Teacher, Coach, Alum: Q&A with Churchill’s Dan Carney
From science and social studies to spelling and slam-dunking, Churchill teacher and basketball coach Dan Carney gives students the tools to look beyond the frustrations of a learning disability.
We sat down with Mr. Carney to talk about his experience as a Churchill teacher, coach, and alumnus.
Churchill: What is your role here at Churchill? How long have you been teaching here?
Dan Carney: I teach social studies and science, and I’m an individual tutorial teacher, which is a case manager and teaching role. I’m also the basketball coach. I have taught at Churchill for 13 years.
Churchill: Walk us through a typical day for you, from the time you get here until the time you leave.
DC: There really is no such thing as a typical day and that’s what I like about it. I get here at 7:15 and prepare my classes for the morning. I may be preparing a lesson on reading or spelling, but everything at Churchill is so individualized that it really depends on what that student needs, what their weaknesses are, and where they’re struggling at that particular time.
I teach four tutorials every day. They are 50 minutes. The ages of tutorial students I work with range in age from seven to 14. With the younger students, we may work on different sounds that the “a” can make, or with an older student, we might work through how to write a two-page paper on a piece of literature.
In science, I focus a lot on hands-on science experiments. We’ll start off a class on physics and motion working with Lego robotics. Later, when we’re taking notes I’ll say, “Remember when we were building and the Lego guy flew off the car? That’s what inertia is.” That’s much more effective than starting off with a foreign vocabulary word like “inertia.”
The goal within the social studies curriculum is to integrate skills and strategy use for comprehending non-fiction text. We utilize grade-appropriate content as a vehicle to instruct these strategies. The content, paired with strategy use, provides a nice bridge for our students when they’re ready to transition back into a traditional setting.
“The goal within the social studies curriculum is to integrate skills and strategy use for comprehending non-fiction text. We utilize grade-appropriate content as a vehicle to instruct these strategies. The content, paired with strategy use, provides a nice bridge for our students when they’re ready to transition back into a traditional setting.”
Churchill: Do you have any favorite lessons or projects?
DC: One that stands out is “Vote for Apple.” In social studies when I’m covering the election, we have an election of our own. We have two parties, but our two parties are the “sweet party” and the “salty party.” The students campaign and vote on the snack of their choice: either sweet or salty. They really get passionate about their snack choice and we have campaign posters, speeches, and pep rallies. It’s such a good way to teach about the political process and politics without getting into national politics, and it gives the students some ownership in the election.
Churchill: What gets you up in the morning? Do you have a favorite part of the job?
DC: With one-on-one teaching in tutorial, you can really make a lot of progress in a short period of time. You actually get to see that progress and how it affects the student, their parents, and their siblings in a positive way. The student’s attitude really changes — toward school, reading, and how they feel about themselves.
Churchill: You yourself are a Churchill alum. Can you share a little bit about your Churchill experience as a student?
DC: I was diagnosed with a learning disability in third grade, before Churchill, and school was always frustrating for me. I knew I was smarter than some of the students in the class, but they would always perform better than me on math tests and spelling tests and were in higher level reading groups. That was really hard for a third grader to understand: “Yes I’m smart, but I’m smart in a different way.” That’s really what I got out of Churchill. On the first day, when I got into the car, I said to my mom, “They get me here.”
Churchill also gave me the hope that I could learn how to read, spell, write, and be able to go to college. These were all things that I didn’t think were possible before I came to Churchill. After I left Churchill, I had really good student skills and classroom skills. I could take notes in a very systematic way. I could use the right process to write essays and to study for tests. I had a system for all different academic areas that my peers didn’t have.
“Churchill also gave me the hope that I could learn how to read, spell, write, and be able to go to college. These were all things that I didn’t think were possible before I came to Churchill.”
Churchill: What makes Churchill a special place?
DC: We make miracles happen. I can honestly say that I have seen miracles happen here. There are students that are just like me that at the end of the first day, go out to their mom and say, “they get me here.”