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Career Profiles
Matt Dickersheid
Graduated: 1999
Major: Elementary Education

Kindergarten Teacher, Selden's Landing Elementary School, VA

Matt DickersheidChoosing a Major
From an early age Matt Dickersheid developed an interest in education through his father, a fourth grade teacher.  Matt’s love of basketball inspired him to coach basketball camps while he was in high school, and the experience helped Matt realize that he shared his father’s interest in working with children.  As an education major at Messiah, Matt spent a semester student teaching, and this experience confirmed his ability and interest in interacting with young people.

The Messiah Experience
Matt entered Messiah as a basketball recruit, but after his first year he decided to drop intercollegiate basketball in order to devote more of his energy to his major.  He joined the Messiah College Education Association, remained committed to his student teaching requirements, and found time to participate in rec sports as well.

Career Center Experience
Matt sought the Career Center’s resume critique services during his senior year, and his newly improved resume helped attract the attention of multiple employers at education job fairs.

Transferability
Student teaching provided Matt with practical skills to transition smoothly to his career.  He gained classroom experience in both a Harrisburg school and a more suburban setting, and the varied experiences, he notes, “helped me realize that how I was teaching would be affected by where I worked.  There are a lot of differences between teaching in the city and in the country, working in affluent neighborhoods or less privileged areas.”

“What’s great about Messiah,” Matt adds, “is that everyone expects respect and treats you with respect.”  From his overall college experience, Matt learned the importance of valuing others.  “Dealing with different people and different professors in a professional manner” also provided Matt with the ability to effectively interact with the variety of people he encounters in his current position.

What to Do Next
In a somewhat daring move, Matt signed an early-hire contract with a school district in Virginia while he was still a student.  Fortunately, his first position was “a great environment . . . because it let me be creative and try innovative new things in the classroom.”  Matt’s students at this first school came from a variety of social and economic backgrounds, and although a less diverse dynamic might have made teaching easier, he believes, “That place trained me for anywhere I might go in the future, prepared me for anything I might see in the classroom.”

REMEMBER…


• “When picking a major, talk to some employers in that field to get a feel for the job environment.”
• “Your major does not dictate or limit the type of job you can pursue when you graduate.”

• “Don’t feel like once you leave college that you have to pick what you will do for the rest of your life.  Try as many jobs as you can.  It’s ok to not like something and look for something else.”
• “Let your heart take you where it leads – I never thought I would be where I am now.”


Addressing Doubts
Matt needed to overcome many obstacles in his educational journey:  “I was the first student to graduate from Messiah’s education department with a learning disability, and there were definitely times when those doubts of being the first person to do so were daunting.”  But Matt stayed motivated by remembering all he had accomplished just to get to Messiah.  “In elementary school, no one thought I should have been in the regular classroom, but I made it,” he begins.  “Then in high school, I had to keep my grades up for basketball, and it was through basketball that I was noticed by Messiah.”  Matt’s personal experience and his passion to help others fueled his determination:  “I just always believed that if I got through college I could be a good teacher because I know what its like to struggle.  I have a passion for it, and I felt like I could help kids persevere.”  Matt values the support of Keith Drahn, director of disability services, and professor Sandra Holmes, as well as his family and roommates.

Although he gained confidence at Messiah, Matt still faced considerable self-doubt after he graduated:  “My first year teaching was really tough.  You look back on it and think, ‘What was I doing?’”  Nevertheless, he asserts, “If you never ask yourself, ‘Am I doing the right thing?’, then you are not in the right place.  Everyone should be constantly asking that question and constantly committed to finding the answer.”

Dynamic Process

The first five years after graduation were “very challenging, but ultimately very rewarding” for Matt.  After a year of teaching second grade, Matt began teaching kindergarten and realized that he had found his niche.  “As a kindergarten teacher, you are these kids’ first exposure to school – you can make it or break it for them,” he explains.  Matt discovered that he felt particularly passionate about helping students in their first exposure to academics.

A Typical Day
In his third year at Selden’s Landing Elementary school in Loudon County, Virginia, Matt teaches two half-day kindergarten classes each day, utilizing any free hours for various committee meetings and parent-teacher conferences.  Along with his standard teaching duties, Matt utilizes communication skills as he interacts with coworkers and parents on a daily basis.  He also emphasizes the importance of practicing effective time and classroom management.

One of his major priorities in the classroom is “getting kids to love reading,” and he often dresses up like characters – such as the Cat in the Hat – and acts out scenes to make books more exciting.  As another goal, Matt explains, “I make teaching character a high priority.  To me that is more important than any math or reading skills.”  He understands the importance of working with children and their parents to promote personal growth and the best possible learning experience for his students.

A “Why” Moment
 “My ‘why’ moment happens every day when the kids come in smiling, when I get to be goofy, and I see their excitement and their willingness to try new things.”  Matt relates one instance he particularly values, when he encouraged a student who did not speak throughout preschool to come out of her shell in kindergarten:  “I thought, she feels comfortable in the environment I have created; she trusts me and these kids.  That was very powerful.” 

Parent conferences also provide Matt with encouragement.  He describes “hearing from a parent, ‘My kid is excited to go to school; he jumps out of bed in the morning.’  Because I was a kid who never looked forward to school, that is just the most rewarding thing I could hear.  That encourages me and leads to where I am now, completing my master’s degree with a 4.0 GPA.  I didn’t think I would graduate from college, but I did that in four years and got a teaching job, and now I have my master’s.  It really goes to show that if you put your mind to something, you can do it.”

Service
As a public educator, Matt cannot explicitly use his vocation to minister, but he understands that using his life as a positive example is a testament to Christ.  He wears a WWJD bracelet every day “as a way to share my beliefs without speaking,” and he feels that “for the kids and the parents to see it, it gives them a degree of comfort, especially if they are Christians.”  He uses the symbol to establish fellowship with families in the community and to provide a means to talk about his faith if his students or others ask him about it.

Dreams Still Dreaming
While balancing the demands of full-time teaching and a new family, Matt recently completed a master’s degree in education as a reading specialist.  He plans to look into becoming a reading specialist in the future, perhaps after a few more years in the kindergarten classroom.  For the long term, he is considering becoming an education professor or getting involved in a teacher mentorship program:  “I would really like to teach teachers, share the experiences I have had.”

 

Find out what paths other certified teachers are pursuing:

Stephen Lias, music theory professor/composer

Katie Lebhar, high school theatre director
Judy Armacost, church planter/missionary

Ben Armacost, church planter/missionary

Todd Parnell, general manager, Altoona Curve (AA baseball)

Lyle Blackketter, financial advisor/performance ministry

Owen Byer, mathematics professor

 

Profile by Tiffany DeRewal, January 2007

 

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