Twenty-Five Years and Counting

Twenty-Five Years and Counting

Marki Watson

Q. Marki, congratulations on your 25 year milestone! Can you tell us a little about the varied roles that led you to your current position as lower school art teacher?

A. It all began as a part-time job in the afterschool program. At the time, I was actually enrolled in a program to become a Montessori school teacher. When I saw what was going on at Duke School, I quickly realized that the project approach is such a natural way for kids to learn. What I was seeing fit me better because of the way kids learn through exploration and documenting what they were learning. I withdrew from the other program and looked for every opportunity to be in the classroom so that I could learn more and more about project work. That led me to a couple of years of heavy-duty substitute teaching. By year three, I was teaching full time in a fourth-grade classroom.

I enjoyed teaching fourth grade that one year, but I realized that I didn’t enjoy the full spectrum in the classroom as much as I enjoyed the art aspect. That’s when I enrolled in North Carolina Central University’s art education program. The middle school campus on Erwin Road was also opening at that time, and I worked in middle school afterschool and summer camp. After finishing my art education work, Duke School art teacher Lucia Marcus asked me to be her assistant. She had been teaching art on both campuses. We taught together for a couple of years and then decided it might work better if we each took a campus. That brought me to lower school art. I continued to do afterschool at the lower school until just a few years ago.

Q. You do an amazing job integrating art with classroom projects. How are you able to do that work so successfully? 

A. Honestly, the real truth in all of this is that Lucia is an amazing mentor. I wanted to become an art teacher because that was my favorite part of the curriculum. I loved watching Lucia teach art, and I loved seeing what the kids could make that was integrated into the project work in the classrooms. The time I spent getting to work directly with Lucia built the foundation for my knowledge and understanding of project work and how to include art in a—hopefully—meaningful way. 

Also, once you’ve been doing it long enough, going to conferences, doing art at home, and looking on the internet and seeing what other people are doing, then you come up with new ways to use materials and you see connections that seem natural to do in project work. Over time, you start seeing art everywhere and can then integrate it into the curriculum. 

Q. As a specialist, you teach all the students in preschool through fourth grade. What are the challenges and rewards of that position?

A. In my opinion, it’s a matter of keeping it age appropriate and remembering the audience. Perhaps the biggest challenge is switching gears. For example, preschoolers are just starting to know materials. Often the stuff that we show them, they’ve never put their hands on, so remembering that for them it’s more about exploration than it is about creating a product. 

You also need to keep the kids challenged. Our kids are incredible! Many already know a lot and have already done a lot. To keep their attention and to build their art skills, you really have to stay on top of materials—new materials, ideas, and find new ways to use old materials so that you’re keeping things fresh in the classroom. 

Q. There are many things that happen on and off campus that exemplify the uniqueness of Duke School and its community. Please tell us your favorite #OnlyAtDukeSchool moments.

A. There are a trillion, billion, 240 million of them! 

I always say my favorite event in the entire year is Durham’s Pride Parade and Festival. It’s because Duke School always has a huge contingency of people who go out and have a good time and wear their rainbows and support all people, which I love. It just makes me proud that I am part of the Duke School community. 

Another thing—I’m having dinner tonight with a former student. We’re making pasta. That, to me, is uniquely Duke School. Some of the people that I still hang out with are students who have been gone for a long time. I feel like because the school is small and we’re allowed to be who we are and real with the kids, we make the kind of connections and relationships that last a lifetime. I love it. 

Finally, we also have kids who are so proud of their art. There are many students that leave here, and art continues to sustain them—maybe not professionally, but certainly sustains their souls in some way because they keep wanting to do art and look at art and be a part of art. I think that’s the best of Duke School—for me, anyway.

Beth Harris

Q. Beth, congratulations on your 25-year milestone! You hold the distinction of having taught every grade in Lower School! Would you tell us about your varied roles and what led you to your current position?

A. When I was getting my teaching certificate I worked with kids of different ages. I especially enjoyed 9- and 10-year-old kids so I wanted to teach fourth grade. When I applied to Duke School, there was a second-grade position available, and I decided to take it. I LOVED second grade and taught that for 10 years. My very first group here was a bulge year so I looped up with those kids and did third grade for a year.

Then I took some time off to stay home with my kids. After that I worked in after school, mornings in preschool, and afternoons in the office for a bit until I came back full-time. When I came back, I worked in kindergarten for several years and loved that. 

My next move was to first grade where I spent four years working with Carolynn. I also loved first grade.

I finally got word that a fourth-grade position was opening up and I leapt at the chance. I have loved all the positions I’ve held at Duke School for different reasons. I have also loved teaching with so many talented and wonderful partners, but fourth grade feels like home for sure. It only took 20 years to make it!

I’ve also worked before school and many summer camps here. Working so many different positions and grade levels and having two kids that went all the way through eighth grade here has allowed me to see Duke School through multiple lenses. I love that.

Q. Duke School’s project approach relies heavily on the creativity and collaboration of its teachers. What would you say are the keys to success for innovation and teamwork in the classroom?

A. I would say keys to success are keeping an open mind and allowing yourself to ask questions and learn from your co-workers. I learned so much from all the master teachers I worked with at every level. Just knowing that I’m never done learning keeps me interested, engaged, and growing. I am consistently amazed with the level of skill, creativity, and motivation that I am surrounded by in this place. This is an outstanding group of people to work with every day. I am very fortunate. 

Q. As a mother of two Duke School graduates—James (Class of 2016) and Ainsley (Class of 2018), what have you appreciated most about the education they received at Duke School?

A. I appreciate everything. They were so well prepared academically in every area for high school which was obviously wonderful. But I would say that even more important to me was how well prepared they were to meet the social demands of high school. They went into their new environments poised, and ready to meet all challenges. They were able to advocate for themselves and saw teachers as partners in their learning. They were comfortable with group projects and presentations (they were always sought-after partners!). They are also both very good friends and willing to stand up for injustices they see. 

Q. There are many things that happen on and off campus that exemplify the uniqueness of Duke School and its community. Please tell us your favorite #OnlyAtDukeSchool moments?

A: I will start with a couple of things that happened with my own kids. 

One day when Ainsley was in middle school, we were in the car, and I was getting frustrated in traffic. She guided me through a mindfulness exercise that she had been doing at school saying, “Mom, label your feeling. How does it feel in your body?” It was just funny and helpful, and definitely a very Duke School moment. 

One Saturday night when James David was in fifth or sixth grade, he was in the office on the computer. I hear him laughing and I’m trying to figure out what he’s doing. It turns out he’s playing a game with friends in his class where they’re asking each other questions and they’re not allowed use certain words like “a” and “the”— words that are difficult to have a conversation without using. He spent a couple hours on a Saturday night doing that kind of nerdy Duke School thing.

For me, I feel teaching at Duke School has made me more aware of social justice issues. It helps me to be mindful about things that are going on in the world and question, “Is that okay? Why is this happening? What can I do to make this better?” I would like to think that those are things I would still think about, but what I appreciate about teaching here is that it’s always there. We’re always thinking about it for the kids. We’re always thinking about it as faculty and staff—how can we keep moving forward in a good way.

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