The One Who Made a Difference

As one of five top California teachers, Dixie Duran comes from a long legacy of learning

Born in El Salvador in a family of educators, it seemed only fitting that Dixie Duran would follow the same path as a teacher.

Duran came to the United States at age 16, and later found her life's purpose while working as a teacher's assistant while as in college.

"It was then when I felt the call to become an elementary school teacher," said Duran, a resident of Los Angeles who teaches the first grade at Griffin Avenue Elementary.

"Teaching runs in my family," she said. "My 80-year-old aunt still teaches first grade in El Salvador. I enjoy exchanging experiences with her every chance I get. She is definitely an inspiration to me."

Duran was also inspired by her uncle and aunt, who taught social studies and math at the University of El Salvador. Additionally, one of her brothers is a professor at Cal State Long Beach, two of her other siblings teach in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and her youngest sister is an educator in San Jose. 

"There are countless joys in teaching," Duran said. "I enjoy learning and sharing with my students and their parents."

On April 9, Duran was among five educators who were honored during the 2016 "Read On" Teacher Salute Award ceremony at the L.A. Times Festival of Books at the University of Southern California.

"Being honored means we value education, and dedication to teaching and learning," Duran said. "Reading to my students and watching them respond to the literature is very rewarding; likewise it is deeply rewarding being able to support parents by sharing with them all the ways to support children at home."

Duran was chosen for the Teacher Salute Award for accomplishments in numerous areas. For instance, she believes in a project-based and interest-driven classroom where children see themselves in a profession and are empowered by their dreams.

Duran communicates weekly with parents through a homework contract and conducts monthly parent meetings with topics that help parents support their children – especially with reading. She also volunteers to lead sessions for schoolwide parent workshops and school-sponsored programming.

"Empowering parents is very rewarding," she said. "Many times we need to remind them that parents are truly children's first and best teachers. When we believe in parents, their children and hard work, we can make a difference in education."

Duran firmly believes in doing everything within her power as an educator for her students – and serving as a leader among her colleagues and within the larger school community.

"Educating young people is so important to me because we need to share all the beauty this world has to offer: literature, arts, science, math, engineering, technology and beyond," Duran said. "We also need educated critical thinkers to help us solve the many challenges our world faces." 

Over the years, she has faced the challenges of time management and serving the many different needs of her students. 

"Many days, I feel I need more time to accomplish more, to differentiate more, to make sure I am the most effective teacher for each student's individual needs," Duran said. "I feel that reaching parents, teaching them to be better teachers and to advocate effectively for their children is one of the most important aspects of my job. Reaching out to parents multiplies the effect of good teachers." 

Above all, she is proud of all her students and their parents.

"What's next for me is treating each day in the classroom as a new beginning, being mindful of their needs and how I teach and never giving up on my students and their families."

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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