Top of the Class

Top of the Class

Each year we write about local teachers whose dedication has earned them accolades from students, parents and colleagues. This year we selected six educators who've been recognized even beyond the classroom.

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Xu Duan

Chemistry, Holton-Arms School, Bethesda

Years teaching: 14

2012 Recipient of the Chemical Society of Washington’s Leo Schubert Memorial Award for Outstanding Teaching of High School Chemistry

On his relationship with students: “I’m there for the students. I think that’s important. If they want to meet before or after school, at lunch, I’m there for them. Sometimes over the weekend, I can send them 20 notes, 20 emails, especially during the Chemathon [an annual chemistry competition at the University of Maryland]. Some emails have nothing to do with technical aspects. It’s about motivating them, making the personal connection. I like to think I work with students who are aspiring to…be somewhere really good. I really try to motivate them and bring the best out of them—and walk miles together with them, and make them achieve more than they can imagine, more than they can dream of.”

Why girls should pursue science: “There’s such a need because disproportionately more men are in research and in engineering than women. Sometimes the best students [are] girls. In my mind, there’s no doubt that they are equally capable. Maybe they have different information processing and their own different routes that need to be attended to differently than boys. But intellectually, they’re just as accomplished as any man. Hopefully, when they get into some larger arena, they would never think, ‘I’m a woman, I [should] be less vocal, less aggressive, or less accomplished.’ ”

Why he encourages students to participate in the Chemistry Olympiad and Chemathon: “It can bring a [chemistry] program to a more elevated and exciting level. Everyone can do that titration, everyone can perform that lab. Can ours just be slightly better? And what little, subtle thing do we need to engage in to be just one notch better?”

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