Osborne’s Thomas Baker and LaShawnda Alexander both received the New Schools for New Orleans Excellence in Teaching Award. This award is a recognition of teachers from public schools in New Orleans public school and includes a $1,000 classroom excellence grant. We recently sat down with Thomas and LaShawnda to learn more about their teaching background, their favorite part of being a teacher, what the award means to them, and more.
How long have you been teaching, and what roles have you had over the years?
Thomas: This is my 11th year teaching. I’ve taught almost every subject, from social studies and math to theology.
LaShawnda: This is my 11th year teaching. I taught second-grade Environmental Science in my first year and then moved to fourth grade. One year, I taught third and fourth-grade math the same year, but I’ve almost always taught fourth-grade math.
Why did you become an educator?
Thomas: I was working in nursing and not enjoying it. I took a semester off, and I started coaching. I enjoyed seeing kids light up when something that I taught them worked. A career in education was always something that was in the back of my mind. Once I took some time away from nursing and did a little soul-searching, I decided to go into education. It was the best decision.
LaShawnda: I became a teacher because of my love for children. I experience so much joy working with them!
What would you say is the most important quality or characteristic of a good teacher?
Thomas: I would probably say being well-prepared. The kids know when you’re prepared and when you’re not prepared! When you’re prepared, the students know that they need to be prepared, too.
LaShawnda: Teachers have to love the job. They have to remain committed and keep showing up for the children.
How would you describe your teaching style?
Thomas: My teaching style is very engaging. I like to mix in a whole bunch of different things to get them started in the morning. I like to do a brain teaser and a Black history fact every day to get their minds moving. I also like to play music when the kids are working. I walk around the classroom a lot to engage students, and I pay attention to the students who might need a little bit more help. I also enjoy using technology to enhance instruction, incorporating pictures and videos, to engage students with different learning styles.
What is your favorite classroom memory?
LaShawnda: My favorite memory is from my first year of teaching math. We taught the common core, which was something new to me at the time, so there was a learning curve…for me as the teacher and for the students, too. Then, in the second year, our school grew 30 points from the first year, so that was super exciting. It was so rewarding to see students’ growth.
What are some of the most unique lessons you’ve taught?
Thomas: My students love when I use technology in my lessons. For example, I use online quizzes – where the kids answer questions – and I get real-time feedback. They think it’s just a game but they don’t realize that I’m using it to see what they do and don’t know. Instead of giving them a test on paper, I try to find new and fun ways to get that data. My biggest thing is trying to make school fun because, when I think about my favorite teachers growing up, they made school fun! I enjoyed going to their classes. If I can make it so that my students can learn while also having fun, I’m going to do that.
What do you wish more people knew about being a teacher?
LaShawnda: I wish people knew that teaching is not just about getting in front of the kids and giving a lesson, it’s also about nurturing the whole child.
How did it feel when you learned you were awarded the Excellence in Teaching Award by New Schools for New Orleans?
Thomas: I was shocked, but it is also a testament to all the coaching and feedback that everybody has given me over the course of my years at CCS.
LaShawnda: I was excited and shocked but also very grateful.
What does the award mean to you moving forward?
LaShawnda: It will make me work harder because I always feel like I need to do more and be better for my students.
Thomas: It is great just to see that the work I’ve put in has been seen, but it doesn’t mean that I’m stopping there. I’m always reevaluating and trying to be better than I was the day before. An award is great but, at the end of the day, the best thing is making sure that the kids are successful at school and beyond.