Alumni Spotlight: Dondi Bernard
Dondi Bernard got the idea to become a teacher from his wife.
“She’s a kindergarten teacher, so she was telling stories about how the kids were acting up - from the cute to the crazy - and I thought, ‘This is fun. Is this really happening? I gotta go into teaching to see.’”
Once you start talking to Mr. Bernard, it becomes clear that his connection to teaching starts with joy and runs much deeper, too. He is a 2023 graduate of Relay’s Master of Arts in Teaching - Teacher Residency Program and is now a 2nd grade math and science teacher at Mary Walke Stephens Elementary School in Aldine Independent School District, outside of Houston, Texas. He knows what it feels like to try to focus on school when, “Growing up, we didn’t have the best of means - some days power went off, or your parents are absent….You go to school with all of these situations going on in your head.” Yet this experience gives him the motivation to support students as they go through challenges, and be a role model for them. He says:
“Having gone through those waters, I can help someone out who is going through a bad day. I can help them better themselves, and that’s what I like.”
And in Mr. Bernard’s classroom, student curiosity leads. If a student asks a question about how something in the world works, he’ll find a way to weave it into their lessons. Since some of his students love baseball, he incorporates baseball diamonds into their math lessons. One student was curious about a recent earthquake, so they were able to take some class time to research and learn about the Earth’s crust. This makes their classroom a place where they feel they belong.
And Mr. Bernard says he learned that approach from his Relay program. “When I first started teaching, I was a disciplinarian. But then I learned a variety of classroom management techniques to bring order while keeping up trust, and lesson planning strategies to keep students engaged. I also learned about culturally responsive teaching, and that really stuck with me. I’m an African American male teacher at a school that is 98% Hispanic, so I learn about their culture along with them, so we can bridge our differences and build on similarities.”
He also benefited from Relay’s focus on practice, saying: “Relay is the best program for me - ever. Everything I learned, I had an opportunity to apply the next day.”
All of his training and enthusiasm for teaching has paid off - this year, every student in his class grew on their TEKS assessments over the course of the year. At Relay’s graduation ceremony, he also received an award for “intentionality”, which celebrates educators who create “empowering classrooms and relationships.”
Mr. Bernard wants to stay in the classroom for the foreseeable future, but one day, may take on a school leadership position. The sky’s the limit for this dedicated educator!
Thank you to Mr. Bernard for all of the amazing work you do for your students and community!