ONE TEACHER’S MISSION – TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

By Boyce Durr on July, 20 2021

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“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to teaching; you have to let students tell you what they need and build relationships in order to be successful.” Dani Hartung, a fifth-grade teacher at Damar Elementary School in Palco, shares her beliefs on what it takes to be a successful teacher today. Before teaching, Hartung earned a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies from Kansas State, where she participated in Track & Field. She went on to earn her Master of Science in Education (MSE) from Fort Hays State University. Hartung participated in the Limited Apprenticeship Licensure (LAL) program, which allowed her to be mentored one semester and continue to teach as the classroom teacher the 2nd semester while completing licensure.

Hartung’s enthusiasm for teaching is unmistakable when she speaks about her job, so it was surprising when she admits that teaching was not something she had always wanted to do. According to Hartung, “My initial motivation for wanting to go into education was probably that my dad was always a teacher, my whole life, and I’m very comfortable in the behind-the-scenes school setting. It was natural for me to feel comfortable in the school environment. However, as I got older and started making decisions about my future, I backed away from education.” As Hartung pursued her college goals both in Track and Field and completing a degree in Communications, she admits, “it wasn’t until later, when I started working with kids, coaching and working in schools as a para, that I realized how much I loved interacting with them, helping them to acquire new skills, and help them to become the best people they can be.”

The realization that she wanted to work with children, coupled with the opportunities available through Fort Hays State Universities’ education programs, enabled Hartung to acquire her current teaching position as a 5th-grade teacher, something she admits she was nervous about initially. “I thought I would like to teach younger students, like 1st-grade, but once I began teaching 5th-grade, I loved it. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.”

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted everyone, but schools, teachers, and students were affected more than most. When asked about how she handled this disruption to the traditional school year, Hartung replied, “The initial shutdown was devastating as it came without warning, and we didn’t even get to say goodbye.” She went on to say, “you could just see the COVID restrictions wear down students. Teaching became even more about the social/emotional well-being of everyone, even more than just the academics because there was so much more stress placed on the students.” As Hartung discussed how difficult the transition to online teaching was for both teachers and students, she explained that for teachers to succeed, they had to focus on the whole student, not just on academics. When asked how she managed, she said, “I was very thankful because I had a wonderful, competitive, well-spoken, cooperative class this year. Even though they would get irritated sometimes when being reminded to put their mask back on, we always ended up having fun and working really hard together.”

Now, having taught for two years, through some of the most challenging times to be a teacher, Hartung shared some experiences that helped shape her life and influenced her view on what it means to be a teacher. “In my personal and professional life, mentorship has been extremely important to me. I highly value people who have been mentors for me, who have helped shaped me as a person and helped me to learn things, whether that is academic things or anything else, so I have always wanted to be that for other people, for younger people. In my opinion, the answer to ‘why teach’ is relationships, 100%. I just want to be an active force in as many students’ lives as possible to help improve their lives, to help them be empowered, to help shape them and guide them and steer them toward the best future that they can have.”

Dani Hartung, FHSU graduate and 5th-grade teacher whose passion for teaching is palpable, sums up her beliefs on how to help children in a single sentence. She says, “I have heroes, people that have been so influential and important in my life, and I think that if each of us could just be that for a handful of students, the world would be such a better place.”

 
Boyce Durr

It has been nearly 25 years since I entered my first class as a High School English teacher in the wonderful little town of Prairie Home, Missouri. I loved teaching high school and thought I might do this for my entire career. However, plans change, life happens, and some opportunities have to be taken. My name is Boyce D. Durr. I have both a B.A. in English and an M.A.E. in English education from Truman State University in Missouri and a Ph.D. in Teaching and Learning from New York University. Since teaching high school, I have worked at NYU, Queens College, Virginia Polytechnic University, Kaplan University, and Radford University before transitioning back to the Midwest, where I now work as a writer and marketing editor at Fort Hays State University. I spent much of my career helping students develop their writing. Now I look forward to putting these skills to work at FHSU, sharing some of the fantastic stories found here at Tiger Nation.

 


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