“Life’s a journey and you’re going to have ups and downs, but it’s the people in your life who will make that journey worth it."
Creating the desire to learn
By Charlotte Kyle
Tina Meyers, teacher at South Marshall Middle School, said she did not know what she would do without instructional assistant Carol Durham, 52.
“I have worked with Carol for 10 years and cannot imagine trying to get through a day without her assistance,” Meyers said. “She is always willing to do whatever is asked of her; she does it willingly and with a smile. She has made a difference in the lives of many students and will continue to do so for years to come.”
For teacher Janet McCrory, Durham’s work extends beyond the classroom setting.
Carol Durham, instructional assistant at South Marshall Middle School, reviews the planned assignment in 7th grader Asia Sledd’s textbook.
“Carol goes above and beyond in her job as a teacher’s aide,” McCrory said. “Last year she was recognized as volunteer of the year for SMMS, because she works many hours off the clock for students.”
McCrory references Durham’s involvement in The Breakfast Club, a before school tutoring program. Each month Durham prepares international breakfast foods or foods to celebrate holidays. She has served Mexican, Italian and taken requests from students. McCrory calls Durham an amazing coworker, mentor and friend.
Teacher Leah Chumbler said students relate to Durham for her perseverance, a theme they are learning about in the classroom. Chumbler described her as “an inspiring teacher who creates multicultural lesson plans for teachers who are fortunate enough to collaborate with her.” She said Durham once taught a lesson about the Civil War which included foods eaten by the soldiers.
Durham brings this creativity to door decorations and bulletin boards as well, capturing the attention of the students, faculty and staff at SMMS. When she’s not doing that, Durham works as an interpreter for hearing-impaired students, as well as working with special needs students at the school and her church.
She even organized and ran a Veterans’ Day museum event for the past three years.
Durham, however, remains humble and surprised by their praises. In fact, when told she would be featured in the newspaper, she instantly thought it was a joke. “Is this a prank?” she asked over the phone. “I can think of so many other people you could feature.”
Durham has worked in schools for 15 years, but she began working with children long before. When she was 14 she began teaching Sunday school. At South Marshall Middle School, Durham – along with Melisa Baker and Jo Beth Wallace – work to reinforce lessons and enforce class rules among a number of other duties. Durham said that as an instructional assistant she is constantly learning.
Above, Carol Durham poses with some of the many students she works with at South Marshall Middle School. Durham said she feels most comfortable when she is with her students.
“Education changes daily,” she said. “Subjects like math – the students will be talking around me sometimes, and they are amazed when I say, ‘You’re keeping me from learning.’ They have a surprised look on their faces. The aides learn every day just like the students.”
She said the students are often surprised that she takes books home to study and they ask her why she does it. “I say, ‘I have to study because how can I give you a test if I don’t even know the answer?’” she said. “They didn’t know we do that.”
Durham said she has a learning disability, and she is open with the children regarding her problems. She brings this unique perspective to helping students understand the material.
“Even at this age, I still learn different ways,” she said. “I think it’s good because these kids are watching me writing notes. They’ll ask why I’m doing that, and I’ll say that it’s because I don’t understand things as quickly as they do.”
Durham was raised by foster parents since she was seven years old. She quickly became involved in church and said she felt a comfort there. She has been married for 24 years to her husband John, and she has two sons. She also suffers from health problems including environmental asthma, which keep her from working at times. She said she has had her ups and downs, but remains positive.
“Life’s just too short,” she said. “I was down about some things a couple months back. When you go down you go down for a reason. When you’re down you come back up and you learn something. I tell the kids that it’s normal to be down, but don’t stay down for too long because you might miss something important. Life’s a journey and you’re going to have ups and downs, but it’s the people in your life who will make that journey worth it.”
Durham said she has worked in almost every school system in Marshall County, either as a sub, interpreter or instructional aide. While she does not have a favorite, she appreciates the environment of South Marshall Middle School and has been grateful to come to work there.
“The teachers let us be more than just aides, servants or paper-pushers,” she said. “They let us use our ideas to help them teach. They use us. They don’t just let us sit there and that’s what I really love about every one of those teachers at that school. They know our special techniques and they see us as more than just aides.”
Though her coworkers and students are quick to sing her praises, Durham said she is nothing special. She’s just being herself and following God’s plan.
“I’m not any different from any one else that appreciates daily life gifts,” she said. “I am just very fortunate to have a job where I can be myself and enjoy coming to work every day.”