Teacher of Year perseveres to connect with all students

Carla Jackson Show caption
Carla Jackson

A St. Francisville elementary school teacher won the coveted Teacher of the Year award during a ceremony over the weekend and said Sunday she found her way into teaching almost accidentally.

Carla Jackson, of St. Francisville’s Bains Elementary School in West Feliciana Parish, was named overall Teacher of the Year and was awarded $7,500 by the state Department of Education, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the nonprofit Dream Teachers when the winners for the annual Teacher and Principal of the Year awards were announced Saturday.

The third-grade teacher, who has taught at Bains Elementary for 12 years, will compete against teachers from other states in a national competition in Washington, D.C.

Originally from Metairie, Jackson, 44, attended LSU with the goal of getting an engineering degree. But her plans changed after she found herself in a first-grade classroom. Her friend taught the class and begged Jackson to help with a project, which she finally agreed to do. All it took was that one visit, and Jackson fell in love with teaching.

“In that one day, I saw innocence, adventure, creativity, love, potential, eagerness, inspiration and so much more,” she said.

After getting her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Jackson set off to teach, developing a philosophy that every child can learn, so long as the teacher connects with the student.

Her philosophy has served her for 22 years but wasn’t always easy to follow. In her early years, Jackson struggled to reach students who were not too keen on learning. One day, Jackson heard a parent confirm Jackson’s fear that she was good only with high-achieving students.

“After much soul-searching, I realized it wasn’t the child that needed to change; it was me,” she said.

After that, she made it her mission to help each student succeed by adapting her strategy to the needs of the child.

She now teaches English, math, science and social studies, with English being her favorite subject. She teaches students on every learning level, from gifted students to those who need special education. And she has high expectations for all of them, including meeting the new national academic standards, Common Core, which have caused heated debate in Louisiana.

Jackson said she believes Common Core standards will be more challenging and, therefore, more effective.

“I believe these state standards will bring our students closer to excellence,” she said.

She had to meet high expectations herself in order to take away the honor of being named best overall teacher in the state. The program looks at LEAP and other test scores, observes the teachers and principals at work and interviews the finalists to judge their communication skills.

For Jackson, being a good teacher takes more than high test scores and good communication skills. It takes perseverance in trying to find a way to connect with each student to be a great educator.

“(A good teacher) builds on students’ strengths,” she said.

Also taking away awards Saturday were Tammy Schales, of Ruston Elementary School in Lincoln Parish, as outstanding elementary teacher; Justin Burkhardt, of Andrew Jackson Middle School in St. Bernard Parish, as outstanding middle school teacher; and Anita Szombathelyi, of Airline High School in Bossier Parish, as outstanding high school teacher.

Winners for outstanding principals were Marjorie Meyers, of Pecan Grove Elementary School in Ascension Parish, for elementary principal; Patrick Mackin, of Slidell Junior High School in St. Tammany Parish, for middle school principal; Ken Oertling, of Hahnville High School in St. Charles Parish, for high school principal; and Denise Rehm, of Joshua Butler Elementary School in Jefferson Parish, for overall principal of the year.