Teacher of the year

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First grade teacher Emily Dugan recently received the K-3 Teacher of the Year award from the Montana Association for the Education of Young Children. (Daniel McKay/Whitefish Pilot)

Emily Dugan has always known teaching is her calling.

Even while a student herself in the first grade, the choice was clear.

“I think it was my teacher in first grade,” she said of her reason for wanting to become a teacher. “I think just the relationship and her classroom, I just loved everything about first grade. It’s never changed, what I wanted to be.”

Dugan teaches first grade at Muldown Elementary School and was recently named the K-3 Teacher of the Year by the Montana Association for the Education of Young Children.

According to MAEYC, the award is given to “an early childhood teacher working in a classroom serving children kindergarten through third grade who demonstrates outstanding character in education initiatives.” The recipient of the award shows an understanding in adjusting to the needs and interests of a wide variety of student learners.

“Emily Dugan exudes a quiet, calm, strong presence in the hearts of the students she teaches,” said Muldown Elementary Principal Linda Whitright. “She exemplifies the criteria of this award as she is dedicated to education and shows a love for inspiring students through early learning.”

Dugan received the award at the 2018 MAEYC conference, held in Fairmont Hot Springs in British Columbia.

As someone who doesn’t seek out attention, Dugan admitted being singled out has been a bit overwhelming, and she’s glad she wasn’t asked to give a speech when receiving the award last month.

“I’m more humbled, like I’m just doing my job,” she said. “I work with a lot of great teachers here too, so I feel like being singled out — it’s hard to pick one great teacher because they’re all pretty amazing in the job we do.”

Dugan has been at Muldown for two years, having been added as a kindergarten teacher last year. She’s been teaching for 12 years and worked at Camas Day School in Whitefish prior to joining the Muldown staff. She received her degree from Montana State University.

For Dugan, the relationships she gets to have with her students is her favorite part of the gig.

And as she sees it, the hardest part of her job is that she doesn’t get to work more.

“My biggest challenge is trying to fit everything in. I wish I had an extra hour every day with them to keep doing all of our stuff, because we have a lot of curriculum stuff but then you want to fit in all of the really fun science projects and all that,” she said.

So far, Dugan said she’s loved teaching at Muldown.

She graduated from a windowless, makeshift kindergarten classroom last year to her current room, which looks out onto the deer that roam through an adjacent forest.

She’s also especially excited for the new Muldown school building, currently under construction and set to open in fall of 2020.

Coming from a private school setting, Dugan said the difference is mostly being able to get to know the students’ families very well with smaller classes, but new technology is allowing her to bridge that gap at Muldown.

“I did like that because you get to know the families more, but here we have a lot of apps now where we can keep in contact with the parents and I feel like there’s a lot more communication than there was in the past,” she said. “Everyone here has been super welcoming. I’ve really liked working here, it’s been fun.”

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