I recently met with a former student who is in her first year of teaching in Louisiana. As supervisor for her student teaching experience, I was excited to hear how she, a top-quality student and excellent teacher candidate, was adjusting to life as a full-time teacher. I was expecting to hear all about the typical triumphs and challenges of most first-year teachers: charting new territory in classroom management and behavior modification, navigating the deep waters of curriculum and instruction, and learning how to transition in the profession from student to teacher.

I sat there listening to her tell me stories about the eclectic mix of “her kids” and their respective needs: the brilliant creative, the future governor and the one without a home. I heard of the times she’s connected with her kids, capturing moments of empathy, honesty and transparency. And I smiled with admiration when I sensed her determination to not give up on figuring out a particular student’s learning style. This teacher, she’s got it.

I watched her eyes glisten with tears when she reflected on all that she is not able to do for some students. I heard her confront the tension of race relations and her struggles to connect with children from very different social, cultural and economic backgrounds than her own. And while her salary is quite sufficient to meet her needs, she complained that it does not allow for her efforts to support her students when they are in need beyond the school walls. This year alone she has bought three backpacks and two pairs of shoes for students in need.

And yet, her greatest frustration doesn’t come from the social inequities that her students face.

Of all the ups and downs on the roller coaster that is the first year of teaching, what causes her the most frustration is politics in education — state and local decisions that impact how she relates with her students every day. The uncertainty around changing standards and the disappointment of inadequate resources drown out the joy and wonder of spectacular lessons. The back and forth at the political table frustrates her in the classroom. For this new teacher, I hope the politics don’t burn her out. I hope the frustrations she feels from the legislative chambers are buffered through excellent leaders for the sake of her kids. And while, to her, this dinner conversation was simply an opportunity for her to vent, it reminded me that great teachers are our society’s greatest heroes and our most valuable resource, and that is worth getting the politics out of education.

Susan Kahn

instructor, College of Education, University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Sunset