Empowering Students through Teaching and Choice
Dana Goldman is the type of teacher students dream of–relatable, passionate, and hyper-focused on their needs.
Dana is a special educator who teaches math and two media studies classes at South East High School in LA’s South Gate neighborhood, but his classroom tells a different story. There is a hydroponic garden tower overflowing with vegetables in the corner, which he got for his students by submitting a grant about sustainable agriculture. A lifesize cardboard Star Wars Darth Vader cutout stands against the windows. Photos of his family, friends, idols, and passions cover the area behind his desk, and collage posters made by students plaster the room. The posters are part of his strategy to create a welcoming environment. Every student creates one at the beginning of the year, decorating it with people and things that bring them joy. “Science shows that when you feel stressed out, if you see something that is yours, you'll feel a bit better. I want my students to have that space and safety,” explains Dana.
Before becoming an educator with Teach For America, Dana’s love of people and natural curiosity led him down several paths. He was in the music industry for over a decade representing and touring with a-list rappers. He then pivoted to academia, performing research for the Anthropology Department around Hip Hop at UCLA. With each career, Dana found a way to volunteer his time working with “at-risk” youth and eventually decided he wanted to turn this passion into a full-time job. He landed on teaching as one of the best ways to impact children’s lives and joined Teach For America Los Angeles as a corps member in 2021.
“The potential is limitless with these kids.”
When asked to teach two elective classes, Dana polled his students asking them to share topics and subjects they’d like to learn more about. “I spoke with kids directly to explain this is not just some random form. It’s really going to be your experience, and we want to design it around something that you're into,” Dana shares. As a result of those surveys, he now teaches two media studies courses, one about film and the other about music, in addition to geometry and algebra.
Dana knows one of the best ways to learn is through teaching and asks students to create math problems for one another and explain the solutions. “The potential is limitless with these kids,” says Dana. “When you start deciding things for them without giving them choice or engaging them in the learning process. You're not activating everything you could possibly activate.” He sees teaching math as only one part of his role as an educator, “I’m trying to help them build foundational skills to be the people that they want to be.” This often takes the form of mini “brain breaks” where Dana shows students a short video, ranging on topics from the civil rights movement to poetry, and then facilitates a discussion with students.
“I’m trying to help them build foundational skills to be the people that they want to be.”
Despite his cool classroom, impressive tattoos, and bottomless snack box Dana credits his high student attendance rates and lack of behavioral issues to creating a safe space for students that enables them to shine. “What always gets lost in the quagmire of education? It is the kids. Who always gets the short end of the stick? It’s the kids,” he notes, “And our job (as teachers) is to be their shield…to make sure that they get the information that they need to be better human beings.”