New Schools for Baton Rouge’s Paige Roberts talks to Jessica Moore, a kindergarten teacher and Teach For America corp member at UP Elementary, about her journey, passion, and motivation for teaching in Baton Rouge.
How long have you worked in education? This is my first job in education. I have worked here for three years, since the founding year. I started in operations and I got into a tutor role with New Schools for Baton Rouge, then I become a co-teacher, and now I’m a lead teacher.
Why did you choose education? I was always drilled by my father that education was like my exit ticket. I was born and raised in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward where the schools are failing, and it’s the whole, you know inner city kid story that everybody has, and so we were always taught that education was our way out. I’m a first-generation college student, and I really noticed that it did become a way out for me, but in high school, it just seemed college and higher education where so unobtainable. When I noticed I could do it I wanted to share that with other kids like me, so I got into education because I know their struggle.
What keeps you motivated? On a personal note, I mean the kids look like me and my little sister goes here. She’s in second grade so I have stakes. So yeah, it’s personal to me. Outside of that, professionally? Asking for help. If our administration notices that we are tired or we had a bad day they will give us a day off or we may have professional development at a restaurant or something. So just kind of leaning on other people like me, that’s really how I stay motivated.
How does having your sister attend UP make your experience different? Yeah, it is very different for me than other teachers because I kind of have the perspective of a parent or family member and a teacher, so the way I interact with my families and with my kids is different. I’m always like, “I wouldn’t want someone to do this to my sister or to my mom” so I try to use that kind of mindset when I’m dealing with my kids and with my families. It’s very personal for me. I always consider my sister when I’m dealing with my kids.
Tell me one of your favorite moments as a teacher. My favorite moment as a teacher. That’s hard in kindergarten because they’re hilarious. I guess last year I was in first grade as a co-teacher. It was right after the Alton Sterling incident and that was a class full of boys, little black boys, and I was just very emotional coming back to work and seeing them. They were just like, “Ms. Moore it’s okay, it’s fine. We’re not afraid.” Just their innocence can be very refreshing. They motivate you. That was a really good moment for me. Just being able to see their faces and them being able to care for me in an instant because it’s usually always the other way around. That was a really breathtaking moment that I really keep with me every day.
Describe education in Baton Rouge in one word. Evolving
Agreed. Today, a majority of our public school students attend underperforming schools. Specifically, in North Baton Rouge where 90% of students attend an underperforming school. How does it feel being a part of a new school entering this environment? It just makes it so much more real. Sometimes as a teacher, especially in kindergarten where everything is a small win, “Oh, we know how to write our names now! That’s great!” It just makes it so much more important. I realized that every moment we have with these children really matters because they may go somewhere else where they may not have such a positive experience so it’s a lot of pressure but at the same it’s motivating.
How does it feel coming into this classroom every day building a foundation for students you know are going to eventually leave? To say the very least, it’s overwhelming. I just want to stay with them, because I know there is that possibility where they may go somewhere else and interact with someone who may not care as much or want the same things that I want for them, so they have that opportunity to go left. That’s really scary for me. It places a lot of pressure. I just feel really heavy when I think about that. You put in so much time and work, like this literally becomes your life. This is my life. These are my kids. My parents call me at six o’clock in the morning about little things like, “Oh, he had an ear infection. Just letting you know Ms. Moore.” Like they are literally your kids, so to know they are going to leave at some point and it may not be as great is hurtful and kind of scary. That just pushes me to create a genuine relationship with my kids so they do think about Ms. Moore when they are making decisions even if they are not in my classroom and they are in these tough situations. They can say, “Ms. Moore wouldn’t like that. She taught me that I am great and I can be whatever I want to be. I’m going to push myself even if this teacher isn’t pushing me.”
Describe what you want education to be in one word. I’m going to steal Teach For America’s favorite word – equity. I want everyone to have access and options. Everything NSBR stands for I totally agree with. I want students to be able to flourish no matter where they are. I don’t think a zip code or where you were born should determine where you’re going to go. I am a firm believer that you are not a product of your environment. I was in Orleans parish, which is terrible. Then, I went off to LSU and graduated and got a job. I really believe you can get out of it, but at the same time, I knew that was a personal thing for me, but we did not have options. So I really need there to be access and options for students.
Why do you think more people are not talking about this? I think education is always overlooked, and the education system being unfair and doing a disservice to our kids has become a norm. I think parents and people, in general, are like, “Eh, it’s always been like this. It’s Louisiana, we’ve always had a bad education system, but we’re fine. Mardi Gras happens!” You know, so I think it’s just a norm, but people like you and I who are young and passionate know the struggle to get out there and say, “No, this is not normal. We need to fix it.”
How do you think we get that conversation started? Talking about it first and foremost. Just like you gave me those facts and I’m a teacher. I did Teach for America, I was the City Year recruitment ambassador and I didn’t know that. So just raising awareness about it. I really think people genuinely don’t know, and I don’t think a lot of people care enough to seek that type of information because it doesn’t really hit home for them yet. Just starting the conversation. That sounds like nothing, but I think just being honest and starting the conversation with people is the first step.
What do you want people to know about your school, your students, or your teachers? Our kids are definitely underestimated. Our kids are brilliant, and they never cease to amaze me. That’s what I want people to know. It’s not about us. My kids do the brunt of the work in my classroom and they never cease to amaze me. Look out because this generation is going to be awesome. I’m excited to see where they will go, and we talk about that a lot. It’s not us, it’s the kids. They are perfect.
Jessica Moore is a Louisiana native, born and raised in New Orleans. She received her bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University. Jessica was involved in Teach for America, City Year, and New Schools for Baton Rouge Tutor Corps program. She is currently teaching kindergarten at UP Elementary in Baton Rouge.