She originally taught Spanish at the high school level before finding her place at Mayfield.
“I really enjoy the elementary students,” Duncan said. “I feel like they need the subject matter I have, and they really respond to that.”
Twelve of Duncan’s 16 years in education have been spent in the Cleveland City Schools system. She originally spread her time between several schools before settling down full time at Mayfield. The students promptly stole her heart and dedication.
Dee Dee Finison, former Mayfield Elementary principal, said she could not say enough good about Duncan.
“When I go in her classroom it is an engaged, excited group of children,” Finison said. “... It is a no-risk environment. It is very welcoming. For the most part ELL (English language learners) children are very hesitant about participating in class, but they are not at all hesitant about participating in class with her.”
Duncan utilizes creative and innovative teaching techniques in the classroom. One exercise found children using the online instructional site Flocabulary in conjunction with basketball. Students who knew the correct answer were allowed to shoot a Nerf ball through the plastic hoop.
Finison agreed Duncan is not one to shy away from technology or new methods of teaching. This includes a fresh mindset when it comes to educating students who learn English as a second language.
“I think our ELL population in our system, plus in the state of Tennessee, has just blossomed,” Finison said. “I think it is time we recognize the fact that there are children of diverse populations within our classrooms, not just African-American students, but a variety of ethnic backgrounds, countries and languages.”
Finison said, “I really think it is time to recognize we have those children in our classroom and that they need to be taught, and that they have an opportunity to learn.”
“Nothing is wrong with their intellect. They just can’t speak the language.”
Duncan is working hard to help her students bridge the language barrier separating them from joining the general education population in full.
“I try to make everything I teach relevant and engaging,” Duncan said. “The students I teach struggle a lot, so I start with the assumption they might not understand everything I am talking about, and they might need some background information.”
Duncan explained she and her husband will be adapting the Common Core curriculum manuals created by the school system to reach her students. She said she is excited to teach them the same standards everyone else will be trying to use.
Kevin Huffman, Tennessee’s Education commissioner, congratulated the nine finalists for teachers of the year.
“It is an honor to recognize educators who achieve an incredibly high level of effectiveness with their students,” Huffman said. “These teachers are relentless in their pursuit of excellence. We celebrate these finalists, but also the thousands of dedicated educators across the state.”
Finalists will go through a series of interviews at the end of August. The Teacher of the Year will be announced at a banquet in October. According to a department of education press release, the winner will be an ambassador of education throughout the year.
Duncan gave a heartfelt thanks to those who work side by side with her.
“I would just like to say I think Mayfield Elementary is a wonderful school, and I am honored my colleagues there have nominated me. And I hope to represent them well and I hope to represent families of our students well,” Duncan said. “My students’ families do not always have a voice in their child’s education.”
Continued Duncan, “I hope I can be a voice for them, to speak up and out for them on the struggles and successes their children are facing.”