Dinah Irwin’s path toward becoming a teacher can be described as untraditional. The 30-year-old Rochester, New York, native spent about six years as a standup comedian before realizing she wanted a change.
She was paid $50 and given free dinner for her final act, when she opened for Dustin Diamond who played Screech from “Saved by the Bell.”
“I realized a) I’m not very funny and b) it’s just kind of a dark profession,” she said.
One day, while walking her dog Jimi, she started questioning what she wanted to do with her life.
“What I realized is I just really liked to tell stories. I like asking questions — progressive questions — and I feel like you do that a lot with history,” she said. “And I said ‘What am I good at? I’m personable. I’m not afraid of crowds. I could be a teacher.’”
To get away from the dark, dreary skies of New York and having graduated with an associates degree, Irwin started looking for a university in a place with a lot of sunshine. Colorado was a natural fit. She made her way to Colorado State University.
Graduating from CSU, Irwin began looking for teaching jobs. Montrose County School District was on the list of schools looking for new teachers. So she took a trip to the Western Slope for a chance to interview with Columbine Middle School and to get to know the town.
“The first thing I did was go to Horsefly (Brewery) because they allow dogs. They had teachers who worked there, and I asked all the questions,” she said. “They told me everything. There were teachers who worked at Horsefly. They told me how isolated Montrose is — how outdoorsy it is.”
She also took a trip to the local library to try to get to know the town, where she flipped through microfilm archives of old newspapers.
She’s now been teaching at CMS for four years and says she wouldn’t enjoy the job, or the town, as much as she does if not for her school. In October 2019 she became ambassador for the school district and works
MDP: What gets you out of bed in the morning to go teach?
D: Every day is so different. I guess it’s just the potential of the day. It’s such a diverse profession, and students can surprise you at any second. I look forward to what I’m going to teach that day — or what activity we’re going to do. I like the consistency of the day, mixed with the improvisation as well. Everyday, I have a set schedule in my classroom, but there’s a lot of improv that goes into teaching as well.
MDP: Talk about your position as ambassador for the district.
D: Basically, they sent out an email to the entire district. You had to be willing to put your face out there. You had to be a licensed teacher. It was really any teacher in the district who was willing to talk about the district.
I’m also working with human resources. We made a profile for the district. The whole basis (for the position) is they needed someone to do what I needed when I first got here: connecting new teachers with the community, helping them find places to live.
MDP: Describe your teaching philosophy.
D: I know every single person is capable of learning, but the only way they’re going to learn is to have interest. My job is to help them find that interest.
MDP: Why is it important to put an emphasis on education in our society?
D: If we put more emphasis on schools in our society, it means we’re helping everything. Education is the pillar. It’s the only part of society that helps everything. If we focus on health, or politics, or anything — education is behind those things.