#LATeacherVoice / / Cameron Beckham: “Which Family First?”

 

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Cameron Beckham is completing his 8th year as a History and STEM educator in Bossier Schools, and is a 2018-2019 Stand for Children LEAD Fellow.

“Am I letting anything fall through the cracks?” I find this question in my mind on what must be an hourly basis. Rapidly approaching the ten-year mark in education, I still wonder if I have more to give or more that I can do to make a difference. Is there a student I can reach out to that could use more of my help? Is there a way I could improve the delivery or content of a lesson I just gave? These questions are not unique to me. Speak to any “family” of teachers within a given school and you will hear similar sentiments.

 

The problem that so many teachers in public education face is this: the answer is always yes. There is always a way to handle a situation differently, teach a lesson more coherently so that it is comprehended and more accessible to more students, or be the light in a student’s darkest times. A career in education is profoundly satisfying on an emotional and intellectual level; professionally, I will never have moments that make me as happy as I have been teaching, mentoring, or coaching. Whether these moments take the form of socratic seminars about economic policies in high school civics or winning an autonomous robotics competition in a middle school STEM class, they are all indelibly etched in my memory. I have been called “Dad” by more students than I will ever be able to count, and for good reason. For a decent number of them, I am one of their closest family members.

Personally, I will always be dissatisfied if I feel like I have not performed a task to my full potential. This is a conflicting emotion given that, as I mentioned, there is always something that could be improved or streamlined. It often leads me to feel that I have let students or peers down by not investing 100% into every task I perform, even if the improvements to be made are only obvious in hindsight.

“The next time that comes up, I’m not leaving anything on the table.”

Where do I draw the line in this thought process, though? While my career in education has provided me with so many professional moments of joy, it has provided me a fair bit of personal anguish. I am a father to three children and husband to a wife that reassured me I would do well in this career. Over the years, I have missed those little moments that make up childhood because of my commitments to my students; I have delayed family outings and, unfortunately, let my own family fall through the cracks so someone else’s children would not. I don’t admit this with any ease; I would, in fact, tell you that it creates a unique conflict internally for me – pride in my career against dedication to my family.

Were I a lawyer at a top firm or a trauma surgeon, everything in the previous paragraph would be standard practice. Despite having a similar amount of education, including multiple fields of certification, graduate degrees, and hundreds of hours of specialized training, I bring home a fraction of the salary a similarly-dedicated professional would make to support a household. The income I do bring home is only acceptable because I spread myself so thinly; in addition to teaching in your standard middle or high school, I coach high school soccer, sponsor multiple clubs, and serve as an Adjunct Instructor for LSU Shreveport’s education program. Each of these additions to my standard responsibilities requires a unique time commitment that pulls me further from my family. High school athletics, for example, are essentially a year-round endeavor when scheduling, strength/conditioning, and fundraising are accounted for, and my work to prepare pre-service teachers at LSU Shreveport continues  throughout the summer months.

So, which family comes first? Why do I, as so many other teachers, have to make that choice at all? The number of educators investing more time and money into their professional growth is only increasing; there are more teachers with a Masters degree, Doctoral degree, or other specialized training than any other time in recent memory. Most importantly, this is all out of a desire to do right by their students. Unfortunately, the standard pay scale for teachers, even in the most generous districts, does not reflect the work put in by the professional or the proven value that good teachers and schools bring to their communities.

Bossier Parish will soon have a chance to lead by example on this issue and show just how much we value our teachers. On May 4th, citizens have the chance to raise educator and support staff pay to levels that match not only the surrounding school districts, but also the performance they have come to value and expect from educational hubs around our parish. This is Bossier Parish’s moment to show other districts and states that are struggling over this issue how to truly value educators and the work they do in society. 

#LATeacherVoice / / Amanda Braswell: “In Education, There Is No Sideline”

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Amanda Braswell, English Language Arts and Content Leader at Elm Grove Middle School, is a LEAD Fellow with Louisiana Stand For Children.

Teaching young adults, teens and tweens, is not just a career for me. It is my passion. I absolutely LOVE helping students grasp difficult skills such as writing essays and reading challenging texts, and watching my students succeed derives from hard work and dedication. I live for the moments when a student says, “I actually liked writing that essay now that I know how to do, and it’s because of you” or “I moved up FOUR reading levels in half of a year because of you.” Yes, I would love to take all of the credit, but I always reply, “No, you did it!”  Teaching was not my second or third choice as a career. I chose to be a teacher because I wanted to change lives. I am a daughter of a teacher, a sister to a teacher, a cousin to a teacher, as well as a niece to a teacher; not to mention a granddaughter to my Granny who drove a school bus for Bossier schools. I was raised and molded by educators, and I would not have it any other way.  

