Jennifer Durr knew two things when she was deciding on a college major – she wanted a career where she would be able to make “good” money, and teaching probably wasn’t the best way to achieve that goal. Now, however, after five years of teacher’s paychecks, she says the bottom line for her has nothing to do with the size of those checks. “I believe this is where I am meant to be, and exactly what I am meant to be doing,” she says with a smile, talking about her position as a kindergarten teacher at Williams Memorial Elementary in St. George. “I am educating the children of my hometown, and I love seeing the growth in them from the beginning of the year until the end. When you love something this much, you discover that making huge amounts of money really doesn’t matter.” This Salkehatchie alum knew a lot about the teaching profession long before she enrolled in the four-year education program at USC Salkehatchie offered in partnership with USC Aiken. Her mother was a long-time teacher, and Durr grew up playing school and making plans to teach. But life and other dreams intruded, and she tried hard to go in other directions – everything from sports medicine to hair styling – only to ultimately be brought fully back to her love for teaching.
“I believe this is where I am meant to be, and exactly what I am meant to be doing.”
Her students and colleagues obviously agree that teaching is where she belongs. Durr was recently named the Dorches-ter District 4 2010 Teacher of the Year, which started with her selection by her colleagues as the school’s Teacher of the Year. She then went through an intense selection process that included the submission of a detailed portfolio, classroom observation, and an interview. “It was a lot of work, and nerve-wracking, but worth it,” she says. “There was also the fact that for the past four years, the District Teacher of the Year has come from our school, and I didn’t want to be the one to break that streak!” The recognition meant a lot to her, since it validated the hard work she put in last year, her first year as a kindergarten teacher. She taught both first and second grades before the kindergarten position became available, and she says while it was her dream to teach kindergarten, it took some adjustment. Growth at the school meant she had 27 students in her class last year, many of whom had never before been in a classroom setting. “It’s hard to control 27 kindergarteners non-stop,” she
laughs. “In fact, it’s exhausting, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.” Harnessing that seemingly limitless childhood energy is a key part of Durr’s teaching style, something she says is standard practice at Williams Memorial. Each day starts with physical activity integrated into more traditional teaching methods. Students often pair math lessons with song and dance, or learn the days of the week with a rap. Her classroom is colorful, filled with signs, objects, and learning stations that serve to educate while holding the attention of young children. This exemplary teacher integrates best practices she learned on the job or in her master’s coursework, but she also uses skills developed during her time at Salkehatchie. Durr started as an Elementary Education major at Salkehatchie, where she earned her associate’s degree in 2003. However, experiences in the program piqued her interest in early childhood education, and she moved to USC Beaufort to complete her bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from there in 2004. Buddy Phillips, director of the education program at Salkehatchie and Durr’s advisor when she was on campus, remembers her as an excellent student whom he always knew was destined for the classroom. “Sometimes you just know from the moment you meet a student what their passion is and that they will succeed in it,” says Phillips. “Jennifer was one who wore her passion on her sleeve, and that passion was teaching. She not only excelled in her classes, but was always working with the Education Club and other organizations on campus to improve campus life for everyone. I always knew Jennifer would be the best at what-ever she chose to do. There have been many excellent students who have attended our teacher education program here at Salk, and there are those who, because of their unique ability and commitment to their chosen profession, must be considered outstanding. Jennifer was outstanding.” Those expectations were proven correct in Durr’s first year of teaching, when she was selected as the Rookie Teacher of the Year at Williams Memorial. This year’s honor is yet another in what her USC Salkehatchie family expects to be a string of accomplishments. She is in the running for the state Teacher of the Year award and will find out next spring whether she is a finalist. Durr says the program at Salkehatchie, and the professors she had here, helped her become the teacher she is today. “There is such an opportunity to learn what you need to be a good teacher here at Salk,” she says. “It’s such a nurturing environment, and your professors care about you. It was beneficial to me also to have professors who weren’t just here in the college classroom, but worked in the schools, had been teachers and librarians, and could tell us how it really was. I credit Salk for where I am today.”