BROOKS - Daniel Mullins once narrowed his career path to two options: Pediatrics and teaching.
“People said don’t do teaching, including my Mom, who was a teacher,” Mullins recalled. “Nursing wasn’t any fun so I transferred to the education program.”
Today he knows he made the right choice, and so does Bullitt County, naming Mullins the 2011 Elementary Teacher of the Year.
Mullins is in his second year as a fifth-grade instructor at Brooks Elementary focusing on math and social studies. He also taught three years with Overdale Elementary and another four in Jefferson County.
A Louisville native, Mullins now lives across the street from Brooks with his wife, Carrie, a part-time Jefferson County teacher. The couple has two children, Alyssa, 4, and Levi, 1.
Mullins received his bachelor’s, master’s and National Boards from Spalding University. His personality and work ethic both suit his decision to teach.
“I’m very analytical, it’s my strong suit,” said Mullins. “That’s why I teach math. And I’m fascinated in social studies.”
Mullins admitted a big struggle for fifth graders was relating to social studies.
“It’s more like U.S. history to them, wondering why all these dead people from long ago are important,” he said.
Thanks to the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative (OVEC) History Alive grant, Mullins has increased teaching resources by meeting with other teachers to share and discuss strategies.
“I build my own knowledge to help students with their own knowledge,” he said. “I share ideas with other instructors.”
One of Mullins’ classroom ideas featured a student tug-of-war to coincide with his Civil War discussion. In another students lived aboard an 18th Century slave ship.
“We turned the heat all the way up, (students) laid on the floor, and it was dark,” said Mullins. “We sprayed them with water and rice, the rice representing maggots.”
Mullins said the experience brought out compassion from the students, who understood the conditions more than a history book would allow.
“It brought it to life,” he said. “By the end they were fired up at King George. It got them interested and brought up a good discussion in the classroom.”
Brooks principal Cheri Lineweaver credited Mullins and the History Alive grant for enhancing students’ educational experience within the classroom. She recalled a day when she found the class standing and reciting the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution.
“It’s not unusual to walk into the middle of a conversation or debate,” said Lineweaver. “(Mullins) really forces them to think. It’s really engaging and the kids get involved.”
In an attempt to keep math skills strong throughout the year, Mullins implemented “flashbacks” lessons each day, featuring items learned during a previous week.
“Math takes a lot of time,” he said. “This way they don’t forget it. It comes into play later and they recognize it. That’s given me the biggest confidence booster for them.”
Confidence is a skill that Mullins pursues further than the lesson plans themselves. His mother, Jeanette, a former school teacher, and a former high school teacher, Ms. Roberts, taught him his most important teaching lesson: caring.
“(Roberts) cared more about us individually than any other teacher I ever had,” Mullins recalled. “That’s what stuck with me, and it’s the same in elementary school.”
Mullins was 10 years old when Jeanette graduated from college with her teaching degree. He learned a lot about teaching during that time.
“I was a guinea pig,” he said of Jeanette’s tested teaching methods. “I enjoyed the creative side of (teaching), that interested me.”
Brooks third grade instructor Charlotte Frisby worked with Mullins while both coached the school’s academic team. Frisby said Mullins incorporated individual life skills throughout the building.
“Mr. Mullins is always available to help,” said Frisby. “He has the best interests of the students at heart.”
Frisby said Mullins had a good rapport with his students. Additionally, she said he also communicated well with parents, whether the topic was good or bad news.
Being one of the few male teachers on the Brooks staff puts Mullins into the role of a disciplinarian at times. He demands high expectations from students while maintaining a friendly and comfortable learning atmosphere.
“You can be an individual, but you’re here to learn,” he tells students. “You don’t have the right to bother somebody else. I try to keep it light but there’s a time for that and a time for serious.”
Mullins mentioned having a male teacher on staff offered a different perspective to both students and teachers.
“It’s a different way of thinking,” he said. “A male teacher has a different preparation than a female teacher. They get a whole new experience when they get a male teacher.”
Lineweaver said Mullins was a good role model, especially to the boys.
“He’s a wonderful teacher,” she said. “He goes out of his way to make sure students understand what he’s teaching.”
Lineweaver praised Mullins efforts on the administrative side, crediting him for volunteer efforts in planning and extra-curricular school activities.
“He started math tutoring after school on his own initiative,” she said. “They’re working with kids that can do higher work and be pushed to the next level. They’re also working with those who are struggling. He’s meeting the needs of different kids.”
Lineweaver credited Mullins for establishing a school Math-a-Thon, as well as captaining the Brooks Relay for Life team.
“Being actively involved is a huge thing,” she said. “His planning really pays off.”
Frisby noted Mullins’ planning methods and organizational skills, also praising his efforts with St. Jude Children’s Hospital charity donations.
“He is willing to help old teachers like me when I have problems with all the new technology, because he is really good using it,” Frisby added.
Mullins is eligible to be named the 2011 Kentucky Elementary Teacher of the Year. He is also one of three state finalists for the 2011 Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching in June.
The programs, planning, methods and awards are great, but for Mullins they only enhance the true core of his teaching philosophy.
“I teach kids, not content,” he said. “That makes a big difference."