As a product of Bossier Schools and now a teacher in the parish (I spent my K-12th grade years in our school system), I have seen many teachers do some amazing activities with their students. Most of the time, the materials necessary were purchased out of teacher’s own pockets. I know I have spent countless amounts of my own hard-earned money to purchase books for our classroom library, so the “I can’t check out a book because I owe a fine to the library” is avoided because students can check out books from my classroom bookshelf and keep them as long as they like. Every year, at least one third of my precious novels magically disappear and never return. So, every year, I purchase more books for the next group of 100 students, so they may have the same opportunities to find a novel in which they are actually interested. And so this yearly process continues all in my vision and mission of pushing students to love reading and of course, to achieve higher reading comprehension as this is a necessary life skill for their futures.

Other than novels and books, I purchase paper, pencils, pens, jackets, school uniforms, food, spirit shirts, etc. for those in need because kids, especially by middle school, are more aware of what they have and don’t have compared to others around them; and not having everything one needs can cause students to shut down, not participate, and sadly, fail their classes. This teacher pay raise will help teachers help students more than one could imagine.

Although I am very passionate about helping my students in their paths to success, I am also very passionate about my own personal, future goals of buying a home (I’ve been renting for years now) and starting a family. I am not sure as to how I will be able to afford all of my own needs as well as continue to provide for my students whether it be books, supplies, or just a snack for someone who did not have anything to eat. Some may say, “You don’t have to do that. That’s not your job.” It is my job. My job is to care for our children and help them in any way feasible. I cannot and will not sit on the sideline and watch as students who are in need go without. I didn’t choose this career to go to work and come home early every day. Instead, I chose to walk a path that leaves a legacy of students who felt loved, accepted, and supported by their teacher.

I chose this career so I could be an active participant in the lives of thousands of children and guide them through their daily struggles, successes, problems, and emotions. (Countless amounts of emotions in middle school.)  I am here for my students in more ways than simply delivering the English curriculum and spouting out information, and my students know this because they see that I love and care about them every single day. To me, supporting the Bossier Schools salary proposition is the support I need to continue my mission to make a difference in the lives of my students.

#LATeacherVoice / / Spencer Kiper: “I’m the State Teacher of the Year, and I Live Paycheck to Paycheck”

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Spencer Kiper, 2019 Louisiana State Teacher of the Year and 2018-2019 Stand for Children LEAD Fellow, has been a teacher in Bossier Parish for 8 years.

There’s not a lot you can do to truly prepare you for what you will see and experience as a teacher. This fact wasn’t something I was really prepared to emotionally or situationally deal with when I went into the classroom eight years ago. In a family of educators and blue-collar workers, my family had hopes of me becoming something other than an educator. An astronaut, maybe? My grandmother had hopes of me becoming a computer engineer. However, I never chose teaching as a career. Teaching chose me.

It is impossible to prepare yourself for all of the emotions you feel as a teacher. My mind often wanders back to the moments that have defined the teacher and the person that I have become. Moments like sitting in a funeral, crying alongside a number of my students, mourning the loss of one of their classmates who lost himself in the struggle that so many of our youth find themselves in today. Moments like sitting in academic assemblies, and feeling like a proud parent when you see one of your “project” kids walk to the front of the gymnasium to receive a ribbon for A/B Honor and see that student’s face light up with pride as if he had just won a Nobel Prize. There isn’t a day that goes by that I am not reminded of the reasons why I stay after school to sponsor clubs, check on that student whose mother is sick, write that grant to bring more opportunities to my students, or write that letter of recommendation for a former student trying to make a better life for him or herself. Reasons like these are why I know what I do matters. Teachers matter. What I do matters to the students that walk through my door everyday.

These formative moments of my career are the ones that I carry with me as I head into my year as the 2019 State Teacher of the Year. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to represent my students and my school at places like Google, the White House, and even far-away places like Dubai and Abu Dhabi. It’s going to be a year of my life that will be unforgettable. As joyous as this time is, I still feel the stresses that every teacher that I know feels: am I giving my students what they need to succeed and am I working enough to pay my bills? You see, as far as I have come, I still live paycheck to paycheck. I’m not alone. Most teachers that I work with and know through my professional network are in the same boat. The lifestyle that my family and I live is fairly modest. The vehicles we drive are domestic. The home we own is below the median house value in our area. The “extras” are kept to a minimum so that we can be prepared for the small things, like hospital visits and home repairs, that may arise. In a typical year, I work as an adjunct instructor at LSU Shreveport to supplement my monthly income and to pay down some of debt I have accrued. During the summer months, I use my “vacation” time to move to Alabama and work for two months delivering professional development to other educators. All of this work is extremely rewarding, and I am beyond thankful for these opportunities, but time with my family and friends is the sacrifice I make in order to be financially stable. As I head into my year as State Teacher of Year, I must let go of these side jobs for now in order to focus on the vital work ahead of me, which means that I am now back to living paycheck to paycheck and minimum payment to minimum payment. To add to the stress, my spouse is a federal employee whose pay is now frozen until the government shutdown is resolved. Our biggest financial fear is now being realized: we are now a family living off of my teacher income alone.

