From the Wolfpack to the Pride: Mrs. Duncan

Even in a virtual world, Mrs. Susan Duncan seeks to engage her students. Through Google Meet, she teaches AP and Honors Chemistry. (Photo Courtesy of Ellie Thompson)

Nestled in the back corner of Leesville’s main building is room 239. On a hallway filled with science classrooms, this one stands out. NC State memorabilia decorates the door, as well as a display featuring a handful of humorous mole jokes. If you open the door, you’ll find a typical science classroom: microscopes and scales scattered on top of the many lab stations in the back. 

But the main draw of the classroom is the teacher who stands behind the desk — Mrs. Susan Duncan.

A die-hard Wolfpack fan, Duncan’s love for the school and team began when she attended NCSU. She originally planned on being a veterinarian, but a few key teachers changed her mind.

Duncan mentioned two professors who influenced her decision to study chemistry — a far reach from vet school. “Once I got into school, I really enjoyed chemistry. I had a great High School teacher, and then I had this wonderful [college] Professor Dr. Hence.”

In addition to the threat of four more long years of school to become a vet, the passion these teachers had for the subject inspired her to switch majors.

This same college professor inspired her to pursue education. “I had a passion for chemistry and so my professor… told me to double major.” Duncan graduated with chemistry and education degrees.

Right out of college, she took a job at Millbrook High School. She taught there until her two boys were born. “I stayed at home with my boys when they were little, but during that time, I taught part-time at NC State. I taught labs… summer school classes [and] chemistry 101 and 201.”

Though she is well known now for teaching AP Chem, she didn’t start that way. “When I started teaching in Wake County there was no AP Chemistry.” She taught a class called third year chemistry, then did training to begin teaching AP Chem. 

When her youngest son went to kindergarten, she planned on subbing, not going back to teaching full-time. But, in the fall of 2001, a full-time teaching job opened up at Leesville, and she took it. “I came back and I’m glad I did… it’s just kind of neat how it all worked out.”

Although she loves teaching, one part of her job stands out: the people. “My favorite part about teaching is the kids. It doesn’t matter if it’s AP or whatever level. That’s what I enjoy the most.”

An AP Chem Class, Fall, 2019. (Photo Used by Permission of Susan Duncan)

Duncan said some of her favorite memories from Leesville happened during Homecoming week. Most students know the science department goes all out for spirit week — “those are the best memories I have, just the creativity of the science department.” From Aladdin characters to Men in Black, they don’t hold back.

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One of her favorite parts of teaching is relationships with students. Even now, she is still connected with old students from Millbrook, and some are familiar faces at Leesville today. Duncan taught Mrs. Scioli, Ms. Walton (a fellow science teacher), and several other current staff members.

Students love her just as much as she loves them.

“[Mrs. Duncan] was a fantastic teacher because she cared deeply for her students academically, but also as people with emotions and experiences. Her love for chemistry translated into her teaching and allowed her to teach with excitement and joy,” said Caroline Thompson, University of Chapel Hill student, who took AP Chemistry in the fall of 2018, via text. Thompson explained that Duncan always asked about more than just school. “Her classroom felt safe [and] we always felt very cared for as students.”

“She was always willing to answer your questions [even if]  she had spent the past 10 minutes explaining [it],” said Marie Cox, senior, who had Duncan for two semesters of chemistry (honors and AP), via text. “She also just loved to teach… Her enthusiasm made everyone in class enthusiastic too.” 

Students love her for another reason as well: FCA. Duncan has led the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for over ten years. Before that, she advised the club at Millbrook. Duncan said parents led FCA before her at LRHS — at that point, they hosted meetings off-campus. Duncan has been Leesville’s only FCA faculty advisor. 

“I always enjoyed talking to Mrs. Duncan before I went into class and at FCA meetings too,” said Collin Sharp, senior, via text, who took AP Chemistry in the fall of 2019 and participated in FCA all four years of high school. “She cared about her students… not only their academic success but also how we were doing outside of the classroom. She was always very positive.”.

After teaching for over thirty years, Duncan plans on retiring after the 2020-21 school year. She said she plans on traveling (Italy, Western U.S., and Alaska are dream destinations), volunteering, and just spending time with her family. 

Even with restful retirement plans, both FCA and AP Chemistry will miss her here at Leesville.

“I think she [leaves] some big shoes to fill… it will be hard to find [a club] advisor as eager and kind and willing as Mrs. Duncan was,” said Kharis Greear, senior, who took AP Chemistry in the fall of 2020 and participated in FCA, via text.

“[Leesville] is a true community,” said Duncan. From football games to fun-filled hallways to arts performances, the Leesville community is missing so much during this crazy year. Duncan’s advice: “Find a niche, and find something [you] enjoy because those are the memories. The relationships and getting involved — that’s what counts.”


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