Teachers as High School Students: Kanika Durland

Jesse Sloier, Student Writer and Editor

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Students know Mrs. Durland as the Herman Melville-loving, Moby Dick enthusiast, who kindly and repeatedly reminds us to use our words and to stop saying “like.”

For those lucky enough to have been taught by her, she’s played a key role in our educations, and the development of our Harkness discussion skills.

From the way Mrs. Durland cares about our pursuit of learning and encourages us to take advantage of the opportunities SEM provides for us, you might expect that she herself was a passionate student, who duteously went to class, completed all of her homework and was generally thrilled by learning. In other words, you may think Mrs. Durland was everything she wishes for us to be.

You would be incorrect.

Let’s start at the beginning.

avon-nyKanika Durland, now 30, went to a small high school in Avon, New York. She graduated with 82 other seniors from the rural town. Her least favorite subject, unsurprisingly for an English teacher, was math.

“I almost never went to math class,” she said. “I lived in walking distance to the school, so I would tell my sisters to lie and say that I had already walked to school but stay home instead. Or I would go to school and I would sit in on a history class instead of going to math.”

Somehow, she got away with this until about halfway through the year, which she chalks up to teachers who were less invested in their students than our own teachers at SEM.

Mrs. Durland says she was, for lack of a better word, a “bad” student. By this she means she was unengaged and just generally, “didn’t get it.”

“I didn’t have the amazing teachers that we have here, to try to make it make sense to me,” she said. “I really didn’t get that you were learning things to reach a greater end or that there was something meaningful and exciting about learning for the sake of learning.” She clarified that this was not entirely the fault of her teachers but also largely due to her mindset.

On the subject of teachers, Mrs. Durland expressed admiration for Mrs. Kennell, who still teaches English at Avon High today. She may not have done the work Mrs. Kennell assigned but she did like her.

“I would compare her to Susan [Drozd], such a magnetic and genuine presence and care, really sharp and kind.”

In terms of extracurricular activities, Mrs. Durland was a cheerleader and on the track team. Outside of school, during the “ska-punk revival days,” a young Kanika hung out with guys who were in bands, skateboarded and “lame stuff like that.”

‘I was much more concerned with a social life and being cool,” she says, with emphasized sarcasm on “cool.”

Eventually, Mrs. Durland began to dislike the way people viewed her, “a bum,” and wanted to change her image. In an attempt to do this with minimal effort, she began to tote large, impressive-looking books with her.

“I wasn’t mature enough or old enough to figure out how to counter that narrative being written for me,” she reflects. “Instead, I went to the library and pulled a bunch of books that I thought looked big and important. I had maybe Frankenstein and Moby Dick and anything that looked big, difficult or complex. I just kind of carried them around.”

One of her science teachers noticed and indicated surprise. “I straight up lied and said that I’m spending all of my time reading and being brilliant and that’s why I can’t be bothered to do well in your class.”

Later, she crossed paths with Herman Melville once again but this time in the form of a doppelgänger – her American Romantics professor. His name was David Cody and he had a “sort of magical presence,” she said.

“I was quite taken with him – his mind and his course.” She laughs, “I don’t know if he was destined to love Melville because he looked like him or if he tried to look Melville because he loved him but however it happened, it did.”

At this point, she still had not read Moby Dick and wouldn’t until later. She had tried a few times, including in Professor Cody’s class, and pretended that she had read it all but did not finish it.

“I tried to read it and stopped, which is not an uncommon experience,” she said, Many of us can agree because we would not have kept reading Moby Dick, the abridged version, had it not been for Mrs. Durland’s class and the need to have something to discuss the next day.

Considering Mrs. Durland’s role as one of our college counselors, I was curious about her own college experience. She, like most of the senior class, did not know what she wanted to do.

“I didn’t care,” she admitted. “I really didn’t have any deep sense of purpose.”

She began at Hartwick College in Oneonta, NY as undecided with an English major. For a while, she thought she wanted to be a teacher but decided firmly against it after being neglected by her advisor.

“I wanted to try and study abroad, to go to Oxford,” she said. To this reporter’s surprise she added, “Super ambitious right? That did not happen.”

She moved to sociology, then eventually went back to English as a major. She left college with an English major, a minor in religion and a minor in sociology. She received her MA in English at the University of Notre Dame.

“Every school year presents the opportunity to change,” Mrs. Durland explained. “In my first year I kind of assumed a new and serious student persona, then that dropped a little bit again. I think I really, truly only came into being in grad school.”