Judy Doran talks fast. Very fast. Very, very fast.
That characteristic strikes one immediately on first meeting her. But if you ask her students to describe her they will yell out plenty of others:
“Awesome!” “Cool!” “Smart!” “Compassionate!” “Unique!” “Hilarious!” “Protective!” “Caring!” “Crazy!” “Doesn’t like Demi Lovato!”
No doubt those are some of the reasons Doran was recently named the Kent County Education Association Middle School Teacher of the Year.
The Duncan Lake Middle School teacher in the Caledonia Community School District said teaching sixth grade is a perfect match for her.
“The things they do and the things they say, they make me laugh a lot,” Doran said. “You have to love the students and love what you do. If you’re in the wrong place, move.”
Doran was a Spanish teacher for six years, a seventh-grade teacher for two and has been teaching sixth-graders the last 18. A grade she thinks would be especially challenging is kindergarten.
“There’s a special place in heaven for kindergarten teachers, and I will not be there,” she said with a laugh.
After you get used to Doran’s mile-a-minute talking, the next characteristic you’ll pick up on will be her sense of humor. She sees it as a must for anyone going into teaching. “You have to have a sense of humor, otherwise you’d be crying,” she said, laughing again.
Full of Energy
On her list of activities for her class each day is reading aloud to them, even though sixth-graders may seem a bit old for it. “You’d be surprised,” she said. “They listen, and they love it.”
Doran is part of an “unbelievable” six-member team of sixth-grade teachers, said Principal Ryan Graham, and a blessing for students who are trying to figure out how middle school works. “She’s full of energy and a huge part of bringing those students into creating the culture here.”
A graduate of East Kentwood High School, Doran earned her bachelor’s degree at Central Michigan University and her master’s at Western Michigan University. She attends Cornerstone Church in Caledonia and is coordinator of its Interfaith Hospitality Network, a program in which 14 churches open their doors to give homeless families places to stay.
Homeless families come to live at Cornerstone three times a year for one week. Doran organizes a group of her students to buy groceries to feed them, serve them dinner and play with their children. Her class service projects also help In the Image, Kids Food Basket and P.O.R.T. (Pediatric Oncology Resource Team) at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
“The students in Caledonia are sheltered for the most part,” Doran said of the rural suburban area. “Doing all this shows them how fortunate they are and hopefully develops giving hearts.”
One of the big changes she’s seen during her 24 years of teaching is the move to a data-driven world.
“Email has revolutionized parent-teacher connections,” she said, noting parents have instant access to grades. “It changes the parent-teacher conferences. Parents don’t need to come to conferences to find out how their students are doing academically, so you can use that time to look at the whys and hows and go deeper.”
Students are also learning at a much higher level than in the past, Doran said: “What I learned as a freshman in high school these students are getting in sixth grade. What we teach has become much harder at each grade level.”