From animals to her students, she cares for them all
"My biggest challenge in teaching? Huh, that's a tough one."
Blair science teacher Elizabeth Duval thoughtfully ponders the question, bouncing merrily on top of a desk. "I'd have to say it's being to nice!" It isn't hard to believe. With a perky brown bob of hair, a high and lighthearted laugh, and smile wrinkles set around her eyes, one could imagine she lives in a state of perpetual cheeriness. And it is precisely her nice-streak that has brought Duval to teaching, a career that would have seemed quite unlikely just fifteen years ago.
Duval didn't leave high school aiming to teach. The self-described "alternative" kid, who sported hair of multiple colors fashioned up in a mohawk during her four years in high school, wanted to pursue her dream of being a veterinarian. But she quickly discovered that veterinary medicine wasn't quite right for her, and eventually shifted her focus to teaching, where she found her true passion for educating the minds of young people.
It really only took one class to scare college-age Duval away from being a vet. While Duval was studying at University of Georgia, she was required to take a class called Poultry Science. For the course, she was presented with a chicken and was asked to kill and dissect the creature. Every single class. At this point, she realized that she didn't have to stomach for carrying out some of the messier aspects of the veterinary profession. "I knew that if I couldn't dissect a chicken, I could never put down a dog or anything," she explains, smiling. "I didn't have the heart to do something like that." However, her love of animals has not died. She says that, outside of teaching, her dream career would be one as a dog trainer. "If only they made more money," she says wistfully.
Just as Duval's compassion for her students can hold her back in a classroom, her excess empathy for the animals under her care quashed her chances of working as a vet. She changed her major and pivoted towards biology, eventually graduating the University of Georgia with a Bachelor's of Science in Biology in 2000. She later took a job in insect genetics, hoping to make that her career, and taught biology at a local high school on the side. And then something strange happened. She realized that she was looking forward to the teaching she did after work, while the rest of her day seemed like a drag. Always one to follow her passions, she went back to the University of Georgia and graduated with a Masters in Education in 2004.
Duval's first real job in teaching largely shaped her personal and easygoing teaching style today. At Classic City High School in Georgia, Duval's students were on the "other end of the spectrum" from the Magnet students she teaches today. Many of them weren't motivated and didn't pass their science HSA assessments. She came to realize that knowing her students on a personal level was the best way to push them into working hard in school. "If you know your students personally, you can have a conversation like 'what's going on, how can I help?' You can empathize with them," she says seriously. "If they're just like strangers to you, you can't do that."
Her students are happy to vouch for her ability to empathize and care for her students. For some of them, praising Duval is just returning the favor. "I remember when I really needed a recommendation for an internship at NIH," explains former student senior Nino Migineishvili. "And 30 other students asked for a recommendation as well. She took the time to do all of them, to write super nice things about all of us. She's just that kind of person."
After starting at Blair in Fall of 2008, Duval has found a home here. She teaches Magnet Biology, Marine Biology, and Entomology, which she created herself. She describes Entomology as her "true love," and uses it as the perfect example of why she loves teaching at Blair. "I really wanted to teach entomology," says Duval. "So, I just went to Mr. Ostrander, and he just let me teach it. That kind of autonomy is unheard of in most schools." While teaching entomology, Duval is charged with killing many insects. She seems fine with that, but others aren't so sure. "I'm pretty sure she feels bad for all the bugs she kills," Migineishvili laughs.
Outside of the classroom, Elizabeth Duval enjoys a peaceful family life with her son and husband, Bill. "I like to bake, make quilts, spend time with my kid," she states contentedly. Another baby is on the way for the Duval family, and Duval herself can be childlike at heart. The two people she finds most inspirational in her life are Dr. Suess and "Muppets" creator Jim Henson. During lunch, she enjoys singing with fellow Magnet Science teacher Bob Donaldson, with whom she has performed for numerous Magnet Arts Night events.
Although Duval describes her difficulty in getting tough with her students as her biggest flaw, her students seem perfectly fine with that. "She's able to be the nicest person and the greatest teacher, which isn't easy," says sophomore Amanda Wessel. And Duval is pretty much okay with that reputation, too. "I mean, I'm a nice person!" she laughs. "I want to help people!"
Maximillian Foley-Keene. Hello! My name is Max and I'm an Editor in Chief for SCO this year. I like writing about what I think, especially current events, American foreign and economic policy. I also like music (jazz and 2000s post-punk are my favorites), art (Wassily Kandinsky is … More »