KINGSTON, RI – April 27, 2022 – “I am a student just like you. I’m going through the same things as you.”
That’s what Dina Louis told her class while teaching in the Spring 2022 semester at William E. Tolman High School in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, before beginning her graduate studies in May.
Louis, a triple major in secondary school, English and Chinese Johnstonunderstood the COVID-19 drain her students were feeling and was determined to keep them – and herself – motivated in the classroom.
When they got to their classroom, the students didn’t want to talk to anyone or work in groups. They expressed their dislike of writing or any form of verbal expression. She knew she had to do something to pique their interest and get them talking.
“I used technology and created interactive educational games,” she said. Adding a little humor along the way also helped, she said.
Students soon began working in groups and writing more, feeling less isolated and becoming more socially involved.
Louis could relate to her students’ initial sense of isolation. She was 6 years old when her family moved to the United States from Haiti and spoke only French Creole. She got frustrated when she heard a language she didn’t understand and had trouble making friends. To help her learn English, her mother, who spoke English, read her stories. Soon Louis was making up her own stories and reading in English.
She even encouraged her friends to make up and share her stories.
“I think I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was little,” she said.
Louis attended high school in Atlanta, Georgia, taking courses in Asian Studies and was fascinated by the history, culture and customs of China.
“The only thing 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 intention of becoming a high school English teacher.
By her junior year, Louis wanted to encourage more students to enter education and create a community to share ideas and practices and 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 that operates college teacher preparation programs with support from state departments of education, local funders and foundations. come together to find a way to improve the quality and diversity of teachers.
“A lot of people stop 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 Mandarin Chinese courses to improve her proficiency and achieve professional fluency.
Louis said learning Chinese made her “more culturally competent.”
“I learned so much about the other side of the world,” she said. “I found it easier to connect with people who live differently than me.”
This knowledge extends to her students in the classroom. “I tell them it’s okay to be different.”
After graduating in May with three majors and a 3.98 GPA, Louis is ready to take on her next role as an educator and master teaching and learning.
“If I can learn Chinese, I can learn anything,” she said. “If an obstacle comes my way, I’m not the one to put it there.”
Eventually, she wants to pursue postgraduate studies in ESL (English as a Second Language), a subject she knows all too well, and pass on the lessons she learned as an English speaker to her students.
“Dina Louis is an inspirational English and Chinese teacher-to-be,” said Diane Kern, interim director of the URI School of Education. “She excelled academically in a triple major and proved to be a committed leader. She is co-founder of the Educators Rising Collegiate Chapter, which mentoring aspiring educators during their time at URI. Dina will certainly be a Rhode Island educator to watch and learn from in the future.”