Laurie Duncan (M.Ed. '07): Three loves converge

Laurie Duncan (M.Ed. '07), Title I reading specialist, Barack Obama Elementary School

Laurie Duncan, NBCT, has been a Title I reading specialist with Richmond Public Schools for the past 11 years. Prior to earning her M.Ed. with a concentration in reading from the VCU School of Education, she was a classroom teacher in first and second grades. She became a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) in the area of Literacy: Reading/Language Arts in December 2010.

What first drew you to the field of education?

It’s what I always wanted to do. I come from a family of learners; we all keep going back to school. I love children, I love reading, and I love learning, so it all kind of fits together.

Why did you choose VCU SOE?

VCU was my only choice. I wanted to go to graduate school in Richmond, and the campus was very easy to get to. Even the application process was easy.

Once I started the program, Dr. Valerie Robnolt, my advisor, was instrumental in helping to guide me through it. She even helped me get a research position so I could keep working while I was pursuing my master’s degree. I still see her at reading conferences, and she occasionally holds classes at Barack Obama Elementary School, where I teach.

"SOE teachers taught us to be critically reflective practitioners, to reflect back on our teaching after we got out into the field."

The approach that the school takes with its students really helped me a few years after graduation, when I went through the National Board Certification process. The SOE teachers taught us to be critically reflective practitioners, to reflect back on our teaching after we got out into the field and look at how we could improve. The certification process follows the same approach, which made that process go so much more smoothly.

What advice would you give to prospective students who may be considering the M.Ed. in Reading program?

I would definitely recommend the program. I also recommend teaching for a year like I did, before pursuing a master’s degree. Once I started concentrating specifically on my master’s in reading, everything – all the programs I had used in teaching – started to make more sense. I better understood how reading fits into the bigger picture, and how I could more effectively implement the things I was learning.

You have so many areas of focus as an undergraduate, including math, science, social studies and language arts. The overview is important, but I found that as a grad student, I could focus more deeply on student data, better understand what students’ language arts issues were, and figure out how I could best help them. Now, when my teachers need help in the language arts area, I don’t just tell them what to do – I tell them why it’s important and how it can help the child.

Tell me about your current job as Title I reading specialist at Obama Elementary.

I’m the only reading specialist at Obama Elementary, so I work with all 350 students there – kindergarten through 5th grade. I see most of them within the course of a week. I work individually with some from remediation and retention who need help reaching grade level standards. I also conduct reading lessons for entire classrooms as a model for teachers. I’ve done a lot of professional development for Richmond Public Schools, training K-5 teachers throughout the city on specific language arts topics such as grammar, composition and spelling. My job requires me to wear quite a few hats.

What do you do to keep learning?

I’m usually taking a class or going to a conference. I feel like I’m at a loss if I spend a semester not learning something new. Last summer, I took an online course on project-based learning. Conferences, in particular, are a good way to try out things that I’ve learned, and also a good way to learn new things that I can try out next year. The learning is constant.

Last March, I co-presented with SOE Professor Lisa Cipolletti on our Pen Pals program at the Virginia State Reading Association Conference in Richmond. We’ve worked together on the program for three semesters. Each time, I choose a class of 5th graders from Obama Elementary and pair them up with students in Lisa’s Children’s Literature service-learning course. Our 5th graders get so excited! It helps all of them to become better readers and writers.