At the end of the last school year, the Islander News was overwhelmed with letters from grateful moms and dads requesting publicity to support their number one choice for teacher appreciation honors: second grade teacher at Key Biscayne K-8 Center: Mrs. Darlene Durant.
“Please feature Mrs. Durant as a star teacher in your paper. She is an amazing teacher at our local KBCS,” wrote Amanda Elff. (See letters to the editor on page 8 for additional submissions).
Now at the dawn of a new academic year, and the penultimate one of teaching elementary education for Durant, who is expected to retire in 2021, the timing seemed ideal to share a bit of her story.
Mrs. Durant’s classroom adventures began 34 years ago in the fall of 1985 with her initial roster of students on Key Biscayne.
In those early years her kids became known as the “Presley Pearls” (after her maiden surname). Her students and alumni are now affectionately referred to as “Durant Diamonds” (since she married husband Raymond Durant). But Durant’s start in teaching came as the result of a reverse motivation.
“I had a teacher who was not so nice and kind of mean,” said Durant.
“I cried every day when I had to go to that class and it kind of motivated me because I wanted to be a different kind of teacher.”
Her philosophy centers on an “unconditionally loving” environment for students including supporting them at their extracurricular activities outside of school where she is well known for making a surprise appearance, while uplifting each child through their unique challenges, and encouraging kindness and respect for one another.
“It is way beyond teaching them the 1-2-3’s, and A, B, C’s,” said Durant.
“I start out letting them know on the first day that ‘we are a family and Super Durant is here to protect them…you are now a Durant Diamond and if you’ve got a problem we are here to fix it.’
“I go to their baseball games, and talent shows and art exhibits as long as we understand each other and that what’s got to be done at school comes first.”
Darlene Durant was born and raised in Miami and attended Miami Jackson High School. She got her Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Florida Agriculture and Mechanical University (FAMU) in Tallahassee, and her Master’s degree in Reading and Writing from Capella University.
“I want my legacy to be about teaching the whole human being…about loving the whole child with all my heart and for them to also care for each other and be kind to each other outside as well as inside the classroom.”
Being there for her students as they cope with the death of a parent, helping guide them through divorce, or providing tools to confront mental health issues, have been some of her classroom challenges beyond teaching how to read and write.
“We talk through their different challenges like divorce…I use myself as an example because I was raised by a single parent. I tell them ‘you are still special to both of them’ so they are not blaming themselves and can focus on school.
We do journals so they can write the feelings they can’t talk about out loud. With mental health issues people are keeping things inside and you need to get it out of you.
We write something good that happens every day and keep it in a jar…even through the negative we find a way to turn it into a positive…they find what works for them.”
On the day Islander News interviewed Mrs. Durant, her student Sophia insisted on sharing with IN her journal entry for that day:
Mrs. Durant was so helpful when I first came into this class. I did not know how to read or write or do math just the basic things and I won no medal last year and this year I won three medals this year and I am really good at math and I can write I love Mrs. Durant so so much and she is the best teacher in the world she is funny and I love her.