The lights reflect off of the mirrors in the Loy Norrix weight room, which currently show the normal chaos of gym class. One girl turns music on, blasting it through the room and the other students raise their voices to combat the noise. Students are lined up for the bench press or setting up a rack to squat in. Others meander towards the physical education teacher, Theophlis Duckett, better known as Coach. Each student is spouting loud questions or asking for advice and Duckett answers every question and bid for advice. This isn’t Ducketts first rodeo, not by a long shot.
Duckett started out as an intern teacher in April of 1969 and was hired as a teacher’s aid in September of that same year. That means that in April of 2019 Duckett will be celebrating his 50th year at Loy Norrix High School.
For students who haven’t had a chance to talk with Duckett, it might come as a surprise that the coach has two disciplines; physical education and history. Currently Duckett teaches physical education.
Duckett’s overall favorite aspect of teaching, no matter the class, be it government or conditioning II, is “watching young people learning to play and have fun while still being responsible,” said Duckett.
Some students, like junior Anthony Marrero, finds Duckett’s ideas about responsibility helpful, as students were taught how to focus, something that many high schoolers struggle with during the long school day.
“What I’ve learned from coach Duckett is to find ways to focus myself in an area I wish to prosper in and to never give up faith,” said Marrero.
Focus often ties into responsibility in students. If a student can focus on their tasks, they’re more likely to get them done. Sometimes it just takes a bit of a push.
Responsibility is a big part of the coach’s life, but so is ambition. For Duckett, ambition is what got him to Norrix and into college. The biggest change he’s witnessed in the educational environment is the loss ambition in student athletes.
“Young people aren’t as hungry as we were,” Duckett said. “For me athletics were a way to improve my family situation. I became an athlete to express myself.”
Duckett pushes ambition on his students through class discussions and lectures that occasionally take place.
Other times those speeches are used, not to motivate students to be more ambitious, but instead to remind them of the importance of respecting those around them, both their teachers and their fellow classmates. That’s a lesson that Duckett thinks students need to remember.
“People are human beings and no one is perfect. At some point in time you have to see people for who they are and know that your job isn’t to judge them but to help them,” Duckett explained.
Knowing the long-time coach, it’s no surprise that if Duckett hadn’t been a PE teacher, he believes he could have been a politician.
“I think I’d probably be in politics of some type, trying to make things better,” Duckett said.
Coach Duckett always tries to guide students in the right direction. He does this through encouraging class lectures and support and encouraging students to push themselves. The fact that Duckett’s approach makes an impact is something that he remains proud of. In fact, it’s part of the reason that he continues to teach where most people retire from their jobs after working until around the age of 65 years old.
“No day is like yesterday, okay? With young people there’s no such thing as a boring day. You never know what you’re going to get. It’s also pretty good gratification seeing them succeed,” Duckett said, glancing at a huddle of students crowded around a bench and loudly encouraging the student lifting the weights.
Teaching for Duckett isn’t about forcing students to absorb information but more matching their energy. Teachers are only here to supply information, it’s a students job to learn and apply the information. According to Duckett, matching the energy of his students is the hardest thing about teaching, but he admits that teaching is very rewarding to him.
“Having a purpose, knowing when you wake up every day that you have a job to do, knowing that every day is a learning situation. When you’re doing the right thing and so are they, it’s rewarding,” Duckett said.
Duckett isn’t only leaving an impression on his students, but on his own colleagues as well. Loy Norrix algebra teacher, assistant cross country coach, and assistant track coach Bradley Schmidt met Duckett in 2008 during a middle school track meet that took place on the LN track. According to Schmidt, Duckett wasn’t too pleased to have middle schoolers taking over his track, so he wasn’t too thrilled Schmidt was there. Duckett was always willing to give advice and information. Schmidt has to admit that he admires Duckett for both his experience and his willingness to share.
“He has more life experience and track knowledge than I will ever have,” said Schmidt. “I think it’s amazing that he knows so much and is so willing to share.”
Duckett’s willingness to share his knowledge hasn’t just affected his students, but his colleagues as well. He has encouraged and coached both people within his sports and simply those who meet him and could benefit from his leadership. It makes him proud to see the students he once coached and pushed to their fullest potential, succeeding.