For whom the school bell tolls

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 13, 2002


There is a misconception about the amount of work teachers put into their profession.

Generally, a majority of River Parishes teachers work year-round to prepare for new students, upgrade their technology skills, and develop professionally through training and workshops. Most local teachers said they work consistently through the year, even through the summer months.

There is always something to plan, think over, or research for class. The job is not easy, and teachers spend the summer gearing up for the next school year when they will once again serve as daytime parent, counselor, mentor, tutor, and friend to their students.

The consensus is teaching gets easier over time. With more experience, teachers become more comfortable with their work environment, but continue to better themselves for their students.

In a twist on the age-old beginning of the school year essay, local teachers were asked to talk about how they spent their summer “vacation.”

“We don’t just bask in the Bahamas like some people think,” one teacher said.

“Lazy,” hazy days of summer

Suzonne Olsen is a second-year English teacher at Lutcher High School. She described her job as year-round. The first two weeks of summer, Olsen spent all her time finalizing the school’s yearbook, a large responsibility as the school’s yearbook teacher. This summer she spent a significant amount of time reading the text books and novels her students will study.

Olsen admitted in the midst of all the preparation it is sometimes hard to “psych up.”

“It’s bound to get easier as you go,” she said. “For older teachers, it comes more naturally.”

Debbie Bergeron will start her second year of teaching at Destrehan High School this fall. She is a business teacher and spent the majority of her summer attending certification workshops. By developing herself professionally, her students can attain certification in word processing and other computer and business skills.

Bergeron spent three weeks in June at workshops in Baton Rouge. She also attended a three-day workshop early this month at LSU, along with other DHS teachers.

All together, Bergeron counted at least four full weeks of training and workshops with an additional week of preparation and organization for her classroom. Even during the summer, she is always thinking about school and research.

“Mentally you never rest,” Bergeron said. “I am always thinking ‘what else can I add?'”

Bergeron finds a challenge in the ever-changing business world. The programs are always fresh and new, making adjustments to curriculum a necessity. As a new teacher, Bergeron said she feels a little more comfortable this year, but still wants to be her best for the students.

Jay Kimball, an English teacher at East St. John High School said he is always anxious the first week of school. Kimball will start his third year of teaching this month.

Although he spends his summer reading text books for class and preparing for lessons, Kimball said there is never too much preparation for the first day. He takes summer and after-school classes for certification and keeps busy during the normal school year with grading papers and classroom planning.

Kimball’s wife, Donette, is also a teacher and she spends many after-school hours with Destrehan High School’s student council and Peer Support Leaders. She dedicates much of her own time to event planning, fund-raising, and shopping for miscellaneous items for the clubs she sponsors at DHS. The “off” season is filled with planning and sign-making for the student council.

Donette Kimball is a ninth-year teacher and she said there is always a lot of planning for a new school year. In previous years, she attended workshops on computer technology and writing skills. Then, almost every day in July, Donette Kimball said, teachers are in their classrooms setting up for the new school year.

The Kimballs said they never “just come home and quit school” at the end of the day. They are always working on projects after hours or grading papers late into the evening.

Kristy Cambre is a third-year science teacher at Lutcher High School. She teaches chemistry, physics, and physical science. Cambre is also the cheerleading sponsor and said her job is non-stop.

The first month of the summer, Cambre spent at camps and practices with the cheerleaders. Then came a two-week workshop entitled “Bringing Technology in the Classroom.”

“I spend my time improving my teaching with technology by choice,” Cambre said.

Cambre is busy during the normal school year keeping up with the cheerleaders and the science club. She also stays late after school most days to set up labs for her science classes and prepare for the following school day.

Hennis Roussel is a seventh-year history teacher at Lutcher High School and he said, “It gets easier as you go.”

Roussel spent two weeks this summer in a mentor program called LATAAP. This is his third year working on a grant called PTTT (Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to use Technology). The summer months are also spent working on outlines to revamp his courses, Roussel said.

Roussel spends about 200 hours per summer traveling with sports teams as an athletic trainer. He then puts in between 100-150 hours working in the classroom. Roussel keeps extremely busy during the school year following the sports teams and being available for all home activities.

“I’m more comfortable with the environment now,” Roussel said. “I would tell new teachers to stick it out.”

Dawn Jacobi is an eighth-year teacher at Destrehan High School. This year she will teach honors advanced math, honors Algebra II, honors calculus, and AP calculus. She spent the month of June at GEE (Graduation Exit Exam) training and there were a few technology-based workshops to attend.

“I look to improvements to keep me fresh,” Jacobi said. “You have to do that so you don’t get stale.”

