Jan. 28, 2019 – Rachel Duff points to a vocabulary word on the board and enunciates it slowly for her students to repeat. She does this two more times before motioning with her hands and repeating the word for them again.
This is the DuPont Middle School ESOL teacher's strategy for teaching her students multiple new ways of expressing themselves -- this includes not only teaching them English, but American Sign Language, for each of their vocabulary words.
This passionate educator said she started out wanting to be a writer, but was exposed to teaching the English language to children while on a volunteer trip to Guyana.
She explored her new love of teaching English as a second language while pursuing her ESOL education degree at the University of North Florida and volunteering at the University’s English Language Program Center.
Beyond teaching her students English as a second language and American Sign Language, Duff said she wants to teach her students to embrace their culture even as they become more familiar with a new community.
"I want them to learn joy through resilience," said Duff. "They've had big experiences for their young lives. They should know we find the most beauty in our diversity."
Duff has been teaching for four years and said she has found the importance of immersing herself into the lives and cultures of her students. In a classroom full of various cultures and nationalities, she feels the best way to know her students is to be a part of their lives.
"We as educators are community mobilizers," said Duff. "We need to be a part of and learn from their community."
Editor's Note: Rachel Duff is one of five finalists for the 2019 Florida Blue Duval County Teacher of the Year. The winner will be announced at the Eddy Awards on Feb. 15. Leading up to the announcement, we will be doing a feature on each of the finalist every week. Read about the other finalists here.