Curious About Education in New Orleans? Look to our Teachers

September 7, 2018

By Richard Kisack

Richard Kisack Jr. is a junior at Brandeis University working towards the completion of his politics major and creative writing minor. He was born and raised in New Orleans. He enjoys eating well-seasoned food and thinking about new ways to help his city through education. After college, he plans on attending law school to explore pathways to combine governmental policies with education.

Last month, New York Times reporter David Leonhardt wrote about New Orleans’ Public Schools, and the experience of a changing education system that many of my peers and I have lived through. He even quotes friends of mine and mentions my old high school, Abramson Sci Academy.

Mr. Leonhardt wades into the debates of education reform and traditional versus charter schools. To me, the debate is not about whether traditional or charter schools are better, but rather how well students will learn, no matter the school governance. Teachers are at the core of this. While the government and institutions guide how schools run overall, student understanding lies with teachers themselves. Teachers shape how students learn, grow and feel about their school as a whole.

My best teachers made a lasting impact on my life. One Social Studies teacher, Ms. Charm Baker, taught me the joy of learning about the past; another, Ms. Alice Reichman (pictured to the left), induced a passion in me for politics and is part of the reason I’m majoring in Politics today. Sheena Reed (pictured above), my college counselor, enlightened me on the value of asking for help when in need.

Even so, in the midst of this education debate, the teacher’s perspective is hard to find. As a graduate of the New Orleans Public Schools system, I feel it is my job to speak up on behalf of our teachers and how important they were. I was eight years old when Hurricane Katrina hit, and had to move to Georgia because of the storm. When I moved back to New Orleans, I went to three different schools—an elementary, middle, and high school. Across all of the schools I attended, teachers were the most important factor in shaping my experience.

My best teachers shared certain qualities: they obtained respect the second they entered the room, they inspired students to find joy in learning, and they were remembered by students long after they left their classrooms. Great teachers prepare children for the world by empowering them and providing them what they need to be successful.

My best teachers understood and respected the context their students were coming from. Some of my teachers, particularly those who were from New Orleans, understood my experience of having gone through Katrina. They didn’t need to ask me about it, and they didn’t bring it up unless I wanted to talk. They knew many of my experiences growing up in New Orleans because they’d had similar experiences, too. I felt safe in their classrooms.

My best teachers also constantly sought to improve. For most of high school, I attended Abramson Sci Academy in New Orleans East. The teachers at Sci Academy were innovative and experimental. Sometimes they were eccentric and young, but they tried new things, looking at research and finding out the best way to teach us. We worked in groups and teachers would come over and help. I would stay after school and receive help from them, too. I understood the material much better than I ever had before. By my tenth grade year, my advisor was asking me to tutor my advisory brothers in Chemistry.

My best teachers made a lasting impact on my life. One Social Studies teacher, Ms. Charm Baker, taught me the joy of learning about the past; another, Ms. Alice Reichman (pictured below), induced a passion in me for politics and is part of the reason I’m majoring in Politics today. Sheena Reed (pictured above), my college counselor, enlightened me on the value of asking for help when in need.

If people want to know about schools in New Orleans, they need be looking to teachers like Ms. Charm Baker and Ms. Reichman, or to counselors like Ms. Reed. They need to be asking questions like: “Are teachers trying their hardest with each student and are they demonstrating powerful results? Are administrators supporting their staff? Are students feeling prepared for the world once they graduate?” The strength of a school hinges on the strength and support of its teachers. Behind every excellent school is its staff.

To understand New Orleans Public Schools, you need to understand our educators. To celebrate our schools, you need to celebrate educators as well. Today, I am in my fourth year at Brandeis University. I have a creative writing minor and I am a planning to go to law school when I graduate. When I get there, it will be because I worked hard, but it will also be because of my teachers. When I use my law degree to change the world, I will have them, in part, to thank. It’s time the rest of the world starts thanking them, too.