New Schools for Baton Rouge’s Paige Roberts sits down with Lindsey LaFleur, a kindergarten teacher at UP Elementary, to discuss her journey, optimism, and inspiration for teaching in Baton Rouge.
How long have you worked in education? I did City Year for two years, the past two years, and this is my third year in education. I also worked in college. I was part of a student organization targeting high school students from under-resourced high schools in the area. It was sort of like a college immersion liberal arts summer program that we put on. There was a lot of lesson planning and curriculum development involved in that, so either three or six years. Take your pick.
I’d say six. That takes a lot of work. Tell me why you chose education. I don’t feel like I did, honestly. This is the corniest thing I’m ever going to say, but education chose me. The organization I was in in college, Focus, I got involved with because of a roommate that I had. She came back one summer just raving about the experience she had. I was like, “Okay, shut up. I’ll apply for the program.” I ended up applying for it. Did it. Loved it, and stayed with it all through college. I heard about City Year through an Americorps recruiter on campus, and it was the first job I ever heard that I actually wanted to do. Everything else I was like, “Maybe I’ll do this, maybe I do that.” I was like “Oh, that. I want to do that.” I applied, got accepted, and just sort of fell into teaching after that because I have the most experience. It just kind of happened.
Tell me about one of your favorite moments as a teacher. Oh gosh. I was working with one of my higher groups during reading block doing guided reading, and the group just had a conversation about the main topic of the book. I sort of prompted them with pointing like, “Okay, you go next. You go next.” You know, but they all turned and looked at each other and used their little hand motions like, “I respectfully disagree because I think the main topic is actually about kites, and I see that. I’m looking at the title of the page, and I see that”’ I’m like, “Yes!” It was such a triumph, you know? They were going back in the book and looking at the evidence. I was like, “You are using everything I taught you.” It was really great just hearing five year olds having a reasoned intelligent conversation about a book, and they were all really into it. It was really exciting to watch.
What do you think about the current state of education in Baton Rouge? It’s progressing. I have seen that it’s a struggle. The schools, like there’s way too much put on a school. I mean, schools have to be: mom, dad, nurse, hospital, church, therapist. Every aspect of a child’s life a school is expected to take care of. It’s just too much for one building, and one group of people to do. On top of that, of course, is academics. Why the school is there in the first place. I feel like that gets forgotten in light of everything else, you know? It’s hard to teach when a child is crying because they’re hungry, which unfortunately happened today, or they don’t understand how to walk in a line or form a sentence because they haven’t been taught that yet. I’ve seen a lot of struggles, but I do see progress. I have seen students learn, and everybody I’ve met who is part of education in Baton Rouge just cares so much. Public, public charter, private. Everybody just wants students to achieve and do better. I know everybody’s working toward a better education system, so I’d say it’s progressing. It’s an uphill battle, but it’s going.
Yeah, definitely. And 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? Well overwhelming at first. I mean, we are up against a lot. You know, I started teaching kindergarten because I had fifth graders who couldn’t read, and I wanted to get there before that’s even a problem to prevent that from happening. It’s shocking how behind a five year old can be coming into their first year of school, already so far behind most classmates. It’s overwhelming, but it also justifies and reminds me why I’m doing what I’m doing. They may be behind, but we are all doing the best that we can to make sure that they get the best education that they possibly can.
That’s a lot of pressure on a teacher too. Oh, huge. Yeah, I mean you read me those stats and I’m like, “Oh, am I even doing anything?” You know, with my students who still are struggling to learn the alphabet because no one is helping them at home, or they weren’t lucky enough to go to a preschool or a head start program that taught them that. So, already I’m wondering are you going to make it to first grade? And, if you do, are you going to be far behind like some of our first graders are? Are you going to keep falling further and further behind every year? I started teaching to prevent all those stats, and I feel like I’m part of it now, which is really hard sometimes, but it reminds me why I need to keep working. It makes me work harder for sure.
Describe what you want education to be in one word. Effective. I want a student, any student, at any level to come into a classroom and leave where they should be. Which, I know sounds near impossible, so I guess from the start. You know, any student should be able to come into a kindergarten classroom and that student should leave at least meeting all kindergarten standards. There should be more services and more people available to help students who are falling behind, so we can get them all to that level.
How do you think we get this conversation started about education and improving it? More community outreach into, I guess, more affluent communities. Maybe like round table discussions. And, I mean this is an issue right now in Baton Rouge where there’s this huge divide that we have. I think as a community we need to come together regardless, and just have conversations with people from different walks of life. Sitting down at the same table and explaining, “This is where I come from, and this is what I’ve experienced.” That’s an equal conversation on both parts because I think it’s an equal divide. Those who have access to things don’t understand those who haven’t Also, they don’t know what other people have experienced. It needs to be a two-way conversation of people coming together. Honestly, I think that’s the biggest problem. You can’t empathize with those you have never met, and those who don’t know. A statistic is one thing but, a human being sitting across from you at the table, it’s real. I think if people sat down and talk to each other face-to-face, and put a face to an issue, it would make more of a difference.
Last question, what do you want people to know about the teachers at your school, the students at your school, or the school itself? How amazing everyone is. I mean, hearing stats like that, and studying education in college I always thought, “Oh gosh, what’s happening in schools? These teachers are awful. What are they doing?” But looking at it from a teacher’s perspective, everyone is amazing, works so hard, and cares so much. It’s such a more complicated issue than, “This school is failing. This is a failing school.” No, these are human beings in here who care so much and are so passionate about the work that they do, and they are faced with so many obstacles. And, “These students, these are failing students. They are underprivileged students.” No, these are amazing human beings. These are ridiculously way smarter than me intelligent five year olds who are amazing and hilarious. I think it’s just the human aspect is what we forget so much. We read all these statistics, but no. These are people. And, you know, they are annoying and talk at the wrong time, and they are hilarious and beautiful. We are all just humans who care a lot about why we are there.
Lindsey LaFleur is a Louisiana native raised in Opelousas. She received her bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University. Lindsey was involved in City Year where she served two years in Baton Rouge public schools. She is currently teaching kindergarten at UP Elementary in Baton Rouge.