David Lhuillier: A Career of Building Bridges and Embracing Diversity
David Lhuillier never thought he’d be a teacher. Even with a grandmother and mother who spent their lives in the classroom, he never imagined that’s the path he would take for himself. He dreamed of being an architect or using his Russian language skills to live abroad. In fact, he discovered his passion and talent for teaching almost by accident. While earning his masters in history, he decided to get his teaching certificate and took part in a program that would allow him to graduate at a quicker pace. His program placed him in a school where worked directly with a diverse population of Latino, African-American and Native-American students who often came from challenging economic backgrounds. “I found out I really liked these kids a lot and was able to build a real rapport with them,” David said. “And I thought, this is what I should have been doing the whole time.”
David spent six formative years teaching at a high-needs school in inner-city Dallas and has spent the last four years at DCIS Montbello — a school he loves for its unique blend of students from all over the world as well as a diverse group of students from the U.S. His passion for a variety of cultures, interest in learning from his students and his ability to connect his own experience with theirs are big reasons David is able to build trust with kids who come from different ethnic and economic circumstances than his own. “I always tell the kids my family are immigrants too. No one could say my last name in class,” David said. “I want them to know that their background and culture are very important to me.”
This year, David is bringing his tremendous skills in building relationships not only to help foster learning in students new to his class, but also to support teachers new to the school. As a New Teacher Ambassador, one of the supporting teacher leader roles in Teacher Leadership & Collaboration (TLC), David provides resources, as well as logistical and social-emotional supports for a team of teachers either new to the profession or new to DPS. This role is critical across DPS as it aims to reduce teacher turnover, by fostering an inclusive, supportive environment. In fall 2017, David and a fellow New Teacher Ambassador got to work, welcoming 30 new teachers to the middle and high school campus.
David remembers his own first year and the challenges many new teachers face: “When I was a new teacher, classroom management was something I really needed to focus on. We really didn’t have any mentors. They just kind of threw us out there and said ‘good luck.’ I learned some things and I thought it would be great to share this with others so they didn’t have to go through it the way I did.”
In addition to supporting with classroom management strategies, David also helps his team of new teachers navigate the logistics and processes of a large school district. Because David assists with paperwork and answers questions, new teachers are able to concentrate on what’s most important: teaching their students and growing in their practice.
Beyond workshops on the intricacies of Infinite Campus, posting grades and staying in compliance with the Colorado Department of Education, as part of his New Teacher Ambassador role, David has put a considerable amount of his energy into building a community for his new teachers. He has worked to create a safe space so new teachers can express their struggles with peers who may be struggling too. DCIS Montbello is a large school and David noted it was easy to feel paralyzed by all the moving parts, as well as managing all the different academic and socio-emotional needs at a shared campus of 2,000 students.
Through icebreakers, offsite socials and weekly classroom visits, David has tried to create a culture where teachers are supporting each other not simply as fellow educators but as human beings. “At our meetings we always give teachers a chance to give some shout-outs and share some successes they’ve had in their classroom or tips about how they’ve addressed challenges,” he said. David believes the combination of a learning community and emotional support is key to helping retain many of the dedicated, capable new teachers he works with every day. “The thing I always share with new teachers is no matter what you experience in your first year, you only have to do your first year once,” he said. “You’re going to learn and it’s always going to be better.”
With David and the team’s support, the hope is that each new teacher’s first year can be more about learning and growth than being overwhelmed. Because ultimately, continuously growing teachers who stay in the classroom are better for the students David cares so deeply about. “This is always where I want to be. I hope to be able to teach these kids until I retire.”