Dorie Meek has overseen budgets, enforced regulations and built curricula. She has served as a site supervisor and as an educator, guiding the development of hundreds of students since joining the Santa Monica-Malibu school district in 2002.
But the skill that allows her to succeed has little to do with leadership or management.
“You have to think like a child,” the Pine Street preschool teacher said. “You have to think, ‘What would I want to do if I were 4?'”
Knowing that children don’t like to sit still, for example, Meek incorporates physical movement into her classroom activities.
When her students begin delving into basic anatomy, Meek uses hip-hop dance movements to enhance their retention. When they start learning about numbers, she amplifies the experience with toe taps. And when they learn new words, she has them beat out each sound on a portable drum to improve phonetic awareness.
“They get enough of crazy giants asking them ridiculous questions,” Meek said, laughing at the word she uses for adults. “If they’re not an auditory learner, they have to connect in some other way. Why can’t they rock, move and tap? The research backs that up. For me it was, ‘How can we tap into that part of a child that is active exploration? How can I speak it in their world?'”
Meek’s style isn’t going unnoticed. On May 26 she’ll be honored as a Los Angeles Universal Preschool teacher of the year during a luncheon hosted by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors at Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration in downtown Los Angeles.
It’s the eighth year of the annual accolades, which recognize area preschool teachers for quality, creativity and dedication.
Meek knows she plays a crucial role in the intellectual and social growth of the children in her classroom, but she was floored to be invited to the ceremony as an award recipient.
“Preschool teachers are typically invisible,” she said. “We don’t have a great deal of clout, but when you do get recognized it’s typically by a parent. You very rarely get it from outside the classroom. This is affirmation of what you already know you do — it makes you weepy. It affirms everything you’ve known all along.”
Meek has held a variety of positions in SMMUSD over the last 13 years, working as a facilitator for parent-toddler groups, then as a child care provider, multi-site supervisor and preschool teacher.
Since 2012 she’s been at the Pine Street preschool, designing activities to foster children’s development while teaching foundational academic skills. Her position is funded through LAUP, a nonprofit created with tobacco tax funds that supports preschool operations throughout the county.
Meek has had teaching tendencies since eighth grade, when she gave up lunches to tutor third-grade students. Her path continued with undergraduate studies at the University of Southern California and graduate work at Cal State Northridge, where she earned a master’s in education administration.
Her current job comes with its share of challenges — broaching children’s special needs with their parents is often difficult, she said — but the satisfaction of watching kids grasp new concepts keeps her motivated.
“It is not uncommon to have a student in August who does not recognize letters or numbers, and may not even be able to articulate whether a line is pointing up-and-down or side-to-side,” she said. “When that child, typically a few months later, runs in and declares, ‘Teacher Dorie, I saw a T on the way to school today!’ I get goosebumps from head to toe. Their epiphanies are my greatest accomplishments.”
Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, email@example.com or on Twitter.