Giving Back: District winner Dottolo fulfilling lifelong dream

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, March 23, 2016

LAPLACE — When Karen Dottolo was a little girl, she would line all her dolls up and play classroom.

“I can’t think of anything else that I ever wanted to do besides teach,” she said. “My most favorite thing in the whole entire world to do is read aloud with my students.”

That early love of teaching has led to 31 years in the classroom, the last 21 at John L. Ory Communications Magnet Elementary School.

Dottolo, an English language arts and social studies teacher, reads to her students each school day.

“I normally read something at a higher level because the students’ listening comprehension is a higher level then their independent reading comprehension,” she said, adding she believes the readings are her students’ favorite part of the day. Currently, Dottolo is reading “Where the Red Fern Grows,” which she describes as beautiful.

“There are so many skills you can teach in that figurative language, picking out similes or descriptive words,” she said.

Dottolo’s favorite part of the job is the sense of accomplishment she gets when she sees her students understand the material.

The fourth grade teacher admits there are some challenges to teaching, for example having students on different levels of comprehension.

“In a group of 26, you have those that are just ready to go above and beyond,” she said. “Then you have those that are maybe a few grade levels behind. Trying to fill in that gap to meet the needs of all of them can be hard. You need to make sure you’re giving enough of yourself to both ends of the spectrum.”

To give her students the attention and education level they need, Dottolo splits her students into groups and differentiates the work. Doing this, Dottolo believes, prepares all of her students to be on the same page for the end-of-year standardized tests.

“I use music a lot, I love it and the students do too,” she said. “We have so much technology now that it’s easy to find little videos or educational songs. If they can sing it, they will learn it.”

Dottolo also gives her students something she calls brain breaks.

If she knows her students will be sitting for a long time doing work she will have them take a short break where she puts on a video and gives them a chance to move around and dance.

Dottolo has won her school’s Teacher of the Year twice and was recently named St. John School District Elementary School Teacher of the Year.

“I’m very humbled, very, very humbled,” she said. “I come in the morning and teach like my hair is on fire. From the minute the bell rings until the end of the day I don’t stop. Sometimes I feel as though I have the reputation of being a little persnickety — I push hard, but in a respectful way. I think the students know that I expect their best always.”

Dottolo pushes her students to do their best because she knows there are no shortcuts to success.

The first word that came to Jasmine Porter’s mind when Dottolo won the District’s Elementary School Teacher of the Year was “deserving.”

Porter is a master teacher at John L. Ory, allowing her to float in and out of classrooms.

“It’s very refreshing to go into a teacher’s classroom when you can feel the joy they have for teaching,” Porter said. “When you walk into her room, you know she is there for teaching and learning, and her students come through the door expecting teaching and learning to happen everyday. You can tell they love it. It just feels good being in that room.”

Porter describes Dottolo as a dedicated individual and the true representative of what administrators want to see in every classroom for every student.