Barrett Duncan grew up in a house with educators as parents – his mom a teacher and his dad a PE coach. He also grew up in an atmosphere fueled by Destination Imagination and a love for music.
“I was born to teach,” Duncan said. “I always knew. It wasn’t if I would teach but what will I teach.”
Duncan grew up in Huntington and participated in Destination Imagination competition, a program where students work together to solve open-ended challenges through creativity. He went to college to become a band director. He played the saxophone in high school and continued into college at Stephen F. Austin State University. His first stint in education was as a paraprofessional for a year at Trout Primary. He then became a substitute teacher for a year before taking the position as a third-grade teacher at Anderson Elementary.
Upon walking into his classroom, it becomes obvious that this is not an ordinary place to learn. For one thing, it smells amazing.
“My mom bought the air fresheners,” he said, referring to Angela Duncan, Brandon Elementary teacher.
“My mom taught me how to approach the field of education with a different set of lenses,” Duncan said. “It’s not what to teach but how to teach and how to communicate with parents. Dad was best with younger students. He coaches PE at St. Cyprian’s. He also has an ice cream truck and worked at Academy of Gymnastics. He taught me how to work with the young.”
This particular day, Duncan is wearing a basketball jersey gearing up for March Madness otherwise known as “Multiplication Madness”. The students each have headbands and a chance to shoot a basketball through a hoop for the correct answer. Duncan’s lessons spark open-ended conversation.
“It’s not the typical ‘sitting and getting’,” Duncan said. “There’s activity, dancing, different themes, not a typical elementary classroom.
“If it makes it home to the dinner table, I’ve made my goal as a teacher. I want students to make the choice to want to be here.”
Other creative areas of Duncan’s classroom are a “Fridge Wall” where students’ photos are posted just like a home refrigerator. A gum ball machine with prizes in it and an incentive to get to sit on the leather couch. Not to mention, a very unique Wall of Wonder.
“I’m not a big text book guy,” he said. “The Wall of Wonder builds thinking. It’s a collaborative approach. I’ll have open-ended questions and one of the students is a scribe to write on the wipe board. It’s partner-based.”
Duncan not only has goals for his students but for himself as well.
“I want to run a race,” he said.
He’s lost 175 pounds since 2019, and Anderson Elementary PE coach Aby Goff is determined to get him signed up to run a race.
“I run every day, eat healthier. I love to travel, go on cruises or the Smoky Mountains.”
He also has academic goals in mind.
“I want to get my principal certification this summer and by spring of next year, a doctorate degree,” he said. “If I don’t do it while I’m young, I may never do it.”
He loves the Anderson Elementary campus and especially the diversity of the campus. He says he can’t imagine teaching anything else.
“I love teaching third grade,” he said. “The students are eager to learn and excited about school.”
Almost as eager and excited as Duncan is about teaching them.
In Mr. Duncan’s classroom: