Henderson Middle chorus teacher gets Grammy nod

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When Henderson Middle School teacher Dale Duncan began teaching more than 20 years ago, he thought he had made a mistake.

“When I first started teaching, I thought I was in the wrong place,” Duncan said. “I didn’t want to stay. I got to the point where I could quit, stay and be miserable or move forward by being better. I decided to stick it out.”

Duncan’s choice to “stick it out” has led to a recognition few teachers in the United States earn: nomination and consideration for the Grammy Music Educator Award. Duncan, a music teacher at Henderson Middle since 2002, is one of 25 semifinalists from 17 states.

“It’s awesome—I’m very surprised,” Duncan said. “I don’t know my chances. There’s a very qualified field of people. For me, it’s cool to have the recognition—it’s the Grammys!”

Duncan was originally nominated for the award in 2016. He submitted written documents detailing his educational philosophy, answered questions about his teaching methods and described his opinions on the music profession outside the classroom.

Duncan also submitted videos about his teaching methods.

Though he did not progress in the 2016-2017 competition, Duncan did qualify for this year’s contest. He submitted a few more things in May 2017 and kept the competition out of mind until Sept. 29, when he received a phone call informing him he was one of 25 semifinalists.

Duncan counts the growth of Henderson Middle’s music program as a key factor in his nomination. Since arriving in 2002, the program has grown from 80 students to 300 students.

“I try to make my class fun for kids and to make them laugh,” Duncan said. “I try to be approachable while also holding students accountable—all while being fun. It’s a balance that took me a long time to figure out. I want students to learn without realizing it and instead enjoy the moment and see it as something to look forward to.”

He frequently shares videos showcasing his methods on YouTube and hosts Facebook Live events where teachers can ask for advice. Duncan said simply observing other teachers—what works, what doesn’t work, what has the potential to work—changed his outlook on teaching.

“I observed teachers while taking sick days for 10 years,” Duncan said. “I’ve seen some great teachers. One teacher was so accomplished through detail that it changed my life. What she was able to accomplish, what she and the students were able to accomplish together, really taught me to raise my bar on what students can hear, correct and do.”

Duncan advises all teachers to watch other teachers, use the internet for free resources and to self-assess every day. He said each teacher has a “personal magic” to bring their assets to the classroom.

Duncan said a middle school environment has its own specific set of challenges and noted that its “interesting” that he was the only middle school teacher being considered for the Grammy Music Educator Award.

“It’s not a place where every teacher can be—it’s not an easy age,” Duncan said. “You have to figure out what keeps [students] going, what excites them.”

Duncan said music education changes the way students think for the better.

“I watch brains awaken every day when I teach students how to listen while singing,” Duncan said. “It takes a level of concentration not gotten often. You can see students’ eyes change when listening to themselves, figuring out how to move their mouths and listen to others—all at the same time.”

Duncan’s nomination is currently being considered by a Grammy committee. Should he advance in the competition—a group of nine finalists will be named in December—Duncan will have the opportunity to earn up to $1,000. Should he win the competition outright, Duncan will attend the 60th Annual Grammy Awards.

“This is a fun little ride and it’s being going on for 26 years,” Duncan said. “It’s cool to have the recognition, but it’s more important for me to come in every day and do what I do with the students and help teachers by sharing what has worked for me through trial and error. That’s my number one goal.”

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