In the next few months, there’s going to be a lot of discussion about the salary proposition for the teachers and support personnel in Bossier Parish. There’s going to be a lot of data that is presented on both sides, as well as valid points both for and against the proposition. As we head into the coming months, I ask that our community keep these thoughts in mind: Do we see value in the service that Bossier teachers provide to our community’s children and what are the best methods of supporting public education in our area? For me, and for the thousands of teachers and support personnel that have been instrumental in making Bossier Schools some of the most successful schools in Louisiana, taking some of the burden of trying to figure out how to gain a sense of financial stability is the first step in ensuring that our educational professionals stay focused on continuing to provide the best education possible to our area’s youth.

Engaging Students + Industry / / Announcing the 2019 NWLA STEM on Screen Film Festival

As we head into this holiday season, there’s a lot that crosses my mind as we head into next year. I’m so proud of the progress that my students have made, and the values and the drive that I have been fortunate enough to see them build upon. Spring is always the busiest time in the Elm Grove Middle School STEM Lab for a number of reasons, whether it be rocket launches, field trips, robotic competitions, or award ceremonies to honor student achievement. No matter the event, the undertone of all of these experiences remains centrally focused on one thing – the connections.

This year, our students are lending their voices to plan the 2019 Northwest Louisiana STEM on Screen Film Festival. With over 550+ students engaged over the course of two years, the film festival is one just one of the experiences that we build to help bridge the gaps that organically exist between industry and education. For the 2019 film festival, we have assembled a Student Advisory Committee to help form and shape the impact of this year’s festival. Students on the committee worked to select the theme of this year’s festival, the films we plan to include in the festival line-up, and the promotional materials to announce the 2019 festival.

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Industry connections provide so much context to the content that STEM courses cover. Listening to industry needs, leveraging these connections, and putting local and regional STEM industry leaders in the front of our students directly and allowing them to explore STEM-rich themes through the lens of film is such a powerful thing to watch. We are so excited to see what this year’s festival has in store!

Student Voices & Experiences

The Student Advisory Committee is proud to announce that the 2019 Northwest Louisiana STEM on Screen Film Festival theme is “Breaking Boundaries: Becoming Part of the STEM Revolution!”

Here are some thoughts regarding past STEM on Screen experiences:

“I have a lot of fun going to STEM on Screen. The choice of movie is always connected to STEM in some ways and is really interesting to watch. The food is also amazing and the people that come and talk to us about how they got involved in STEM and how we can as well is fun. Overall STEM on Screen is a fun and amazing experience.”  – Sam

“Getting to see the movie was an awesome experience. Also the lecture, because they allowed me to realize how much STEM was actually involved in the movie.” -Chloe

#FindYourDoSomething / / Meet Susan Mingee, the Hidden Gem on the Louisiana/Mississippi Line

Susan Mingee, school librarian at Vidalia Lower Elementary School and 2019 Louisiana State Teacher of the Year Finalist, is the true embodiment of an educator with an incredible legacy. After I met Susan for the first time, you could tell that a love for children and teaching permeates every fiber of her being. At her school right at the edge of the Louisiana/Mississippi state line, Susan gets to know and love on every student she is able to come in contact with, and spends her day working to encourage and uplift the students that come into her library. She builds relationships with all of the students, and they are excited to share with her the things that are important to them.

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“I think it is crucial for all “activity teachers” to take every opportunity to be that special, trusted adult for our students to look to for encouragement, praise, and guidance.  In this difficult world we live in, our students need as many supporters as possible, and they need to know that we are behind them and proud of their accomplishments.” -Susan Mingee

Susan’s Do Something

Susan’s passion for elevating students and building confidence has led her to revamp the way that the Students of the Month are being honored at Vidalia Lower Elementary School.

