Black History Month Teacher Feature: Dana McDaniel

Abra Gist
February 16, 2022

When she is not teaching Dana McDaniel loves trying new recipes in her kitchen and giving herself “self-prescribed” plant therapy gardening and outdoor time. 

Although she is a mathematics teacher, Ms. McDaniel uses the power of words to inspire, motivate, and connect with her virtual students. 

Quotes like, “If you cannot do great things, do small things in great ways,” by Napolean Hill and, “The worst thing about a MISTAKE is being afraid to make one,” are displayed on the digital background for her Geometry class. Ms. McDaniel knows that even as a teacher in the virtual classroom building connections as well as students’ confidence is paramount to great teaching. 

Called to teaching

She has always felt the drive to help children growing up in troublesome situations and environments. Her love for math and business, however, moved her towards a major in Finance. She minored in Sociology with the intention of opening a youth program on the side that would provide a positive outlet and opportunities for those youth. Approximately 20 years ago, she lucked out on an opportunity to teach math at an alternative school for middle and high school girls; and as they say, "the rest is history".

“While I never intended to go into and especially stay in teaching, it truly felt like fate, the universe, God - whatever one calls it, puts you where you’re supposed to be - for whatever reason, for that season,” she said. 

Teaching allows Ms. McDaniel a place to serve a purpose. While most students don’t come into her classes exclaiming, “math is my favorite subject”, she loves watching the fear of math or a defeated mindset transform over the course of the semester. 

“If I can get them past that overwhelming fear, that little voice in their minds that tells them to give up and not even try…if I can be a part of that transformation, then I know we are making progress,” says Ms. McDaniel. 

Beyond the brick and mortar

Before joining Proximity in July 2020, she taught at traditional Brick and Mortar schools for seven years. Ms. McDaniel decided to transition away from traditional schooling because she wanted to teach students that needed extra support - both academically and personally - and weren't able to thrive in a traditional setting.  

Even though her background is in numbers and finance, she says it will always be the human component that makes teaching such a rewarding and important job in society. 

As the country watches the exodus of teachers increase, Ms. McDaniel says the profession has truly changed and the society these students live within has changed as well. If we want to come up with solutions for our teachers, students, and schools, “we need to think about refocusing in education - on the art of teaching instead of on the data, stats, test scores, and numbers,” she said. 

“We absolutely need more support for our teachers out there. And we need to allow teachers the opportunity to use their unique skill sets to create and build classrooms that fit the students as well as the teachers.” 

Black History and the trailblazers

Although she celebrates "Black History" all year long, Black History Month gives her the opportunity to highlight the traditions of her heritage and honor those who helped mold and motivate her. It gives her the chance to share pride with others who may not have been exposed to the exceptional trailblazers, inventors, scholars, artists, athletes, and more that helped create this history.

The dedication of the many who relentlessly risked their lives for what they believed in and advocated for shaped her life and career. 

“I think of them when I need strength, courage, and resilience to face challenging situations and circumstances.”

Advice for the future & people looking to start their careers or become leaders today

1. Surround yourself with positive people who have traits and skills that you can model yourself after

2. Hold true to what you believe in and base your decisions and actions on this

3. And most importantly, don't be afraid to take risks, make mistakes, or ask for help

Learn more about teaching remotely to impact student lives.

about the author
Abra Gist

Abra Gist is a writer and educator in Austin, Texas with over a decade of experience in the education sector. She earned her Bachelor's Degree in English at The University of Texas. She is currently an MFA Creative Writing Candidate at Texas State University. She loves exploring nature, practicing and teaching yoga, and sharing her industry knowledge for Proximity Learning.

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