Denise Dutcher has spent the last 19 years of her life teaching at Creekside Intermediate School in Dexter and there is one great reward that comes with that role that will never get old. It’s that special moment when the light bulb flicks on, the eyes suddenly explode open and everything seems so easy, so effortless and so right in the world.
A young student discovering the path to the right answer is a magical moment that never fails to bring just as much happiness and pride to the teacher as it does the pupil.
“I feel immense pride when kids persevere and achieve that breakthrough moment – something clicks or they see a wonderful connection,” says Dutcher. “Kids will usually say, ‘Oooooh,’ or sometimes come right out and say, ‘I get it!’
“I also feel proud when students reach out to me through social media or email after they leave my class, to let me know that they did something that reminded them of when they had me as a teacher. It’s amazing to think how much impact a teacher can have in the life of a child!”
It’s amazing, but not surprising when it comes to the teacher-student relationship.
Good teachers don’t just show the answer, they show how to get there. And the great ones show how much fun and rewarding it can be to get there – teaching the greatest lesson of all – the joy of learning that students take with them down the road. That road is one of limitless boundaries and endless potential for a student who enjoys and wants to learn.
Denise Dutcher is one of those great teachers. She was recently named the 2020-21 Science Teacher of the Year for the Greater Washtenaw County area by the University of Michigan Chapter of Sigma Xi, Scientific Research Honor Society.
It’s amazing, but not surprising to hear how humble and grateful Dutcher is when the award is brought up.
“Quite frankly, every educator should be recognized for their accomplishments this year,” she says. “It’s been a tough year for teachers, yet they have been so resilient! I absolutely love teaching math and science, and when I hear kids say, ‘Oh, I get it!’ or ‘That’s SO cool,’ it makes my day.”
Dutcher also believes teaching is a team sport and she has had a great teammate at Creekside for more than a decade. “I could not be more proud of my teaching partner of 13 years, Jane Webby, and the staff at Creekside Intermediate,” she says. “They have worked tirelessly to make learning fun and engaging for all students, while supporting their colleagues.”
Dutcher, 55, grew up in Rochester Hills, Mich., and received her BA from Michigan State University in Elementary Education and a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration, also from MSU.
She started teaching in 1987 in Rochester Community Schools. Denise and her husband Kurt (they now have three kids – Alex, Zack and Maddie) moved to Dexter in 1999 and she started teaching at Creekside in 2002.
Teaching was in her DNA – both of her parents and grandmother were educators – and math and science just added up as the subjects she wanted to teach.
“I have always thought of teaching as my calling since,” Dutcher says. “Math and science have always been my most favorite subjects. Teaching math encourages kids to be critical thinkers and great problem solvers. Teaching science is exciting and so fun for the children. They love discovering, exploring, and investigating.
“I’ve often thought of science as the great amalgamation of all the subjects! You can teach history, math, writing and reading, all through the lens of science.”
This year, the lens has become more difficult to see through but all of the teachers in Dexter have focused in on what’s important – teaching, whether via a computer screen or in-person.
“Teaching during a pandemic has had its share of challenges,” says Dutcher, who is a Summit Learning teacher (a project-based as well as a personalized learning teacher). “Thankfully, our building uses a Learning Management System (LMS) called Summit. The resources that exist within the platform help to keep the kids engaged and supported. More importantly, I have found that by mentoring students 1:1, I’ve been able to make connections with them. Students that feel known and respected, will want to work harder.”
Dutcher says learning is much more fun when kids are active. “Now that we are back to a hybrid model, hands-on materials are utilized whenever possible,” she says. “This week was Microscope Week in science. Hearing the ‘Ooohs’ and ‘Aaahs’ was so exciting for me.”
Dutcher’s day doesn’t end when the school bell rings for the final time in the afternoon. For the past six years, she has been the volunteer beekeeper at the school.
“We have a beekeeping club where we learn about the bees, tend to them, harvest the honey and once in a while, sell the honey to buy more bees,” she says. “The kids love it and knock on wood, not one student has been stung.”
And for the past 10 years, Dutcher has been the Quiz Bowl Coordinator.
“There is always a group of kids that love trivia,” she says. “I love games and when combined with learning, it is fun and exciting for the kids. We use electronic ‘quizzers’ to ring in our answers and in a typical year, we go to a Quiz Bowl tournament in Saline.”
And then there are the ducklings.
“I also love to hatch ducklings with the kids,” she says. “This event ties into our life science unit. Many students do not have a chance to see something hatch right in front of them so this is super exciting for the children. Of course the ducklings are adorable as well.”
Any chance for an ‘Ooohs’ and ‘Aaahs’ moment and to share in the joy of learning will be on Denise Dutcher’s schedule. While the awards are nice, these are the greatest awards of all.