Faculty & Staff Profiles
A moral, happy and productive life is Durham Academy’s goal for all students — it’s part of the school’s mission statement — and kindergarten teacher Janet Hampton thinks happy belongs at the top of the list. She believes children need to be happy to learn and that they learn better when they are happy.
“I’m here [at Durham Academy] because it feels good. It breaks my heart when I hear children say things like ‘I’m so glad it’s Friday.’ To me it’s ‘Oh, it’s Friday, I’m not going to see you for two days! What are we going to do about that?’ ”
Hampton forms a strong bond with the children in her class. On the last day of school, they typically wait their turn for a cherished photo with her and a hug goodbye, and they head to first grade with confidence.
“Stability — I want them to know they can be rock-steady at school. They’ve got the skills they need, they’ve got the support they need, they are cared about, they are valued as a person, they are respected as people. I just want them to know they are OK. It’s the happy part of the happy, moral and productive. We can work on productivity, we can work on morality, but happy really is big.”
Hampton has pretty much always known she wanted to be a teacher, with veterinarian running a close second.
“Growing up in Miami, I had the best-educated dolls in the whole neighborhood. I would line them up and I would teach them on my blackboard.”
She majored in elementary education at UNC-Greensboro, accepted a first-grade teaching job in Miami and earned her M.Ed. from the University of Miami during her first two years of teaching. Hampton’s master’s degree was in special education, specifically reading disabilities, but her assignment with the Dade County Public Schools was “varying exceptionalities teacher, which means it could be a learning disabilities student, it could be a emotionally handicapped student, it could be an educable mentally handicapped student.” Her teaching assignments also shifted from school to school before landing her at a small suburban school for nearly eight years.
Hampton enjoyed Miami, but after she and husband Peter were married, they began looking to buy land in North Carolina.
“I always knew I wanted to live somewhere there were seasons. As a child, it was just another day of paradise in South Florida. I wanted seasons in my life. … I always knew North Carolina or Virginia, that’s where I was going. Peter totally agreed. I had no problem twisting his arm.”
She had her eye on a piece of land in Orange County. “I had found land, even before I found my husband, when I had come up here to visit family.” When the land went up for sale, the Hamptons bought it right away and didn’t yet know they were expecting son Andrew. They designed their own house, worked from Miami with their builder and made the move to North Carolina when Andrew was 17 months old.
Hampton took time off from working with young children, but taught teacher re-certification classes at Alamance Community College, formed a construction company that built custom homes and worked in undergraduate admissions at Duke. Andrew came to Durham Academy for pre-k, sister Sarah Beth followed five years later, and soon their mom was in the DA fold, too.
“I said I have a perfectly good teacher’s certificate, I’m happy to sub. That’s when I immediately got two long-term sub jobs in the Lower School. When Sarah Beth went to kindergarten, I went to second grade as a teaching assistant with Libby [Lang].” That was in 1998, and three years later when there was an opening for a kindergarten teacher, Hampton found a full-time home at DA. Her first year teaching kindergarten, 2001-2002, was the last year the Preschool and Lower School were located on the Academy Road campus.
Hampton has always been drawn to working with young students. “I think it’s because of the foundation. They need to have a really sturdy and strong foundation for them to progress and learn more. I think it’s my wanting to enable them to be better learners by having that strong foundation.”
This is year 19 at DA for Hampton, and her son and daughter were here for pre-k through grade 12. “I did the math: That makes 47 years of Hamptons!” Her two nephews and niece (Michael, Nathan and Jenny Solberg) are also DA graduates.
Hampton jokes that she is a professional room parent. She served as room parent three of the four years Andrew and Sarah Beth were in Preschool, eight of their eight years in Middle School, seven of their eight years in Upper School and four or five times in Lower School. “I just loved it. … It’s just a good way to get to know people. I always made sure they had a fridge and food in the fridge for a snack. My line has been you’ll never see my name of the side of a building but I sure could stock a fridge for the classroom! I’d bring in a hot cocoa maker for the kids to have. I think that makes them happy, too, the creature comforts.”
Hampton’s creature comforts extend to the creatures that make their home with her. She was always taking in stray cats and dogs as a child. “We’d try to find out where they came from and if we couldn’t, my parents were very indulgent and would let me keep them.”
Cats and dogs are always part of the Hampton home, too. “We’re down to two dogs and a cat now. We’ve had as many as three cats and three dogs, maybe four cats. … The two dogs have the puppy apartment and then there’s the puppy penthouse. It’s in the yard, has the same siding, looks like our house, they have a little slope to go up to it. Part of our walk-out basement is their apartment. We had to say goodbye to our 20-year-old cat. It was so hard. I just like the furry face at the door when I come in. It’s so sweet.”
She doesn’t have animals in her classroom, “but I do have plants — I’m big into plants and gardening. I think it’s healthy for the kids to be around plants.”
There’s a ficus tree and a palm tree in her classroom, and in the hallway just outside her classroom door is a schefflera that was in the Preschool hallway on Academy Road.
Everything had been packed up and moved from Academy Road to the new Preschool on Ridge Road, but the plant was still there. Hampton remembered the schefflera from her son’s time at the Preschool. “I said, it’s coming with me. It was there when I got here. As long as I have known the Preschool, it was there. I’m bringing it.”
The schefflera has been in school longer than any of Hampton’s students are likely to be, but students are in for the long run, too.
“At parent conferences, one of the first things parents say is ‘my child is so happy here.’ It’s a long academic road ahead of them. … They’ve got 12 more years, then college and most of them will go to graduate school. That’s a lot of school. If you don’t like school, you’re sunk, you’re in big trouble. You need to love learning, that’s our major goal. Help them love learning and have new adventures in learning.”