Bonita Vista High School teacher wins top honors

Bonita Vista High School teacher and coach Don Dumas (seated) was recently named San Diego County Teacher of the Year.

Out of 22,000 teachers in San Diego County, 42 were nominated for San Diego County Teacher of the Year. Out of those 42, five were awarded, including Bonita Vista High School AP U.S. history teacher Don Dumas.

Dumas, 40, who has coached varsity boys basketball and taught at BVHS since 2014, said it feels great to receive such an honor in a county that is full of wonderful educators — but nothing compares to the rewarding feeling of seeing his students believe in themselves.

“That’s kind of been my mission, to teach students self empowerment and all the things that they can do to improve their own lives and the lives of the people around them in the greater society in which they belong,” Dumas said.

He was inspired to become a history teacher after reading “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn and “Lies My Teacher Told Me” by James Loewen. Dumas said his Mar Vista High School teachers Joyce Suber and Nick Nickoloff also left a positive lasting impact on him.

“The social sciences, in particular history, I feel there are so many lessons there that can teach us as citizens how much power we have to make a difference in our society,” Dumas said. “First of all, education itself is liberating, it can take someone in a position where they feel trapped, shackled, imprisoned, oppressed and education can lift them out of those places into a state of freedom.”

When teaching AP U.S. history, Dumas tries to provide students with a more well-rounded and earnest perspective of history, so that students can understand why racial disparities exist today.

“I teach a history that celebrates U.S. accomplishments but it’s also very critical of U.S. failures, and how those failings manifest today, how those failings are responsible for the inequity today, including the systems of white supremacy that we’re still trying to dismantle,” Dumas said.

He added that an understanding of the past can give students a blueprint as to how to move forward and make things better.

Racial disparities can be seen today in the teaching profession, which is largely comprised of white women according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In the 2015-16 school year, the NCES reported that 80 percent of all public school teachers were white, and 64 percent of secondary public school teachers were female, while 89 percent of public elementary school teachers were female.

“I think having our students seeing teachers from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, obviously for students of color seeing teachers from their same background that’s empowering,” Dumas said. “And for white students to see students or teachers of color, that only enriches their educational experiences to have them learn things from a perspective that maybe they’re not getting at home or anywhere else.”

According to a 2018 study by the Learning Policy Institute that examined national data and barriers teachers of color face in the teaching profession, teachers of color boost the academics of students of color, evidenced by improved test scores and graduation rates, and increased aspirations to attend college.

“We need more teachers of color, particularly we need more black men to teach,” Dumas said.

Black male teachers make up only two percent of the teaching workforce nationwide, according to a 2016 report by the National Department of Education.

While SUHSD has a larger proportion of teachers of color when compared to national data, black teachers still make up just 2.5 percent of the SUHSD teaching force.
During the 2015-16 school year, the California Department of Education Demographics

Office reported that 48.1 percent of SUHSD teachers are white, 38.1 percent are Hispanic or Latino, 5.4 percent are Filipino, 3.6 percent are Asian, 2.5 percent are Black, 0.7 percent are Natice Hawaiian or Pacific Islander and 0.9 percent are American Indian or Alaska Native.

Dumas said he encourages undergraduate students of color who aren’t sure what their next move should be to go into education.

“It’s a good quality of life, there’s challenges everyday, but you can never be bored with this job,” Dumas said.

He will go on to compete for California Teacher of the Year along with Christine Hansen of Escondido Union School District, Hilda Martinez of San Diego Unified School District, Nicole Miller of San Marcos Unified School District and Kelly Tulloch of Mountain Empire Unified School District. California Teachers of the Year will be announced this fall.