Every child a starfish: Longtime DUS educator to return to teaching roots in new district

Published 2:35 pm Friday, June 3, 2022

DOWAGIAC — In “The Starfish Story,” a poem by Loren Eisley, a man comes across a child throwing starfish back into the ocean. 

When the man suggests the boy cannot make a difference with so many displaced starfish, the child responds by throwing another starfish into the ocean and saying “I made a difference for that one.”

As Dawn Conner prepares to move on from Dowagiac Union School District after 37 years as educator and administrator, she wants the community to remember her fondly for treating every child in the district like a starfish.

“I think with teaching, if it matters to one kid, it matters,” Conner said. “I believe that all teachers, all staff and all administrators can make a difference to every child they come in touch with. I know it is true because I have seen it with my own eyes for the last 37 years in this district with our staff.”

After 25 years as an administrator and 10 as deputy superintendent for Dowagiac, Conner is leaving the district to return to her roots as a teacher. She will be teaching special education at School City of Mishawaka in Indiana.

“It’s time for me to go back and be with kids again,” Conner said. “I really like to be around kids, it inspires me. It’s the reason why I went into education in the first place. … Kids are fun to be around, they’re eager to learn and I’d like to have a chance to be successful with young kids again.”

Conner, 58, said some of the downsides of administrative work has been amplified by the pandemic. 

“The last couple years have been really difficult,” Conner said. “So, when you find yourself under a lot of stress or not being able to fix things the way you’d like to, then you want to go back to the thing you work best at. … I won’t miss the anguish and heartbreak of not being able to repair and heal the overwhelming number of students, staff, and parents that are in such pain and turmoil after the pandemic.”

Conner said one thing she will miss about Dowagiac is the generational history of watching her first group of students grow up, then watching their children grow up.

“One thing I still love to do today is go to a building and see if I can name a child’s parents just by looking at the student,” she said. “It is so amazing how many students I can just look at and say I bet you are so-and-so child.”

While she will be teaching in Indiana, Conner will still reside in Dowagiac, and said she will remain an active part of the community. Part of the reason she decided to teach in Indiana is she will be able to draw retirement from Michigan while working in Indiana. 

“I’ve served my time [at DUS], so to speak,” Conner said. “Hiring teachers, and putting good teachers in classrooms – especially with the teacher shortage – that’s not very fun. … Going back and teaching is just a much better job for me right now.”