Durham Alumni Teachers Reflect On Their Schooldays

Kylie Jones

DURHAM-Durham high teachers Mrs. Anna Johnson and Ms. Rebecca Bill look back on their school experiences at Durham Unified School District. Since growing up in Durham, Johnson and Bill have seen how the school has changed since their time at the schools.  

Mrs. Johnson, who graduated in 2003, is now a high school history teacher at Durham. Johnson was used to the amazing sense of community that Durham has and went back to teach in Durham. “Honestly… there is something about a small school that just kind of resonates that has for as long as I have been a part of this school.” Johnson said.  She enjoyed her time attending Durham High due to a great student population and good staff, still keeping in close contact with a few old friends. “The obvious one is Ms. Farley and her brother as well,” Johnson stated.  

Johnson has not been out of high school for very long, so she can see the differences that have been made recently. “The student population continues to feel more and more comfortable on campus and I hope that I am a part of that,” Johnson stated, “As time has gone on new programs have been created and Durham has worked hard to gain access to those and to provide them to students.” The only major change, in her opinion, that has happened recently is the students. She believes that the feeling of the community is very similar. “It was not that different from how it is now,” Johnson added, “Everybody knew everybody and had really close relationships. There was a lot of comradery around things like clubs, activities, and sports.” This is still relevant to the school today; if you ask a student that has grown up in Durham they would say they know almost every student at their school.  

However, one big change that has happened societally is the technology getting more advanced.  “There are cell phones!” Johnson exclaimed, “It’s insane! The ability to digitally communicate with peers, teachers, administrators, and coaches is a million times more present than it was. I think this creates stronger relationships with everyone.” Now that there are more funds for technology, the school has gotten access to Chromebooks and more advanced screen projectors for their classrooms.  

Other than more technology, Johnson believes the education she had is very similar to how it is today. “I feel like I always had to work,” Johnson said, “And I feel like my students say the same thing. So whether the bar has shifted or not, I don’t think I can necessarily say, but the expectation that students are struggling and pushing and trying and growing I think holds the same.” Since only being out of high school for around 16 years, the expectations of the teachers have not changed very much. However, teaching is a bit different in her eyes.  

Johnson never really looked at how difficult it was to be a high school teacher. “I think that the goal of meeting the needs of students has always been a priority [in Durham] ” Johnson claimed,  “I think I see now how much work goes into that, that I probably didn’t appreciate when I went to school here.” She did not understand the difficulty of being a teacher until she became one. A few of the teachers that taught in Durham when she attended were Mr. Wesley Bill, Mr. Mark Pisenti, and Ms. Rebecca Bill.  

Ms. Bill also graduated from Durham high school, later becoming a high school science teacher at Durham High. She had a pleasant high school experience so she decided to go back to the school she grew up in to teach.  

Bill explained how there have not been many changes to the school since she attended Durham High. “In terms of the school physically, it’s pretty much the exact same as when I went here,”  Bill stated. “Well, I guess the football stadium and solar panels. Our facilities are pretty much exactly the way they were when I was here.” The school itself has not seen too many changes since Bill attended Durham High. However, education, she believes, has improved. “In terms of education, I think that the standards that you guys are held to are much higher than they were,” Bill explained, “Like our expectations to move on to college or wherever are much higher than they used to be. So I think you guys have a lot more stress you are put under because of those demands. We didn’t have AP classes, SOU classes, so those stressors weren’t there.” The expectations of parents, staff, and society in general for students have changed significantly from even just a few years ago. There is more stress on students to do the best they can while still having enough time for sports or other extracurricular activities.  

As for the teaching, Bill concluded that it is “comparable” to her teachers growing up.   However, it is more difficult than she thought it would be. “I think teaching is more difficult because you’re not just teaching,” Bill stated, “There are so many other layers to what we have to do at this point. The standards are higher now and the stuff we have to get through. But also I think students, in general, are coming with a lot more problems than we have to help them through, and that makes it tougher.” When Bill attended school in Durham, the students did not go to the teachers with their problems as much as they do today.  

Bill believes that it has been different from the interactions between students and teachers. “Conversations that students have with teachers now, I would never have had with my teachers back then,” Bill remarked, “I think things were kept much more private. There’s just much more personal dialogue between teachers and students, in some cases that can be good, in some cases not so good. I just think there are a lot more casual interactions between students and teachers.”  This is very different for her because students did not talk about their personal life with teachers when she was a student. It was very strange for a student to talk to a teacher on a personal topic because they were just supposed to be their teacher, not their friend. However, there are some perks to teaching, like seeing her students when they are all grown up.

A few of her past students have even got jobs as teachers in Durham. “I think it’s also cool because some of the kids I taught are teaching here now, like Ms. Farley and Mrs. Johnson were both my students,” Bill exclaimed, “So it’s kind of cool to see them return and I think that’s kind of unique here. Quite a few teachers who come here to teach also graduated from here, which is pretty cool.” It was fun for Bill to see students of her own become her colleagues. Teachers in Durham that have graduated from this little town love being back to teach the next generations of Durham students.