Pos­i­tively en­light­en­ing

Teacher wants stu­dents to think glob­ally

The Covington News - - School Beat - By Jenny Thompson

Ju­lia Duff, fifth grade teacher and read­ing spe­cial­ist at Por­terdale El­e­men­tary School, cel­e­brates her 40th year teach­ing this year and has learned as much as she has taught over the years.

“I’m like a mother to teach­ers and a grand­mother to the kids,” Duff said.

She said un­til she reached high school she thought she wanted a ca­reer in the health in­dus­try. When she be­gan teach­ing Sun­day school classes at her home church in Ohio, she de­cided to steer to­ward ed­u­ca­tion.

She added be­ing the old­est of three prob­a­bly shaped her per­son­al­ity into a life-long in­struc­tor.

“There are a lot of teach­ers that are first-borns,” Duff said.

Duff be­gan her teach­ing ca­reer in spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion when fund­ing for pro­grams across the coun­try was newly avail­able.

Since 1968, Duff has taught a variety of grades and sub­jects in Ohio and Cal­i­for­nia and tu­tored in Canada. She has taught in Ge­or­gia schools for al­most 30 years and has seen cur­ricu­lum and re­sources change dra­mat­i­cally dur­ing that time.

“The vast as­sort­ment of ma­te­ri­als for the cur­ricu­lum has de­vel­oped 100-fold,” Duff said, “and tech­nol­ogy en­hance­ment with ac­tiv­i­ties be­gin­ning in the preschool years has been an in­cred­i­ble boon to Ge­or­gia ed­u­ca­tion.”

Duff has taught at Por­terdale since 2000, where she has also served as a read­ing spe­cial­ist, Y Club spon­sor, BETAClub spon­sor and has co­or­di­nated the year­book for three years.

She also or­ga­nized the fifth­grade overnight field trip to Rock Ea­gle En­vi­ron­men­tal Cen­ter, where stu­dents par­tic­i­pate in his­tory and science learn­ing.

“They have hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence build­ing wad­dle and daub houses, chip­ping out a ca­noe, mak­ing shin­gles for a roof, other wood cut­ting ex­pe­ri­ence and sur­vival tech­niques and tech­nol­ogy of the Mis­sis­sip­pian Era,” Duff said.

A river ecol­ogy project has stu­dents iden­tify crit­ters they fish out of a stream at the camp, and stu­dents also meet live rep­tiles and am­phib­ians.

“We hold them and touch them and learn about what they feed on and their use to the en­vi­ron­ment,” Duff said.

Be­cause an im­por­tant facet of fifth grade is pass­ing the math and read­ing por­tions of the Ge­or­gia Cri­te­rion Ref­er­enced Com­pe­tency Test in or­der to ad­vance to the sixth grade, Duff must fol­low the state­man­dated Ge­or­gia Per­for­mance Stan­dards to pre­pare her stu­dents.

How­ever, she has cre­ated some fun, orig­i­nal projects to en­gage stu­dents in cer­tain units. For ex­am­ple, dur­ing the World War II unit stu­dents made “In the Bag” projects, where stu­dents chose a topic such as Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt or mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles and place writ­ten facts, pic­tures and ar­ti­facts in a gro­cery bag.

Duff said stu­dents also en­joy work­ing with lap­top com­put­ers, which she uses in her creative and ex­pos­i­tory writ­ing ex­er­cises.

“Writ­ing is vi­tal be­cause what we write is a piece of our­selves,” Duff said, “and it’s so im­por­tant for us to achieve the very best we can when we ex­press our­selves in the writ­ten form.”

In a lan­guage arts ex­er­cise, Duff’s stu­dents have a funeral for overused words such as get, very and beau­ti­ful. Af­ter the ex­er­cise stu­dents are sup­posed to choose more de­scrip­tive words than the ones they laid to rest.

Al­ways an in­no­va­tor, Duff or­ga­nizes ex­cur­sions to Peru dur­ing the fall break. Th­ese ex­cur­sions, how­ever, are not leisurely va­ca­tions.

Those who go on trips with Duff will visit and bring sup­plies to chil­dren’s refuges, a hospi­tal for dis­abled chil­dren and schools in im­pov­er­ished ar­eas dev­as­tated by the 2007 earth­quake or high in the rural An­des Moun­tains.

Be­cause of her in­ter­est in reach­ing out to in­cred­i­bly poor chil­dren in Peru, Duff wanted to do some­thing from home rather than travel once a year.

“Sowe­be­gananet­work of invit­ing Peru­vian univer­sity stu­dents to come to Amer­ica and in­ves­ti­gate a West­ern econ­omy and to en­cour­age them in the work world for a fu­ture suc­cess­ful econ­omy in Peru,” Duff said.

She said af­ter the U.S. Se­nate passed a free-trade agree­ment with Peru in De­cem­ber, young peo­ple there are wait­ing for com­pa­nies to bring jobs to the coun­try.

Duff added that Amer­ica stands to gain as well from the agree­ment.

“The one thing the chil­dren have in Peru is they have an abun­dance of food,” Duff said, “be­cause of their soil, their fruits and veg­eta­bles have nat­u­ral anti-tox­ins, which is some­thing we cer­tainly can’t say about our grains here in the U.S.”

Not only are the trips per­son­ally sat­is­fy­ing to Duff, but also the pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ences she shares with her stu­dents pro­vide them with an im­age of com­pas­sion­ate adult be­hav­ior.

“Life is about re­la­tion­ships,” Duff said. “Suc­cess is a word thing, but it’s how you get along with peo­ple that re­ally mat­ters. So the ques­tion is, in life, how do we de­fine suc­cess?

“I guess that’s for each of us to de­ter­mine, but for me I choose the whole idea of I want to be the role model that makes the right choices.”

Jenny Thompson/The Cov­ing­ton News

Jewel of Por­terdale:

Fifth grade teacher and read­ing spe­cial­ist, Ju­lia Duff, poses with one of her class­room lap­tops at Por­terdale El­e­men­tary School last week. This is her 40th year in ed­u­ca­tion.

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