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story.lead_photo.caption Bryant Middle School teacher Dustin Dearman has been nominated for the 2017-2018 LifeChanger of the Year award, sponsored by the National Life Group Foundation. Now in his fourth year of teaching at the school, Dearman helped start an advisory program based on the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, by Sean Covey. - Photo by William Harvey

Dustin Dearman was hired four years ago as a math teacher at Bryant Middle School. Today, he teaches sixth-grade English.

Dearman said no matter the subject, “I am a teacher of early adolescents.”

Dearman, 35, has been nominated for the 2017-2018 LifeChanger of the Year award, sponsored by the National Life Group Foundation.

LifeChanger of the Year is an annual program recognizing K-12 educators and school employees across the country. The program celebrates those who are making a significant difference in the lives of students by exemplifying excellence, positive influence and leadership.

Each year, LifeChanger of the Year awards 16 educators and their schools with cash prizes. The grand prize is $10,000. Winners will be announced in the spring. For more information, visit the website www.LifeChangeroftheYear.com or social media sites such as Facebook.

The LifeChanger of the Year program is sponsored and operated by National Life Group and the National Life Group Foundation. According to its website, nationallife.com, National Life Group is a trade name representing a diversified family of financial-services companies offering life insurance, annuity and investment products.

“Just being nominated for this award is an honor. I was very surprised by it … really humbled,” Dearman said.

“I work very hard at what I do. I appreciate being recognized. It feels neat to be appreciated,” he said.

“People can still go online and make comments. It’s been nice to see what former students say,” he said.

“I have been named Teacher of the Month a couple of times here at school, but this is the first time I have been recognized like this,” said Dearman, who is among nine nominees from Arkansas. A colleague who wishes to remain anonymous nominated Dearman for the award.

“Mr. Dearman is a middle school guy,” said Justin Hay, Bryant Middle School principal. “He is in the perfect spot. He does a really good job working with middle school students.

“He takes a lot on himself in helping develop a curriculum that works with the students. He also helped develop our advisory program at Bryant Middle School.”

One of the things Dearman appreciates “about the middle school philosophy is that education is more about the kids than the subject,” he said.

“Typically, students in junior high take classes to learn skills and subjects and move on to high school. The middle school philosophy understands students don’t necessarily know what they want to be or what they are good at, so they are interested in all subjects. It’s not just all about academics; if you are interested in a skill, you are encouraged to pursue it,” Dearman said.

“These middle school students are 10 to 14. That’s a tough age,” he said.

“The middle school philosophy is the understanding that school structures and teaching practices should be modeled to meet the unique developmental needs of early adolescents,” Dearman said. “In other words, middle schools should function to meet the needs of this unique age of person rather than do what is most efficient for the industrial structure of a district.”

Dearman said he and fellow teacher Katherine Madey helped develop the advisory program at Bryant Middle School.

“It’s a matter of helping people understand what are the best practices for educating young adults. We have an adviser for each student. That adviser (teacher) is an advocate for the student and listens to the student,” he said.

“This program is based on the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, by Sean Covey. Those habits are to be proactive: Begin with the end in mind; put first things first; think win-win; seek first to understand, then to be understood; synergize; and sharpen the saw,” Dearman said.

“We use this text as a backdrop in the classrooms and in the hallways. That’s really helped get everybody on the same page. Within these guidelines, there is a freedom for other activities that teachers can use,” he said.

“We have this advisory period every day,” he said, adding that it is held before, during or after lunch.”

Dearman said the school began to develop the advisory program about two years ago, but at that time, it was more of a study hall for a lot of people.

“Mr. Hay has revamped it this year, and we are starting to see a big improvement in the climate of the school,” Dearman said.

Hay said the students “need to know our school is a safe place to talk about stuff. We want our advisers to be able to handle social or emotional situations.”

Born in Jonesboro, Dearman said he has lived a lot of places, including Delaware; North Carolina; Forrest City; Boulder, Colorado; Jackson, Missouri; Fayetteville; and Little Rock, where he currently resides.

“My dad worked for DuPont [as an accountant], and we moved around a lot,” Dearman said, adding that his dad later went into education and taught at several universities throughout the United States.

“In third grade, I attended three different schools in three different times zones,” he said. “That was Mills River Elementary School outside Asheville, North Carolina; Forrest City Elementary School in Forrest City, Arkansas; and Aurora 7

Elementary School in Boulder, Colorado.

“I attended three different high schools, too,” he said, smiling. “In ninth grade, I was in Forrest City; in Jackson, Missouri, for 10th grade; and Nettleton High School in Jonesboro for 11th and 12th grades.

“I knew where I was because I knew who my teachers were,” he said, smiling.

Dearman graduated from Nettleton High School and went to Arkansas State University.

“I started out in journalism,” he said. “I wrote for ASU’s The Herald. I also got a part-time job at the Jonesboro Sun writing about high school sports. I covered some ASU Indian games.

“Then in 2004, I transferred to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and got a full-time job at The Morning News in Springdale,” he said. “I told myself I already had a full-time job in journalism, so I really didn’t have to have a [college] degree in journalism. I decided I would get a degree in something else. I took some education classes … that opened my eyes to a new field … middle school and the education of the whole child.”

Dearman dropped out of college for a while and ran an after-school program for the Boys & Girls Club in Fayetteville, working with middle school students.

“I eventually got my college degree,” he said. “I moved to Little Rock to be closer to my family and graduated in 2014 from [the University of Arkansas at Little Rock] with a degree in midlevel education.

“I graduated UALR in May and was hired at [Bryant Middle School] in May,” he said. “Sue Reaves (former BMS principal) hired me as a math teacher. She was my first boss.”

Dearman’s current boss and principal, Jason Hay, posted this comment about Dearman on the LifeChanger website: “Mr. Dearman goes above and beyond for our students every day —a great teacher, but an even better person.”

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