Dungan honored as Burden Teacher of the Year

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By ANTHONY FLORES

Jima Dungan fought back tears when she found her husband, children, parents, and every kindergarten student on the Buden Elementary campus eagerly waiting in the hallway to surprise her.

Dungan was named the Bill Burden Elementary Teacher of the Year and everyone wanted to celebrate.

“The Principal [Tanya Lambert] knocked on the door and asked me to come out and help her,” Dungan said. “Every kindergartener was sitting there in the hallway silently, which is a miracle in itself. They handed me flowers. It was a special moment. Lots of tears.”

Looking back on the school year, Dungan and her peers found themselves filling roles they never thought they would.

“I was surprised because I feel like there are so many amazing teachers here at Bill Burden,” she said. “Being chosen out of all of them is a big honor, especially during this year. Everybody is asked to do so many things we’ve never done before. I feel many teachers could have gotten the award. It was definitely surprising.”

Dungan was raised in Brady and she always knew she would become a teacher. After eight years teaching elementary in Georgetown, Dungan took a job teaching kindergarten at Liberty Hill Elementary. She has spent the last five years at Burden.

Working with kindergarten students is a fulfilling experience for Dungan, and she says she learns as much from her students as they do from her. She sees it as an honor to be there for her students’ earliest educational experiences.

“The kids at this age love you no matter what,” she said. “Anything you do is exciting because it’s the first time they’ve gotten to experience school. That makes for the exciting experience of getting to see them experience firsts. Being their teacher is the biggest part of it all. We, as kindergarten teachers, get to experience the joy of helping them learn how to read. To actually get to be a part of watching them grow so much and seeing how much they learn is probably my favorite part.”

Dungan believes that walking parents through their first-time experiences is just as important as guiding students through theirs.

“As a kindergarten teacher, our job is to also send the parents off on the right foot as well,” she said. “To give them that support that they need to let their babies go off to school. I feel like you get to be part of a super special journey because of that. They’re trusting you with a lot.”

Dungan’s role for the last year has been as the remote teacher for her grade level. A very different experience for someone who is more familiar with the traditional classroom experience. Despite her own adjustments, Dungan’s thoughts lie with her parents’ struggles.

“This year was different, to say the least, with the remote stuff added in and the online learning,” she said. “I can’t even imagine what parents experienced this year. They weren’t able to walk them in like normal. They put a lot of trust in us.”

Wading into the unknown waters of a pandemic-affected school year proved to be intimidating at first, testing Dungan’s teaching strengths.

“I was really concerned because I feel one of my biggest strengths in teaching is building relationships with the kiddos and their families,” she said. “I was afraid that through a computer screen I wouldn’t be able to do that. Very quickly, I learned that’s not exactly how it is. As we’ve had kiddos return back to in-person learning, I got to see that I was able to connect with them. More than I thought I could.”

When Dungan was finally able to start meeting her students in person, she was able to see the immediate connection. For the final weeks of the school year, she is set to have her students in person, something she has longed for all year.

“When I met them, the majority of them were so excited,” Dungan said. “They want to run up and hug you even though we couldn’t. Kiddos at that age, that’s how they show affection. Even though we couldn’t hug, they were so excited. Of course, some were a little standoffish or thought that I wasn’t a real person beyond a character on a computer screen.”

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