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'Mr. D' speaks to aspiring teachers, advocates for innovative teaching methods


CMU alumna Joe Dombrowski speaks in the College of Education and Human Services French Auditorium for education students and community members Feb. 17. 

Teacher Joe Dombrowski, also known as "Mr. D," was sitting at his desk when his smiling fourth-grade student came to hand in her writing assignment. 

He looked down at her handwriting, stared for moment and could not make out what her writing said. Dombroski looked back up and ask her to do it again.

Patiently, the student went back to her desk and rewrote her paper. She brought that paper back to Dombrowski, and again he faced the same issue. The worst part was that he faced this issue with almost every kid in the class.

To fix this, Dombrowski knew he had to be creative. 

He also knew his kids loved YouTube, so he decided to make a YouTube video where he read what he saw when these kids handed in their assignments. After the kids saw this video, they each had a “light bulb moment,” worked diligently and gradually handed in assignments with better handwriting. 

Dombrowski shared experiences like this to emphasize being creative, bending the rules to make change and staying true to one’s self while being a teacher during his presentation Feb. 17 in the Central Michigan University College of Education and Human Services French Auditorium.

Dombrowski started his career at CMU before teaching throughout Michigan, Illinois and currently in Washington. 

Throughout his career, he realized that certain lessons aren’t going to work for each student; therefore, teachers must adjust the curriculum to best suit their students.

“Curriculums are really great skeletons,” said Dombrowski. ”It’s your job as a teacher to put the meat on the bones.”

CMU alumna Joe Dombrowski speaks in the College of Education and Human Services French Auditorium for education students and community members Feb. 17. 

He also talked about how a teacher needs to embrace who they are in order for students to feel comfortable and be themselves. Dombrowski shared that he always says he will be “100 percent real” with his students. This opens up room for connection. 

Similarly, he makes students feel comfortable in their own skin.

“One of the most important things to my district is that we are recognizing students as an individual, on a personal and racial level,” Dombrowski said. “We want to make sure that our students not only feel apart of the classroom, but they see themselves as part of the classroom.” 

Dombrowski shared that during his teaching in Seattle, he asked his African American students how they felt during Black History Month. While some people may think this is impolite or racist, he shared that a young girl turned to him and said, “Mr. D, thank you for recognizing my blackness.” 

Dombrowski also advocated for working in public schools, specifically Title I schools. 

“Public education is where America’s children go, and if you cannot choose what school you’re going to, you’re being filtered into public education by default, and those schools need to be just as good, if not better than private schools and charter schools,” Dombrowski said. 

Through his time in Title I schools, Dombrowski has been able to impact many different children, including a young girl named Amy with Down Syndrome. 

In reality, Dombrowski has influenced kids since he started student teaching.

Macomb freshman Sarah Medley shared that she had Dombrowski as her sixth-grade teacher while he was a student teacher in Detroit, and he is the reason she wanted to be a teacher. 

“I didn’t realize I wanted to come to CMU until I looked back at my sixth-grade portfolio, and it says ‘go to CMU to become a teacher,’ and I’m like ‘I’m following is his footsteps,’” Medley said. 

Medley was not alone in having Dombrowski as an inspiration. Through his videos and social media, he has become an inspiration for many education students at CMU, including Chrystal Falls fifth-year senior Hannah Furmanski and Marion senior Chloe Johnson.

“He’s very inspiring to be who he is as a teacher," Johnson said. "I strive to be myself in the classroom, so I wanted to hear his advice on anything to do with the classroom."

Dombrowski encourages aspiring and current teachers to take risks and work to make a change for just one individual student or for the entire education system. 

“Change in education is a ripple effect," Dombrowski said, "and I absolutely need you to be the stone."