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Larson named MNMS Teacher of the Year
 

At a time when some people are counting down the years to retirement after long careers, Dana Larson started a new one. Looking back over three decades since, all paths seem to have led to Mustang North Middle School. This year, Larson was named the school’s Teacher of the Year. 

Larson graduated from Perkins-Tryon High School and then from Oklahoma State with a degree in business. She spent some time working 80 hour weeks, managing her own Radio Shack store before her husband, Mark, took a job in Dallas. Larson went to work as an entry-level bank teller. Her bank was part of a large merger with multiple branches and Larson found her job description changing. 

“Four months in, and my assistant manager came to me and said they’re hiring for this special eight person conversion committee,” Larson said. “Involved in the merger is the conversion of data to all one database.” 

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Larson was chosen. Her team did the conversion and the data mapping. Once that was over,  Larson was chosen to head a new department, Special Reporting. Auditors and branch managers needed information, culled according to category and Larson could provide it. 

When she and Mark started a family, they moved back to Oklahoma. Larson had Kasey and then six years later, Bethany. When her youngest started school, Larson signed up as a substitute teacher at Creek Elementary. She worked “parents day out” at her church and served on the school PTA. When Bethany started middle school, the principal at Creek Elementary called. She had an opening for a media assistant, working in the school library. 

“I thought this was just my speed. I can scan books, talk to kids. It will be great,” Larson said. 

She was there for two weeks and implemented a system to make it easier for kindergarteners to check out books during her 10 days on the job. When the site secretary left, the principal asked Larson to take her spot. Two years later when a job in the administration building working with the student database opened, Larson was recommended. It was reminiscent of her days in banking, managing the data and maneuvering within the system to extract strings of information. 

During the first year in the new job, Larson reasoned that if you work long enough in a school, it makes sense to have a teaching certificate. There’s a level of credibility that accompanies being “certified,” she said. She already had the business degree. At the time, earning a teaching certificate required two classes and three tests. She hung the certificate on the wall in her office and looked at it for two years in its plain black frame. 

“I decided maybe I should try that,” she said. 

She applied at Mustang Middle School, but they needed someone who could coach wrestling too. When a position came open to teach personal finance and computers at Mustang North Middle School, it fit perfectly with her background. She applied again. 

“That’s when Dan Allen (former principal) was still here. He pulled the paperwork of everyone who had applied, walked straight down to my office and shut the door,” Larson said. “He said he was going to try to hire a coach or two as well. I coached both my girls in basketball and softball and so it all seemed to be a perfect fit.” 

At 51-years-old, Larson’s path led her to the classroom. 

“All the subbing and teaching Sunday School, all the training in the banking environment made me realize that I like the opportunity to teach people to do new things,” she said. “It was not like I always grew up wanting to be a teacher.” 

She’s been teaching for six years. She thought she would end up at the high school eventually. 

“Middle school seemed to me like a good place to start,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’ll do this and figure it out. I think I can still get my bluff in on these kids. I think I can figure out how to manage a classroom with these kids. I’ll do that for a couple of years and then I’ll go to the high school.’”

She’s decided she will likely never go to the high school. She’s found a home with seventh and eighth graders. 

“I really like these kids,” she said. “They talk big and they act tough and they want you to think they’re all that and a bag of chips but they still want approval;  they still want you to give them a hug sometimes. There are a lot of these kids who will tell you their story if you just have time to stop and listen.”  

Larson teaches Computer Applications and TAG Leadership classes. She enjoys knowing that she is giving them life skills, not just facts they have to memorize for a test. She loves coaching as much. 

“I like seeing them grow and change, to watch the lightbulb come on,” she said. “I have the most kids who have never played before, but every single day in practice and games I see another kid understand, another ,’Oh!’” It’s not about winning. It’s about, ‘Are you having fun? Are you getting better? Are you understanding the team concept?’ Athletics gives you the best opportunity to learn to be a team.” 

She was honored to be chosen as Mustang North Middle School’s Teacher of the Year. 

“It is a wonderful honor and it’s very humbling,” she said. “You look a the people you’re being compared to and you think, ‘Wow. Why would they choose me over these other people?’” 

Larson is one of 14 Teachers of the Year for Mustang. A District Teacher of the Year will be chosen in March. 

 

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