After having their names posted in the school’s main hallway, students receive a Student of the Month embroidered “bragtag” to display on their backpacks. These students names are announced on the school intercom and students are celebrate for their exceptional character.  Susan then sends invitations to parents to come to the PTO meeting where these Students of the Month are recognized and presented with a special certificate. Susan loves meeting with each of her Students of the Month to give them one last hug as she takes their photo down to make room for the next month’s lucky student.

What impact has this had on the culture of Vidalia Lower Elementary School? During their September PTO meeting, parent attendance tripled due to the Student of the Month program!  The students are excited. The parents are excited that their child is being honored. The staff of Vidalia Lower Elementary School is excited that this new program is already a success.  “All it takes is a little time and effort to make a big impact on our students,” says Susan.

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#FindYourDoSomething / / Meet Tasha Jolivette-Jones, 2019 Louisiana Elementary Teacher of the Year

Louisiana is a host to some incredible teachers who work everyday to provide thoughtful, unique instruction to children of all ages. One of those educators is 2019 Louisiana State Teacher of the Year finalist and Elementary division-level Teacher of the Year Tasha Jolivette-Jones. Tasha has an optimism that is contagious, and her advocacy for early childhood education is apparent through her work at Coteau Elementary School in New Iberia, Louisiana.

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Tasha’s Do Something

I cannot think of a better cheerleader for early learners than Tasha! Her passion is to show the value of play in early learning, and she hopes to inspire others to use play based learning to meet their academic goals. 

“Play is naturally very engaging for my learners. We share this excitement with families by inviting them to come to school and play with us. During their visits, families witness firsthand the deep learning that occurs during play. Our learning goals are posted at every Learning Lab so that families can see why we do what we do. Then, we invite them to plan, design, or create new Labs with us. We also share our love of learning with the community by inviting local professionals to host their own Learning Labs. Even if it’s only for a day, everyone benefits from exploring an ambulance, feeding farm animals, or sorting recyclables with the nearby recycling company. Children learn about community helpers and the professionals use these engaging activities to create little allies for their causes.” – Tasha Jolivette-Jones

The Louisiana Department of Education is looking to make huge strides in the field of Early Childhood Education. Check out the LDOE’s Facebook and Twitter feeds to get updates on the current work in this area. It’s going to be incredible to watch how Tasha uses her Do Something to bring value to her early learners and inspire others to seek out a similar passion!

 

#FindYourDoSomething / / Using Passion + Action to Make a Difference

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Discovering My “Do Something”

When I think back on the teachers that I have had in my life, certain ones stick out as ones that truly embodied the type of adult I wanted to become. They were confident, selfless and service-minded, and passionate about causes that were near and dear to their hearts. As I got older and became a teacher myself, I strive to make a conscious effort to use these same qualities in my own teaching and mentoring of youth in the hopes that I can inspire them just as my teachers inspired and shaped me.

Ten years later, it’s teachers that are still inspiring me to be a better person and educator. Everyday, I am driven to elevate what I am doing in and out of the classroom to impact the lives of my students by the influences of some incredible educators. Whether it be from the teacher one door down from my classroom or the teacher across the country that I follow on social media, the passions of these teachers both inspires and challenges me to be a better teacher to my students.

From the words of one of these amazing educators, the best thing that you could do as an educator is to find your “Do Something.” When teachers mix passion with action, incredible things happen. Do Somethings take the form of practices, projects, programs, and initiatives both big and small, and are not limited by content, age level, or experience level.

For me, my passion is connecting my students to local higher education and industry, building a strong sense of community so that my students see the benefits of staying in our region of Louisiana and building a stronger community together. From this passion spurred a very unique project. To engage my students in my passion but in a unique way, I created the NWLA STEM on Screen Film Festival! This action was meant to connect regional students to local STEM industry experts and have those experts explore the themes of quality STEM-related films with our students through an industry lens. We’ve been able to engage over 500 students with the festival, with hopes to make it bigger and more impactful each year.

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Why “Do Somethings” Matter

Second only to our students, teachers are most inspired by other teachers. We often do things to make a positive impact for our students with putting a second thought into it. These efforts to make a difference are, at the core, our Do Somethings. When we share our stories of things we are doing to use our passions to change the lives of our students, we inspire other educators looking to make a similar difference.

There are Do Somethings happening in classrooms and in schools across the state of Louisiana and in all corners of the United States. Teachers are forming best practices, driving initiatives to help address students’ social emotional learning needs, and many other passion projects that are changing the lives of students. Let’s learn from each other, inspire one another, and tap into the passion of others to deepen our impact that we are able to make in our classrooms and in our communities.

Share Your “Do Something!”

Help us share your Do Something and inspire other educators!