New Schools for Baton Rouge’s Paige Roberts sits down with Janae Babineaux, a first grade teacher at Baton Rouge Bridge Academy, to discuss her passion and hope for education in Baton Rouge.
How long have you worked in education? I did City Year for two years right out of college, and this is my first year as a full-time teacher, so approximately two and a half years.
Why did you choose education? I got started with City Year because education was always something I was interested in. I always found myself to be a natural teacher, but so many people kind of push me away from that and deterred me from getting into the field. With City Year, I was able to dip my feet in the water and see if this was something I wanted to do full time. I really found this power in service and in teaching children, and a kind of self fulfillment in this very natural ability of mine. It felt good and it came easily to me. It was just something that felt right.
Tell me one of your favorite moments as a teacher. I work with first graders, and we work on decoding words and breaking them down. I had a kid I was working one-on-one with and he just got stuck on this word, he started to decode it, and he would not give up. To a point where I had to stop him, and he looked at me with the biggest smile on his face and said, “I’m going to show grit. I’m going to do this.” It was this moment of like, “Wow, you’re really invested in figuring it out for yourself, and you don’t even want me to hold your hand through it?” It was this special moment of letting them go on their own because they’re six and you’re just not used to that. I think that was really gratifying for me that he wanted to do that on his own.
Describe education in Baton Rouge in one word. So I think it’s evolving, right? I think there’s this really unique thing that’s happening to the landscape with really dedicated people coming in and saying “Hey, what we’re doing isn’t working. Lets try something different.” I like that because it’s this really progressive spin on education, and I think that’s what the system needs in Baton Rouge. We need to give kids who are not being served the right education. We need to serve their minds and their hearts. I think that’s happening, slowly but surely.
I want to get your insight on a new statistic that came out. In Baton Rouge, forty-four percent of black men do not graduate high school. I listened to this podcast of Michael Brown’s mother right after he had died. I remember her saying, “I got him to graduate high school.” I think that speaks to this larger issue here in America where black men aren’t graduating high school. We have to ask ourselves why, and what do we need to do to change it? Because we can say statistics like that and blow people’s minds, but the next day it’s gone. It’s over like, yeah, it’s just a number but we have to figure out the solution because that’s just not okay.
Teaching in the school that you do, and the place where you teach, how does that affect you and your day-to-day experience. Particularly, with young black boys and seeing their potential and watching them grow? I think that there’s this selfish feeling that I take home every day that I’m doing something different. I’m going to give them the tools in their tool belt to give them what they need to make it that far, but I also see a lot of what could put them in a place where they don’t. The actions that people are quick to write off because it’s part of a culture that people are quick to write off. I think what’s different is this understanding of culturally responsive teaching. If you understand a culture and you understand the people you can better serve them, and I think a lot of teachers in Louisiana and in America lack that understanding of how different cultures interact together, right? I’m a white women teaching black children, and that means that I have to go above and beyond to understand where they’re coming from. I have to meet them where they are, they’re not suppose to meet me where I am. I think that’s a big picture thing that we don’t talk about enough.
Describe what you want education in Baton Rouge to be like in one word. I want it to be thriving. I want Baton Rouge to be thriving. I want our education, our people, our communities, I want them to thrive.
Is there anything you want people to know about your teachers, your school, or your students? Baton Rouge Bridge Academy is a place where teachers and students are familial. Teachers want to invest in the hearts and the minds of students in North Baton Rouge. I truly believe this is a place that is giving the future leaders of Baton Rouge the tools to make a difference, the tools to change statistics, and the tools to be highly functioning leaders not only in Baton Rouge, but in our country.
Janae Babineaux is a Louisiana native, born and raised in Youngsville. She received her bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University, and is currently enrolled in Southern University’s Master of Urban Education program. Janae was involved in City Year where she served as a corp member and a team leader. She is currently teaching first grade at Baton Rouge Bridge Academy. This piece was orginally posted on the New Schools for Baton Rouge blog.