Michael Dunlea, National Fellowship, Cohort 2

State and City of Residence:

Manahawkin, New Jersey

Job Description (grade level taught, position, title, etc.):

2nd Grade Teacher

Why do you work in education? 

Mary Finn gave me the courage to like who I was and not worry about those who didn't. My third grade teacher made me feel safe to explore and learn. I never forgot how much I needed her that year. When I became a dad I realized that I enjoyed interacting with children. I began to teach at 36 via the alternate route. I want to be the champion for my students that Mrs Finn was for me. Students need adults who'll stand up for them, be their voice and their protector. That and I wanted to become rich.

What’s your favorite part about being an America Achieves Fellow?

Hurricane Sandy destroyed over 4,000 homes in my community. I rallied teachers, students, parents and residents to help clean up and rebuild our town. I founded a non-profit organization called Stafford Teachers And Residents Together, START. Together we made a big difference in the lives of all stakeholders. We found our community in the aftermath of the storm. More than 240 students and 50 staff were homeless and we got them back in their homes.

What’s your favorite part about being an America Achieves Fellow?

The greatest impact that this fellowship has had on me is the relationships I have formed with other fellows and those who run the fellowship. I have been inspired to reach new heights such as National Board Certification. I have also been challenged to examine and improve all of my beliefs regarding education. I have been changed in every way possible. I often refer to my acceptance email as my Willy Wonka Gold Ticket. This has been a magical experience like no other. I am a better teacher because of it.

If you could change just one thing about our current education system, what would it be?

There is so much despair in education. Teachers are under enormous stress and the numbers of students entering teacher preparation programs is dropping. If I could change one thing it would be to restore the joy of teaching and learning that has taken such a beating over the last several years. I want to save this profession so the students can find their Mrs. Finn who will show them the world and give them character on the way. There needs to be more love in education. Love to teach, Love to learn.

If a song played every time you walked into a room, what would that song be?

Hold on Tight to Your Dreams, by Electric Light Orchestra

What’s the best thing a student ever said to you?

"Hey dad can you help me?, I mean Mr. Dunlea."

What’s your dream vacation?

Touring Europe and ending on a beach on the Mediterranean with my wife and maybe my kids, depending on their moods that day.

What is one fun fact that most people don’t know about you?

My grandparents fled Ireland because they were wanted by the British for fighting for Irish Independence in 1924. I am able to have dual citizenship because of them.


What is your other favorite thing to do (besides education, or course!)?

Anyone who is my friend on Facebook knows I love the beach and the ocean. I also love to cook and bake.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

My students inspire me in countless ways. Many of them overcome huge challenges that would have sunk me. One student once wrote, "Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is my mom." I teach in their shadow.

What is one book every educator must read?

When The Chips Are Down: Learning Disabilities and Discipline (Strategies For Improving Children's Behavior) by Richard Lavoie

Anything else you’d like to share?

This fellowship has changed my life. I entered the ballroom in NYC in September 2012 a very naive educator who had a narrow lens through which I saw education and learning. I have learned so much from each fellow. The way people look back with deep admiration on college or high school I look back on this fellowship. It will always remain as the most special time in my educational career. I am beyond grateful to have been selected.