Voices from the Classroom:The view from 37 years
Voices from the classroom, a series presented by NolaVie and WWNO radio, explores local education through conversations with those on the font lines: the teachers. While superintendents, experts, parents, politicians and pundits have weighed in extensively on what’s right and wrong with the educational system in Louisiana, it’s the people behind the desks who must deal, day in and day out, with students, evaluations, testing, behavior, curriculum and, ultimately, what works and what does not. We interviewed five local teachers who teach in public schools in Orleans Parish, to try to understand what they face, what motivates them, and what the educational standard is today, eight years post-Katrina. Their observations will air daily on WWNO radio, and appear in a fuller version on line at NolaVie.
Meet Wendy DeMers who has taught sixth, seventh and eighth grade at Edward Hynes Charter School for the past 15 years. A New Orleanian with a total of 37 years of experience in both urban and rural schools, she is sticking with a system that is undergoing great change.
On why she teaches: Actually I had no intention of being a teacher. I started teaching kindergarten and then I became a middle school teacher. It just feels like where I’m supposed to be. I love working with adolescents. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
On what works: The thing that makes Hynes work is that we don’t have a lot of staff turnovers. So we have consistency in the adults who are working with the students. And we don’t have the student turnover. So when they come in they basically grow up with us. So we can track their progress.
What doesn’t work: It’s just my opinion about some other schools, but it seems that a lot of teachers that are being placed in schools are kind of being treated like throwaway teachers; and that’s not respecting their energy, their time and their enthusiasm. From my experience with other teachers out in the field who are coming to me for assistance and mentoring, while they have power inside their classrooms, outside it’s disorder and chaos. If kids are sitting with head phones on and radios on and IPads in class, they are not learning. The teachers are not always getting the support they need when they’re having these problems. You know, they’re pretty much dropped into the classroom and you’re on your own.
On parent involvement: When we were opening and the teachers were coming back from the four corners of the Earth and we were looking at what we needed to have to be the school we were before or better, one of the things we recognized that makes us, us, is that strong parent support. They’re active. They’re there. You have a problem, they’re there. They’re not always blaming the teacher.
Historically, a long time ago, if a teacher said something, teacher’s right. It was, what were you doing? You must have done something. We've moved so far away from that. But we have that element, where parents are supporting the teachers and the teachers are making an effort to build that partnership. So we have parent support and that really matters.
On how to make things better: Well, there’s one little thing that could impact across all schools: If I had an unlimited amount of money, I would fix the lunch program. I know staff does the best they can do, but the food comes in inconsistently so they can’t plan menus and the food is not very appetizing. The portion for a third grader is the same as a portion for an eighth grader, and adolescents need more food. These kids are going hungry. So I would have breakfast for every kid and I would have a lunch they can’t wait to get to.
Voices from the Classroom is a joint project of NolaVie and WWNO radio. Send your comments, thoughts and observations about the series and New Orleans teachers to [email protected] We will publish select responses online at NolaVie.
Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]