Building Relationships and Engaging Students

Laurie Dahlen has been teaching for 14 years. She recently started teaching fourth grade at New Life Academy. We sat down with Laurie to ask her “what sets New Life apart?” After 14 years of teaching, what drew her to New Life and what made her decide to enroll her kids?  

Her New Life Story 

While Laurie was at her former school, she kept hearing stories of her students and families moving to New Life and the incredible experiences they were having. She was introduced by some mutual friends and drawn to New Life, wanting to experience it for herself.   

In January 2019, she was told that the school she was teaching at would be closing at the end of the school year and that there would be a lot of staff cutbacks. Laurie says that at first, she was scrambling. Her kids were established and so was her career.   

God provided and had other plans for their family. God told me that when the school was closing, that my time there would be done,” said Laurie. She remembers thinking that New Life would be a great opportunity as a teacher, with her kids as students, and her family as part of a stable, growing community. This prompted Laurie to reach out and apply when there was an available teaching position.  

Laurie and her kids, Laila and Gabriel, drive from Bloomington every day to come to New Life. For them, it’s worth the commitment. “We get to spend good family time together,” said Laurie. Praying in the car, listening to audio books, hearing about everyone’s days and practicing spelling.” 

What Sets New Life Apart? 

The teachers. I’ve been around great teachers in my 14 years of teaching experience, but these are really driven teachers that want to continue to learn and better their teaching. They are not okay with doing the same thing every single year,” said Laurie. Even if they’ve been teaching or in a position for a long time, they’re still coming up with new ideas and looking at each group coming in each year and seeing a new, individual group of students. Laurie is so grateful for the opportunities to share ideas and hear what other teachers are doing 

Along with being a New Life teacher, she also is very aware of her role as a New Life parent. She’s able to be behind the scenes and see that her kids aren’t getting the same, tired thing each year.  She witnesses firsthand, teachers reinventing what they do based on individual classes. “I love teaching. One of the beautiful things about education is there’s a lot of variety in all that you do,” said Laurie. 

Teachers are lifelong learners, and Laurie wants to continually grow and learn because education is always changing. “There are always new ways to make learning exciting for students. I don’t ever want to be a boring teacher,” said Laurie. I don’t ever want to do the same thing that I’ve always done. I want to always learn and get better, so that my last year of teaching will be my best year ever. 

Right now, Laurie is taking classes and working to get her license to teach middle school social studies. A couple years ago, she completed a 10-week course on East Asian studies inspired by a few Korean students in her class. Wanting to know more about their culture was just one way that Laurie was able to personally invest time and effort into her students. 

How Do You Engage Your Students? 

Laurie loves building relationships with her students. She shares about her own life and her family, while also spending time getting to know the kids in her fourth-grade class. Learning about her students allows her to relate assignments to their lives and personalize lessons. 

In her 14 years of experience teaching, Laurie has taught first, third, fourth and fifth grade and reading recovery for first graders. Now, at New Life, she has realized how much she loves teaching fourth grade. “It’s an exciting year because students arent too cool for school,’” said Laurie.  They’re excited about what they’re learning, and they want to share it with people. 

According to Laurie, a lot of growth and maturity happens in fourth grade. These students are starting to see the world outside of themselves. “They’re more aware of people around them,” said Laurie. “Powerful conversations are starting to take place.” 

Because her students are entering such a foundational point of their lives, one of the most important things for Laurie is that her students grow in their character and have confidence in their identity and who they are in Christ. She wants to convey the importance of giving and compassion and allow students options to develop these traits. 

Private Christian education provides a special opportunity, teachers are able to bring the Bible and faith into everything they do. Laurie loves seeing kids purposefully do their work for Christ and for a reason.  

Big Picture 

One of the things that she always wants to keep in mind is, what Laurie and her husband call, an “on the water” perspective, just as Peter walked on water, arms outstretched to Jesus. She always asks God “what would you have me do and where would you have me go? Laurie always wants to teach her own kids and her students to always trust God and rely on Him because He is the only constant.  

Sometimes we can have the mindset of what’s best for me, but that’s not all that God has for us. “It’s not about what is best for me, it’s what he wants me to do. I can do the best in whatever situation he puts me in,” said Laurie. We serve others best when we keep in mind what we can individually do for the Kingdom. 

In the midst of struggling to find a place of belonging, God provided a job that Laurie loves and a school for her kids to feel welcome and to grow in their faith. Her family loves being a part of the New Life community.