the hardest thing about your job that isn’t obvious? 

The most difficult part of the job is the gap between the reality of the classroom and what the system expects. Classrooms are much more diverse than they were 10, 20, or 30 years ago. A “one size fits all” curriculum is not logical.

What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?

Haha! Unfortunately, there are several things people get wrong about what I do! Many people are under the misconception that students are agreeable and, simply put, it’s an easy job. People think teachers get off at 3pm, work 5 days, 10 months a year; however, that is not true. The job requires way more from teachers, e.g. free tutoring after school, lesson planning over the weekend, after-school meetings, professional development during breaks, etc. Additionally, we do not get paid for not working over the summer. Our 10 month salary can be disbursed over a 12 month period (if you do the math, you can see that this is true. We’d make more if we were paid for 12 months). Although I am thankful for the time off, I think many people get it wrong. 

Aside from the general misconceptions mentioned above, I think the most difficult part of the job is trying to teach and help our students at the same time. Our classrooms are not what we saw 20 years ago. The needs have changed from those of the past causing educational disparity to grow. Many classrooms have students who are going through hardships outside of school. Being able to ensure that students have both basic needs (food, clothing, supplies, etc.) and emotional stability while teaching them can prove to be draining. For example, students who come to school hungry, students who need dental care, and students who have emotional distress - and these are just a few examples. It’s difficult finding a balance for helping the student as well as making sure he/she receives an education. It’s not a feeling that is easy to just forget after the day is over.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

Um, any law or crime show, especially Law and Order! Also, I really like Shameless and Jessica Jones.  As for snacks, chips! Just about any kind. 

All photos courtesy of Dawn Little

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  DMC Operations Director, Rita Davidson!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

9/11 Museum

9/11 Museum

An Interview with DMC Operations Director Rita Davidson