Hemelt: Students, teachers enduring hard classroom lessons

Published 11:45 pm Friday, September 26, 2014

Lessons are tough in the classroom, and they may continue that way for a while longer.

That was part of the doom and gloom shared at Tuesday’s St. James Parish School Board meeting.

School board members and administrators weren’t saying things would always be bad, but didn’t mince words when talking about the challenges faced by students (and by extension parents and school staff) in dealing with the implementation of Eureka Math and the Wonders Reading program.

With the parish’s first nine-weeks report cards set to come out in mid-October, Superintendent Lonnie Luce said he recently spoke with parish principals about balance.

“The reason I did that is because we are struggling with balance,” he said. “How do you inspire hope and purpose in kids when they start making Ds and Fs when they are young?”

He didn’t have any immediate answers, except to say all those involved will continue working and need the support of the whole community.

He wasn’t kidding when he said: “When you see the teachers with bags under their eyes, continue to give them pats on the backs. Discuss with parents, this is not something the district did or the principal did or the teachers are doing to the kid, it is something that we have to do to prepare our kids because of the state assessment they are going to have.”

District officials updated the school board last month on the district’s implementation of the programs, which call on more from educators, students and parents.

Because it is new, district officials anticipated innovative approaches were needed.

Additional paid professional development days were added to the schedule to assist teachers in getting ready for this school year. Grading procedures were also implemented district-wide to create consistency across all schools.

However, nothing could be done to avoid the learning crunch students have experienced in this first month plus of the 2014-15 academic year. And, it seems no one has been spared.

Nearly all St. James school board members spoke this week about seeing increased demands on students, from their own younger family members or hearing about the struggles from district parents.

District 4’s George Nassar Jr. said he was worried some projections indicate school districts could lose 70 percent of experienced teachers within four years because of this challenging process.

“We all know our teachers are stressing,” he said. “What are we doing to help alleviate some of that from our teachers? How are we helping them with burnout? What are we doing, as a district? That is something I think we need to look at.”

He suggested exploring adding more resources or employees to help teachers.

Luce said the mechanics of learning have changed for many students.

In reading, students are pushed to understand the content and articulate it, as opposed to years past when memorization and vocabulary words were more greatly stressed, Luce said.

“On the math side, we kind of struggled at first, and I think we got over the hump with that,” Luce said. “It was mainly teaching kids multiple ways to answer a problem. In the past, teachers may have shown one algorithm or one way to do it.

“Today you have to understand math to actually answer a problem. A lot of it is very complicated.

“What is unfair to me, to be honest with you, as we play this process out, upper elementary and middle school kids are being asked to do things that they weren’t properly prepared for. If the state would have implemented this curriculum, and we would have had tests that kind of started and scaled from kindergarten and gradually each year increased the rigor, I would have felt much more comfortable with what we are doing.”

Unfortunately, and educators know this more than anyone, these academic requirements are here, and it’s our students and teachers who will bear the brunt of their weight. The only answer for when the academic doom and gloom will pass seems: After (possibly years of) hard work.

Stephen Hemelt is general manager and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.