Teacher wants students to think globally
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.”
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.