Darlene Durant has been teaching the children of Key Biscayne since October of 1985. Now, after 36 years, she will be retiring from the Key Biscayne K-8 Center, bringing her full circle -- back to where she began her career, as a kindergarten teacher.
When Durant graduated with a degree in Elementary Education from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, she did not have a preferred grade to teach. When she was offered a kindergarten class, she was happy to accept.
“I went on three interviews in one day with Key Biscayne being the first, and by the time I finished the third interview, the KB principal at the time, Mrs. Carroll (may she rest in peace), called and offered me the job,” Durant recalled.
For the next 11 years she honed her craft teaching kindergarten, but then she was abruptly moved to 1st grade after it was discovered her certification was for grades 1-6 only. Durant said she was disappointed when it happened, but she adapted well and continued to work with 1st and 2nd graders for another 25 years.
In the process, she became one of the most beloved and requested teachers at Key Biscayne K-8 Center.
When Durant began her career in education, her (maiden) name was Presley, and she called her students Presley Pearls. Later, when her name changed after marrying Pastor Raymond Durant, she then called her young charges Durant Diamonds.
Durant said teaching was “way beyond” teaching students 1-2-3s and the A-B-Cs. Her philosophy on education centers on an “unconditional loving” environment for students.
“I want my legacy to be about teaching the whole human being,” she said. “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.”
She encouraged kindness and respect for others in her classroom. Her students were asked to keep journals where they could write about feelings they “couldn’t talk about out loud.” They also wrote something good that happened every day. She was there to help them through life’s challenges -- divorces, coping with the loss of a family member -- or providing them with tools to confront mental health issues.
One of the high points of Durant’s teaching career was being elected Teacher of The Year in the 1995-1996 school year.
“It was wonderful to be chosen, I was so proud. But it was also a very difficult year, since I was pregnant with my twins. I was so big, I kept bumping into everything and the children too. I felt like I was always saying ‘excuse me, and I’m sorry’ to the children,” she added with a chuckle.
The twins are Shayla and Sheldon, who both work for the Miami Dolphins franchise. Her son Raymond is a physical education teacher at Duval Charter School.
Durant said that technology presented a challenge for her, even after continuing her education with a Master’s degree from Capella University. With computers taking over classrooms, and new grade programs being introduced almost every year, it was a constant learning process. She did use the new technology, but continued to maintain a paper grade book and plan book, even now in her last year.
She said some teachers used to tease her about being “old school,” but she laughed when she remembered a time when the computers crashed and the grades were unavailable. She had her paper gradebook to fall back on.
Former students and parents alike speak of Durant with love and admiration.
“Mrs. Durant was so helpful when I first came into this class (kindergarten). I did not know how to read or write or do Math, just the basic things...and now this year I won three medals and I’m really good at Math, and I can write. I love Mrs. Durant so so much. She is the best teacher in the world,” wrote Sophia, a former student, in her journal entry.
Terry Oliva, a former Diamond parent, said, “She is that teacher who goes to all her students’ birthday parties, basketball, football, ballet recitals etc. She is dearly loved by her students and co-workers… I am blessed that she taught my three sons, and that I call her my friend.”
Durant recalled always wanting to be a teacher. “From a very young child, I’ve always wanted to … make a difference in the lives of children. But I never imagined that I would make such an impact on so many parents too.”
With no specific plans for her retirement, Durant said all she wants to do right now is “take it easy and relax.”
The retirement party will be on her last teaching day, October 28. The celebration will be at the Key Biscayne Beach Club. All her Diamonds and Pearls and their parents are welcome to come by and give her her “one last hug.”
Due to Key Biscayne Beach Club crowd restriction rules, there will be two sessions at the retirement party: 3:30 to 5 p.m. and 5:30 to 7 p.m..
You will need to register at Durant.BPT.me for one session. If you have any questions ,please call Terry Oliva at (786) 234-7050.
If you would like to donate to a group retirement present, please send your donation to Terry Oliva via Venmo (terryoliva) or Zelle Terry at (786-234-7050). Your name will be included in a card listing all participants. There will also be a secure, sealed gift box if you prefer to bring a personal card or gift in a sealed envelope.
To share pictures or stories to be included in the celebration, please go to their Instagram @DurantDiamonds or contact Lili Warner at (305) 305-9480