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By Guest Writer Amanda Elizabeth Austin, Ed. D
The moment I knew I was going to become an educator was when I got to experience a service learning course during my last year of college where I volunteered my time at a local elementary school. This school was located in an area, which was considered to be plagued with poverty and violence. I volunteered in a fifth grade classroom where I ended up forming a lasting friendship with the teacher.
I can remember one afternoon a student 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. Their point of view was so limited and sheltered because of their experiences. I saw these children who lived in poverty and as society would deem them as “at risk” children, limited by their circumstances. I knew then they needed a role model who could expose them too more than the community around them.
As an educator for the past seven years, I have had the privilege of working in magnet schools as well as in high needs schools. 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 alternative teaching certification candidate with an undergraduate degree in Sociology with a 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 possibly enter the criminal justice system.
If only I knew then what I know now, maybe I would have been more prepared for what I was gong 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 but equipping my students with the skills and tools necessary to one day become successful and productive citizens of society.
The reason I became an educator and my rationale for continuing my path in education are unchanged. I teach for those children at that elementary school I volunteered at almost seven years ago, to educate children and expose them to a world outside of their local communities, and to guide them on which paths to choose.
Amanda is currently serving the children of the East Baton Rouge School System as a 5th grade Instructor at Mayfair Laboratory School. For the past 7 years, she has educated students from at risk communities to magnet schools.