Here at Oakland Mills High School, our community never stops growing. Every year, a new class joins our community to embark on a fantastic academic and personal four-year journey. And every year, new faces join the staff to accompany students on their journeys every step of the way. While there are many new staff members joining us this year and it may be difficult to acquaint yourself with all of them, rest assured that you’ll never fail to find one in room 503—Ms. Dotson.
A teacher of nine years, Ms. Dotson knew what she wanted to do for a long time. With an autistic older brother, Ms. Dotson’s interest in working with kids with disabilities eventually led her here to OMHS. But there is more to Ms. Dotson than what appears on the surface.
The student experience, academic and personal alike, have challenges that come with it. But what is the “greatest” obstacle that students face today? The kids at OMHS aren’t the only ones with a say in their journey. “What to do after high school, I think, is one of the biggest challenges because if you’re going to college, it is extremely expensive. That debt can be absolutely crushing,” Ms. Dotson explains, “if you’re not, it’s finding a good job that you can actually support yourself with. One that won’t stick you with minimum wage for the rest of your life, which is not the living wage. I think that’s one of the biggest challenges. And we expect high school kids to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives already, but it took me a while to figure it out.”
But there’s more to the student experience than the “after.” What may be more important than the future for students is the present. For students at OMHS, they have been part of the country’s education system for as long as they can remember, and many students share grievances for the system and believe it can be better than it already is. But what does a teacher in the system believe is best for students? “More break time for older kids, and probably less homework,” Ms. Dotson elucidates, “I know that they want more responsibility for older kids because you’re just going to have more responsibility as an adult. But I feel like it’s not a very good transition by the time you hit high school. I feel like they just, all of a sudden, dump everything. You have after school activities, you have homework, and it’s like every teacher gives you homework all at the same time. And I feel like you guys don’t get enough sleep.”
Ms. Dotson has much to share about the student experience, but people seldom know about the particulars of her role as an Academic Life Skills (ALS) teacher and the struggles that come with the job. So what are these struggles? “The hard days,” she thoughtfully clarifies, “when kids don’t want to work or when they have a meltdown because maybe they’re hungry or they’re tired and some of these kids can tell you and some of these kids can’t. So, it’s a balancing act. Trying to figure out for those kids a way for them to communicate to let them know what’s wrong and to try to prevent a crisis before it happens.” While the struggles Ms. Dotson and the rest of the ALS staff face are valid and true, she stresses with sincerity on how the kids she works with always manage to bring a smile to her face and make the hard days worth it.
Aside from her work as a teacher and her insight on education, there is more than one way to relate to Ms. Dotson. “I’m a nerd. I like to watch a lot of different TV shows. Things like Supernatural, Teen Wolf, Doctor Who. I love to read. I love to write. I actually love working out. I’m getting more into physical fitness. I like to spend time with my cat, my friends, my family,” she explains. She also idolizes Helen Keller!
So the next time you stop by room 503, it would never hurt to talk about some of the things you’re interested in, too. Ms. Dotson might have something in common!