History and economics teacher Don Dickinson has never forgotten the words of his grandmother: “Promise to take your education as far as you can. I want you to become a teacher.”
Those words, along with other elements of Dickinson’s history, played a major role in his deciding to give up a 25-year career of coaching tennis pros, the likes of which included Luke and Murphy Jensen, winners of the 1993 French Open.
Twelve years ago, Dickinson began pursuing what he says was his true calling in teaching. He has spent 10 of those years at Ironwood Ridge High School, where he recently received the prestigious Circle K Teacher of the Year award.
Along with the words of his grandmother, Dickinson’s father, Jim Dickinson, played a part in the career change. Prior to his death in 1945 during World War II, Jim frequently wrote letters to his mother – Don’s grandmother – stating that he felt he let her down by not receiving his college degree.
“Education was very important to her,” said Don. “I never really understood the significance of it until I saw all those letters. That played a part in my deciding to get a teaching degree.”
Dickinson earned that degree, and went on to achieve a master’s degree at Northern Arizona University. He has since become well-known as one of the most liked, most effective teachers at Ironwood
“More than simply patient, kind, and knowledgeable, Mr. Dickinson is inspiring,” wrote former student Maggie Mang. “From the very moment my classmates and I stepped foot into his classroom on the first day of sophomore year, we knew that year was going to be different. His class was so much more than just our first AP class; it was a class where we were challenged to think critically while synthesizing information across many interdisciplinary fields. It was a class where Mr. Dickinson saw great potential in his students far before any of us had realized it ourselves, and it was a class where, both inside and outside of the classroom, both during sophomore year and beyond, he helped us cultivate and strengthen our own individual human capacity.”
Dickinson acknowledges his teaching style to be challenging, but says despite any frustrations that students may experience early on, the end goal – and result – is that students walk away feeling accomplished and grasping the concept of history and economics.
“I am so grateful for the extra push he gave us, because it not only helped me with history, but it also helped me tremendously with my writing in English,” said former student Tia Burgess. “Aside from helping students academically, he often gave us overviews on the world as it is today, hoping to prepare us for what lies ahead in the near future. I personally think that that is what will benefit us most. He really has a very profound outlook on life, and is really a wonderful teacher. I am very grateful to have had him this past year.”
However, Dickinson’s reach continually goes beyond subject matter.
“Mr. Dickinson made a big impact on me because he was one of the teachers that truly cared about his students,” said former student Megan Ross. “He would go around before class started each day and ask kids how their day was going or how their sports game went the previous day. He always made a point to learn about his students lives outside of school.”
Asked to describe what drives him to always be at his best in the classroom, Dickinson recalled a popular phrase that he holds dear.
“If not me, who? If not now, when?” he said. “I apply that to my teaching. It’s up to the teachers to do the right thing. In the short run, that means helping students pursue further education in college. In the long run, that is affecting the outcome of their lives.”
Dickinson has also been the catalyst in bringing the Veterans Heritage Project to Ironwood Ridge. The program allows students to interview veterans and write their stories related to some of the nation’s biggest military conflicts.
After a decade at Ironwood Ridge, Dickinson will now move on to teach at University High. He plans to teach for at least eight more years.