School adapts to new faculty

At the end of the 2012-2013 school year, Duncan underwent a major change. The school lost a multitude of teachers through retirement and a simple changing of schools. Many students were devastated as they watched their favorite instructors and mentors leave, but this year has proved that new bonds can form just as easily and, in some cases, even stronger.

The student-teacher bonds aren’t the only thing the new teachers are trying to grasp as they settle into new classes and new rooms.

“I haven’t gathered my bearings with my new room,” math department head Amber Johnson said. “The subject is so hard because [Gerald] Wheeler’s shoes are so hard to fill.”

Johnson has been teaching at Duncan since 2006, so she isn’t new to the students or the school itself. However, she has recently taken the position as an upper-level mathematics teacher, which is new to her. She is one of the two teachers who are certified to teach trigonometry and calculus, Sam Holthe being the other.

“It’s like seeing something you know how to do and reacquainting yourself with it,” Johnson said.

Calculus students were clearly worried about losing Wheeler, but Johnson seems to be more than capable of teaching the subject and is passionate about doing it correctly.

“It’s going to be a challenge because it’s going to take a lot of outside time to do it correctly,” Johnson said. “I want to do it correctly.”

She has been spending many hours at her own home to study calculus in order to give the students the best possible learning environment, and lends her advice to the new teachers.

“Get to know the students and enjoy them,” Johnson said. “They have a lot to offer.

Another transition was the changing of the upper-level art teacher. Melissa Mayo joined the staff of Duncan at the beginning of this year in place of recent retiree Coleen Jones.

Since she has started she has made an impact on many higher level art students, especially with the establishment of Duncan’s chapter of National Art Honor Society.

“I am very excited about the talent I have seen so far this year and the enthusiasm for our NAHS chapter that I’ve seen from the AP art students,” Mayo said.

Mayo has been teaching art for 11 years, making this school year number 12. She had been teaching at Winnewood when she found the opening for AP art instructor at Duncan.

“There is more support for the arts here than there was there,” Mayo said. “The main focus at that school was discipline.”
The primary worry of many long-time art students was the bond between two artists. Many people, such as Mayo, believe that an art teacher gets to know his or her students more personally than other teachers through the students’ artwork. She also has a high appreciation of every student’s individual art style.

“I feel like it’s important to let you keep doing your own style of art,” Mayo said. “I don’t want to stifle your creativity or crush your dreams as an artist.”

Another of the new teachers many students have been talking about is Katherine Heitner, who was hired as the upper-level English teacher in place of Micah Mize.

Heitner has spent the past few years as a student teacher and an observer in preparation for her first year of teaching, and she seems to have taken to it as if she belongs there.

“It’s a new year, everyone is getting a fresh start, everyone is learning and I think it will all come together,” Heitner said.

In addition to being a new teacher, she is also bringing in a lot of new methods to teaching her English students. One of these methods is the installation of her class reward system which has been officially dubbed: “Heitner’s Hoops.”

“I think if kids do the right things in class, they should be rewarded,” Heitner said.

The way the system works is that when a class behaves exceptionally well (by Heitner’s standards) the class is rewarded with paper rings that hang from a doorway. When the chain of rings touches the floor, the class in its entirety gets a prize. Prizes range from movie days to instant A homework passes.

In addition to this new system of teaching, Heitner’s methods themselves are very different from many other instructors at Duncan.

“I use much more technology than others,” Heitner said. “I love the promethean board and using cell phones in class.”

Heitner is also very familiar with the new curriculum that has officially been established.

“I don’t have to be taught [Oklahoma Common Core] because I’ve been training for it for the past few years,” Heitner said.

Through all of the challenges of taking on a new position in a new school, many of the new teachers have made the best of it and are looking ahead to a bright year.

“It’s getting better, and that is all I can hope for,” Heitner said. “I have awesome students in all of my classes. If it wasn’t for them, this year would probably be terrible.”