Voices from the Classroom, a series presented by NolaVie and WWNO radio, explores local education through conversations with those on the front 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 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 online at NolaVie.
Meet Amy Sorenson, 40, a fifth-grade science and social studies teacher at Ben Franklin Elementary: A native of Minnesota, Amy returned there after a two-year Peace Corps stint in Africa. Returning to Minnesota in the dead of winter, she quickly realized she could no longer tolerate living in such a cold climate. So when the Orleans Parish School system had a job fair in her home state, she went, was offered a teaching position, and moved to the Crescent City in 1998. Amy worked in the Recovery School District before accepting her current position teaching fifth-grade science and social studies at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, an experience she says is like working in “paradise.”
On why she teaches: I teach because it’s what I have always wanted to do. I grew up around teachers; my grandmother was a teacher. I have a strong moral obligation that every child deserves a high quality education. So here I am at 40, and though I question it from time to time, I do still see some of the rewards.
On observing today’s education employment landscape: The word you hear from everybody is not knowing if you are going to have a job from year to year; not knowing if teachers even want to stay in education. When you talk to teachers with years and years of experience, everybody seems like they have been to two or three different places since Katrina; the stability’s just not there. Now that I have arrived at Benjamin Franklin, I’m feeling that stability again.
On the charter movement and parental involvement: I would definitely want to re-think the whole charter school movement; chartering as a solution to all the problems within districts. It’s been my experience that in a charter school the children cannot have the same types of parental involvement because they’re being bused from all over the city. I would turn more of the schools back into the districts because in your own neighborhood you can have so much more parental involvement.
On how to improve the educational system: I would start by making smaller class sizes. Although I’m not experiencing that this year, I certainly did when I was at Benjamin Banneker (Elementary School), having upwards of 36 children in the class. There were days when I couldn’t turn my back in my room without things being thrown around, even thrown at me, and I am an experienced teacher. I would definitely want to see more effective alternate schools that are actually making a difference in the lives of our most challenged children.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. We will publish select responses online at NolaVie.