Thornton Academy News

  • Upper School
Featured Faculty: Dawn Pendergrass–English
English teacher Dawn Pendergrass sits at her desk while wearing a face mask and communicating via laptop with remote learners.

English teacher Dawn Pendergrass was born in Maine, but her family moved to Canada when she was eight-years-old. She lived outside of Toronto and stayed until returning to Maine, just in time for her to spend her senior year as a Trojan, graduating in 1990. She is a proud product of the UMaine college system, receiving both her undergraduate and graduate degrees herein Maine. This spring she will earn a Certificate of Graduate Studies from USM.

Ms. Pendergrass never thought she would become a teacher, in fact, she wanted to be an actress! She took a circuitous route to teaching, working on an ambulance in EMS; and teaching first aid, CPR, swimming, and lifeguarding. “It was when I trained and certified teenagers to become lifeguards that I realized I’d found my people: teenagers!” She appreciates her students’ ability to be interactive, enthusiastic, curious, insightful, and brutally honest. “And since teaching is a kind-of an on-stage performance with three shows a day, I‘ve been able to fulfill my childhood dream, albeit with a little less spotlight!”

This year, Ms. Pendergrass is teaching all freshmen, all the time. She loves teaching first-year students and focuses on HOW to think, not what to think. “I think helping them engage is equally as important,” she explains. “I can make them do the work because I assign it, but it’s more important to help them engage with the work, with me, and with their classmates.”

What is the best thing about teaching at TA? What is the most challenging?

The best thing about teaching at TA is, of course, the students and collaborating with my intelligent, passionate and incredibly dedicated colleagues. I taught at Biddeford High School for seventeen years, but coming here to teach felt like I had come home.

The most challenging part of teaching at TA isn’t unique to TA—it’s teaching in the middle of a pandemic. My desk resembles an airplane cockpit with microphones, two laptops, an iPad, a headset, and a projector TV. Before each class, I have to do my “pre-class flight check”; Apple TV on, System audio on, unmute, screen share, load documents into Google Classroom, email up, PowerSchool down. Everything has to work in a certain synchronicity and then…we fly. Or, at least we are able to simultaneously teach students both in-person and virtually.

A student wearing a face mask sits in Dawn Pendergrass' classroom.

What is your favorite teaching memory? 
Oh goodness, this is my 20th year; I’m not sure I could pinpoint a favorite—all the teaching memories sort of meld together. My favorite moments in this profession have come long after the fact, when a former student sends an email thanking me for preparing them so well for college, or watching my students go out and flourish in the world—in their careers, getting married, starting families, and achieving their dreams. Those are my favorite moments—looking back and thinking about the tiny part I played in their lives.

What do you hope for your students? 
My hope for my students is they learn to embrace the struggle of learning. I believe all kids want to learn, maybe not what I am offering them at that moment, but they all innately want to learn. Whether they are learning a new trick on their skateboard, a dance combination, a soccer move, or how to level up in a video game—they all have to struggle and fail before they find success. I strive to help them embrace the frustration and realize that it’s okay to struggle. In fact, struggling is learning. 

What do you hope for the future of TA? 
My hope for the future is that TA continues to educate students in progressive, innovative ways, while still holding hands with our traditions and history. TA is a very special place and I am honored that I’m here and get to help uphold that specialness.

Thank you for making TA your teaching "home," Ms Pendergrass. 
Your enthusiasm for your job and love for your students is certainly
"in the spotlight" when you take the stage in your classroom!