KINGSTON, R.I. – April 27, 2022 – “I am a student just like you. I am going through the same things that you are.”
That is what Dina Louis told her class while student teaching at William E. Tolman High School in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, in the spring 2022 semester, leading up to her undergraduate commencement in May.
Louis, a triple major in secondary education, English and Chinese from Johnston, understood the COVID-19 drain that her students felt and was determined to keep them – and herself – motivated in the classroom.
Coming into her classroom, students didn’t want to talk to anyone or work in groups. They voiced their dislike of writing or any type of verbal expression. She knew she had to do something to pique their interest and get them talking to each other.
“I used technology and developed interactive educational games,” she said. Adding a little humor along the way also helped, she said.
The students soon started asking to work in groups and to write more, feeling less isolated and becoming more socially engaged.
Louis could relate to her students’ initial feeling of isolation. She was 6 years old when her family moved from Haiti to the United States, speaking only French Creole. She felt frustrated hearing a language that she didn’t understand and had trouble making friends. To help her learn English, her mother who spoke English, read her stories. Before long, Louis was making up her own stories and reading in English.
She even encouraged her friends to make up and share their stories.
“I guess I wanted to be a teacher since I was little,” she said.
Attending high school in Atlanta, Georgia, Louis took classes in Asian studies and became fascinated with the history, culture, and customs of China.
“The only thing that I didn’t know was the language,” she said.
A move to Rhode Island led her to the University of Rhode Island to continue her studies in English and Chinese, with the intent of becoming a high school English teacher.
By her junior year, Louis wanted to encourage more students to go into education and create a community to exchange ideas and practices, and to discuss expectations and difficulties.
In 2021, Louis and her friend Caroline Kennedy co-founded the URI chapter of Educators Rising, a national community-based movement, in which teacher preparation programs at institutes of higher education, with support of state departments of education, local funders and foundations, come together to provide a pathway to increase teacher quality and diversity.
“Many people quit teaching because they feel alone,” she said. “We tell teacher candidates exactly what to expect, and why we became teachers,” she said.
As part of her undergraduate studies, Louis also enrolled in URI’s Chinese Flagship Program, which offers intensive courses in Mandarin Chinese to increase proficiency and progress to professional fluency.
Louis said that studying Chinese made her more “culturally competent.”
“I learned so much about the other sides of the world,” she said. “I found it easier to relate to people who live differently from me.”
That knowledge extends to her students in the classroom. “I tell them it is okay to be different.”
Graduating in May with three majors and a 3.98 grade point average, Louis is ready to undertake her next role as an educator and wants to master teaching and learning.
“If I can learn Chinese, I can learn anything,” she said. “If there is an obstacle in my way, I am not going to be the one to put it there.”
Eventually, she would like to pursue graduate studies in ESL (English as a second language), a subject she knows all too well, and impart to her students the lessons she learned becoming an English speaker.
“Dina Louis is an inspiring, prospective teacher of English and Chinese,” said Diane Kern, interim director of URI’s School of Education. “She has excelled academically in a triple major and has proven herself as a dedicated leader. She co-founded an Educators Rising Collegiate chapter, which mentors aspiring educators during their time at URI. Dina will certainly be a Rhode Island educator to watch and to learn from in the future.”