The moment I knew I was going to become an educator was during my last year of college, volunteering at a local elementary school in East Baton Rouge, Louisiana. One afternoon one of my fifth-grade students asked me where I attended college. I told them I attended Louisiana State University. My college and this school were located less than five minutes away from each other and as a total surprise and shock to me, these students had never visited this campus. They thought only white students attended college there. I knew right then and there I had the potential to serve as a role model who could expose them to more than the community around them. While these children lived in a community plagued by poverty and violence and society had already deemed them “at-risk,” I knew that they could achieve beyond their limited circumstances.
I Didn’t Know Much, But I Did Know This
When I began my teaching career, I was placed in a Title I elementary school with students who were economically disadvantaged in southwest Louisiana. I walked into my first year as an alternative teaching certification candidate with an undergraduate degree in sociology and concentration in criminology. In other words, I knew nothing about curriculum, pacing guides or standards but I knew if something didn’t change in education, more and more African-American males and females would enter the criminal justice system.
It's Not Easy
If only I knew then what I know now, maybe I would have been more prepared for what I was going to face in my classroom. On a daily basis, I encountered students who battled parent absenteeism, gangs, and lack of exposure to the world beyond their “gated” housing development. As a first-year teacher, I probably was not the most effective, but what I did know was love, care, passion and survival. Surviving the school year without shedding any tears or getting verbally attacked by a parent, all while equipping my students with the skills and tools necessary to one day become successful and productive citizens in society. The reason I became an educator and continue to teach is unchanged—to expose them to a world outside of their local communities and to guide them on which paths to choose. I teach for those children at the elementary school I volunteered at almost seven years ago.
Amanda Austin currently serves the children of East Baton Rouge School System as a fifth-grade instructor at Mayfair Laboratory School. For the past seven years, she has had the pleasure of educating students from at-risk communities to magnet schools. Amanda earned a bachelor of arts in sociology with a concentration in criminology and minor in African and African American Studies. She also has ...