“My joy is working with young people.”
Jessica Donovan-Massey, East High School
If you can’t get excited about learning in Jessica Donovan-Massey’s class, it’s not for her lack of trying. Walking down the hallway toward Donovan-Massey’s East High School classroom, you can feel the energy building. The class spills out into the hallway, where the spunky bundle of energy moves from student to student, asking for updates or providing assistance as needed. Inside the classroom, students huddle in groups or work independently. It’s clear the focus is on learning.
“I am at my best when I’m sharing the pleasure of literature and the fun of words with students,” Donovan-Massey said of her love for teaching. “I hope to give them the courage they’ll need to face their world with confidence.”
The teacher has been helping to provide that courage to students for more than 26 years. An Honors English and AP Literature teacher at East High School, Donovan-Massey relishes the time she gets to spend with students. That enthusiasm becomes ever-more-apparent when you listen to her describe the immersive approach she takes to her subject matter.
“Rolling around in the literature is what happens in Massey’s room,” she said. “It is contagious to roll around in the literature. We are not in a hurry with our books. We look deeply into the nuances of the texts.”
To that end, Donovan-Massey encourages students to incorporate what they’ve read and learned through books into their everyday lives. That can happen by putting vocabulary lessons to life in conversation, or students identifying when they recognize vocabulary words in popular culture like TV and movies. The outcome is to generate classroom conversations and create connections from school lessons to real life.
“Seeing students uncover the treasures hidden in literature is the absolute best,” Donovan-Massey said. “I am hoping to create an environment that is close to the conversations I enjoyed with my father at the dinner table.”
To help bring literature to life, Donovan-Massey advocates for projects with every text the class is assigned. For example, when students read “Catcher in the Rye,” she asked to students to “take on” the role of literary critic or therapist. Using the novel, students gathered “evidence” found throughout the book to explain their logic behind a “diagnosis” of a main character’s psyche or to demonstrate proof of the author’s use of a particular literary device. The rationales were then used to develop a presentation supporting the student’s assertions.
“I love to watch the eyes and smiles on my student’s faces as they master rigorous content and learn to work confidently toward learning,” Donovan-Massey said.
That spirit of innovation is what drove Donovan-Massey to help develop East’s Academic Success program – a support class to help “reluctant” students to achieve success in Honors-level classes. As part of her work, she teaches the 9th grade Academic Success class.
“Students enter my honors English class as students who anticipate struggle and failure,” Donovan-Massey said of the need for such a class. “With the support of the Academic Success class, these same students unfurl and blossom into confident students who often self-select honors-level classes going forward.”
Donovan-Massey explained the class is built on acceptance, individualized support and “re-teaching,” in addition to simply providing students more time to learn topics. Both students and parents have reported great value in the class, she said.
Like most teachers, Donovan-Massey struggles with the same issues so prevalent among schools today: the politics of teaching, lack of time, difficult class sizes and lack of adequate student supports, among others. But the seasoned education veteran (whose husband Vince is also an educator), understands the challenges.
“Making each student feel accepted, recognized, and valued so they know that they are welcomed and safe to excel is critical,” she said. “As is finding enough time to differentiate and accommodate individual student needs, gifts, and styles.”
Watching her in action on a recent Thursday morning, she makes these challenges seem effortless.
If you know of a DCTA teacher that should be featured here, please email their name and contact information to Amber Wilson – DCTA Secretary.