Aimee Barber is an assistant professor for early childhood and elementary education at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She is also a bright light in the world of education and is working hard to improve the future for students and teachers in Louisiana. You can tell by the way she talks that this is both her passion and her area of expertise.
Aimee is co-chairing a committee to create a laboratory school at UL with the purpose of creating a living model of best practices in teaching. It will also immerse teacher candidates in processes and strategies that promote curiosity and creativity and nurture life-long learning for all ages. You can find out more about this school at @ullearninglab on Facebook or at ullearninglab.org .
What was your first job? My first job was clerical support at The Schumacher Group. I started by stuffing envelopes and answering phones but ended up helping with organizing and putting on events, which I loved!
Describe a typical day in your life. I am a working mother of three, so it feels like the upside down face emoji sometimes. I try to get up earlier than my kids so I can sit with a cup of coffee before everything gets rolling. Then, it’s dressing, breakfast, carpooling to school before starting my day on the beautiful UL campus. I’m in a lot of Zoom meetings and am currently conducting all classes online as well. In the evenings, we love to cook together and watch Wheel of Fortune.
What advice would you give the younger you? Do not let anyone tell you who you are. You know who you are.
What event in your life most shaped who you are now? Professionally, it was an experience of working in the highest poverty school in my community and then transitioning into a position at an expensive independent school just 4 miles away. It shook me how different the learning environments were and the educational opportunities given to both teachers and students. It became my life’s work to make high quality education accessible to all kids.
What values do you live by? I hope I live by empathy, action, and resilience.
What do you most appreciate? I most appreciate times when all five members of my family are enjoying a moment together. It can be a fleeting laugh, but it just gives me joy when we are all connected in one emotion.
What is your favorite journey? My favorite and most challenging journey is parenthood.
Where is your favorite place to be alone? Probably in a bubble bath with a glass of wine.
What living figure most inspires you? Right now, I would say Michelle Obama because she is met with such hatred and criticism and yet she handles herself with grace while also staying strong in demanding work toward justice and liberty for all.
What was the best advice you were ever given? When I was in grad school for my doctorate and feeling like I was drowning with work, school, parenthood, and a slew of other projects, my husband told me, “From now on, if it’s not a ‘Hell, Yes!’ then it’s a no.” I still try to think of this when things are piling up.
What book would you tell everyone to read? I just finished "Where the Crawdads Sing" and loved the thought-provoking story of a human learning and growing with the natural world as her teacher. I found it fascinating. I also wish everyone would read "Education and Social Change" by John Rury and "Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution that’s Transforming Education" by Ken Robinson.
What is the best thing about where you live? The food. The music. The culture. The festivals. I love Festival Internationale de Louisiane and Festival Acadien et Creoles. There’s just something about being on a picnic blanket in the shade of an oak tree with some good food and music in between dancing in the dirt in your bare feet.
How do you "let the good times roll"? I love anything that involves good food, music, and company. I love cooking and then matching the vibe to a cool new music station on Spotify. We often host friends for dinner and invite them to bring your own instrument for some playful music making while the kids run around.
What did you want to be when you grew up? I have always wanted to be a teacher. I remember asking…(ahem, making)...my younger sister sit and listen to me give her lessons from an easel and chalkboard in our playroom.
What is your motto? Have courage and be kind. I love the contrast and yet perfect partnership between these two values.
How would you like to be remembered? I want to be remembered as a dreamer and a doer. I love to dream and envision new realities where all humans are able to pursue their goals and passions toward their own versions of success and fulfillment.
What do you say to yourself when you doubt yourself? “You know who you are.” I have it on a sticky note in my office with a heart drawn on the side.
What three things are vital to BEing YOU? It’s vital to me to travel with my family and experience adventure, culture, and new places. It’s vital to me to work hard for improving education in Louisiana and restoring the prestige and professionalism of the teaching profession. It’s vital to me to have the creative freedom to create unique opportunities both personally and professionally.
What is your favorite word? Vacation
What food could you live on for a month? Gumbo or Pho!
What would you change about yourself? I am always working on being more present with my kids. Sometimes it’s overwhelming to think about them growing up and that I will have missed my opportunity. We actually just bought a 1995 pop-up camper, so I’m hoping this will help!
What literary, movie or cartoon character do you most identify with? Moana — she loves her family and her people, but she also trusts the voice inside her and has the courage to listen.
Describe yourself in five words. Vision-oriented, determined, curious, mom, teacher
What is your idea of happiness? My idea of happiness is feeling content with where I am in life with optimism for what’s to come. Happiness is a deep breath when my kids give me a long, sincere hug or while I’m reading them stories at night.
What is your favorite movie? "Life is Beautiful" (The Italian version that you watch with subtitles.)
What music defines who you are? Probably either old Cajun music that reminds me of crawfish boils in my grandparents’ backyard in Arnaudville, Alanis Morisette or Jewel blaring in my bedroom in high school for their emotion and rawness, or John Lennon’s "Imagine" and "Revolution" for their vision and audacity.
What do you most regret? There are things I would do differently if I could go back in time, but then I don’t think I’d be the same person. So, I guess things do happen for a reason.
What question do you wish I'd asked? How do you hope to change the world?
What would the answer be? I want to restore teacher voices and leadership to revolutionize education in Louisiana. I want to create a living model of what best practice in teaching and learning looks like in action, and I want my teacher candidates to learn through an immersion in best practice. Teachers are the heartbeat of education and should be at the core of student-centered decisions, so I want to equip them with processes that empower them to see their field as malleable and to see themselves as change agents focused on providing the highest quality education to the diverse learners they serve. Education, when done the right way for ALL, has the power to be transformative for the world. This dream seems to get both closer and farther everyday, but as part of a team driving an effort to bring a Learning Lab to the UL Lafayette campus, I know there is hope. I won’t stop dreaming and doing until high quality teaching and learning is the norm for all.