This summer, Jacobi spent time planning a new mentoring program in which upperclassman honors students partner with freshmen honors students. Jacobi attended a three-day professional development retreat at LSU and will attend Teacher Prep at DHS prior to the first day of school.

Jacobi said the beginning can be overwhelming for new teachers. She is excited about her new class and challenges which will face her new set of students.

“The more times I’ve taught a course, the more comfortable I am with it. I try to expand on the material each year,” Jacobi said.

Voices of experience

Shantele Brady, an English teacher at Lutcher High School will begin her 10th year this month. She said she worked all summer, developing course outlines and sponsoring extra-curricular activities.

Brady works with the spirit team, which plans orientation and decorates the school for incoming students. She is also the junior varsity cheerleader sponsor. To be a good teacher, Brady said a person needs to understand it is not an out the door when the school bell rings job.

“You cannot be an effective teacher if you leave at 2:30 (p.m.),” she said. “If you sponsor something, you don’t leave until after 5.”

Page Eschette, a 14-year teacher at LaPlace Elementary School spent her summer working on her master’s degree, working on grants, helping new teachers prepare for the year, attending workshops, and curriculum planning. Eschette teaches fourth grade.

It took an entire day to set up the classroom with the help of her family members. She has spent at least one day each week throughout the summer working on the upcoming school year.

Teachers in St. John the Baptist Parish will attend an all-day in-service Monday, the day before school starts. There, Eschette will be informed of any new policies, receive her class lists, and duty schedule.

After all the years of teaching, Eschette said she still gets excited when the new children arrive. On the first day, she said, there are always butterflies.

“If you’ve been teaching as long as I have, it is easier to set up the classroom,” Eschette said. “I already have a system.”

Jamie Treuting is a sixth-grade teacher at Ethel Schoeffner Elementary School with 14 years of experience. Her vacation time was postponed with a social studies technology workshop held the first week of June. At the InTech II workshop, Treuting wrote geography programs that her students will use in class.

Throughout June and July, she met with other teachers to revise standards and content areas in order to match lessons to the parish curriculum guides. She advised more teachers throughout the summer via the Internet.

Treuting also attended an day-long workshop for TSL (Teacher Support Leader). She will serve as a liaison between teachers at her school and the central office for the 2002-03 school year. The first week of this month Treuting spent inducting new teachers into TSL.

“Because I love my job, I like to work over the summer,” Treuting said when asked why she dedicates so much time to her profession. “There was not one day that I didn’t see or read something for next year.”

Even on vacation, Treuting said she was researching and inquiring for next year’s activities. She is a frequent visitor to Barnes and Nobles and she said it is difficult to get out of “teacher-mode.”

September through May is so hectic, it is hard to find the time to research, Treuting said. She loves the freedom of the summer. That is why she spends approximately 90 percent of her summertime working.

Although Treuting has quite a list of accolades, she is still concerned each year whether she will be good enough for her students.

“I always thinking about what I did, what I should change, what worked,” Treuting said.

Shirley Keller, a kindergarten teacher at John L. Ory Communications Arts Magnet School in LaPlace, has taught for 19 years. She attended several curriculum workshops this summer and a St. John the Baptist Parish language arts textbook workshop to become acquainted with the new material. Also, Ory teachers met the first week of this month to prepare for the upcoming school year. The kindergarten teachers met to discuss new screening testing for incoming students. Keller said she spent the last week in July dusting, cleaning, and preparing her classroom.

As she goes on, Keller said she is more aware of what she has to do for her new class. She calls herself an “old hand” and said it is easier now to prepare.

“I know what to look for and what to expect,” Keller said. “After so long, you’ve kind of seen it all.”

Joyce Crose, also a kindergarten teacher at Ory, has spent 23 years in the classroom. This summer she took an on-line course called Blackboard and attended a workshop designed to teach teachers how to prompt effective questions from students. In the past, Crose has spent 3-6 weeks each summer at a university taking refresher courses in several diverse subjects.

The longtime educator said she spends a great deal of time researching ideas for class on the Internet. There are Web sites for teachers which give examples of new classroom activities. Crose also spends her summer making games and manipulatives for her centers. She said she spends about four weeks each summer preparing for the upcoming year.

She is always discovering something exciting for school, whether on a television program or in a magazine. The Discovery Channel is a “gold mine” for great ideas for class discussion, she said.

“You never really stop thinking about your classroom,” Crose said. “You can always find a new book, even on vacation.”

Crose said it is hard to start out for new teachers because they “do not really know what they are getting into.” After more than 20 years, she is still excited about education, and she said if a teacher is not excited he or she should get out.