On the Issue of Clarity / / Honoring Courage & Impact

Serving Louisiana as the 2019 Louisiana State Teacher of the Year has been, and will likely be, one of my life’s most crowning achievements. My most significant work, which greatly overshadows the award itself, has been the efforts and legacy I left in my former classroom and in the community that I faithfully served for nine years.

This effort included teaching children about more than just content. To me, it meant educating my students about the world of opportunities that being positive, confident, and educated people would open for them. Of course, confidence doesn’t come easy for most middle school-aged youth. It’s a treacherous age, full of hazards and pitfalls. Circumstance and privilege significantly dictate the challenges ahead. Some paths are rendered “safer” or easier to travel, while some are riddled with inequity. This is particularly true for our students of color, students with intellectual and physical exceptionalities, our LGBTQ students, students without status or means, and our students without documentation. Some of our children are unable to finish this journey with us, which is the hardest reality that any educator has to face. We cry together. We mourn together. We pick up the pieces, and we push on together. For me, it is the honor of representing these individuals (and so many more) that I am most proud of as serving in the State Teacher of the Year capacity.

While I do not feel obligated to speak on recent developments surrounding the National Championship, there are some aspects concerning some information circulating in the news that I wish to clarify. After many news circuits picked up on the story about the 2019 Minnesota State Teacher of the Year kneeling during the National Anthem, many individuals have reached out seeking to understand a statement found within many of these publications. The statement reads to the affect that the educator who made the personal decision to kneel was doing so as the first openly LGBTQ State Teacher of the Year. While there is some merit to this (as she is the first openly LGBTQ Teacher of the Year from Minnesota), this has raised some questions among some who know that I, too, am an openly gay State Teacher of the Year. While I have no reason to believe that I am the first Louisianian to hold this title, I am proud to represent but a fragment of the incredible diversity found in our state’s educator workforce.

I am thankful to be one of the countless courageous LGBTQ educators chosen for this honor. It is my hope that my service will continue to inspire others to become positive and confident dreamers. Representation and visibility can mean the world to students in communities who may not fully understand and not yet fully embrace the incredible potential of unique individuals, but I am grateful for a community that saw the greatness in me, allowed me to foster greatness in its youth, and supported me as the 2019 Louisiana State Teacher of the Year.

#LATeacherVoice / / Cameron Beckham: “Which Family First?”



Cameron Beckham is completing his 8th year as a History and STEM educator in Bossier Schools, and is a 2018-2019 Stand for Children LEAD Fellow.

“Am I letting anything fall through the cracks?” I find this question in my mind on what must be an hourly basis. Rapidly approaching the ten-year mark in education, I still wonder if I have more to give or more that I can do to make a difference. Is there a student I can reach out to that could use more of my help? Is there a way I could improve the delivery or content of a lesson I just gave? These questions are not unique to me. Speak to any “family” of teachers within a given school and you will hear similar sentiments.


The problem that so many teachers in public education face is this: the answer is always yes. There is always a way to handle a situation differently, teach a lesson more coherently so that it is comprehended and more accessible to more students, or be the light in a student’s darkest times. A career in education is profoundly satisfying on an emotional and intellectual level; professionally, I will never have moments that make me as happy as I have been teaching, mentoring, or coaching. Whether these moments take the form of socratic seminars about economic policies in high school civics or winning an autonomous robotics competition in a middle school STEM class, they are all indelibly etched in my memory. I have been called “Dad” by more students than I will ever be able to count, and for good reason. For a decent number of them, I am one of their closest family members.

Personally, I will always be dissatisfied if I feel like I have not performed a task to my full potential. This is a conflicting emotion given that, as I mentioned, there is always something that could be improved or streamlined. It often leads me to feel that I have let students or peers down by not investing 100% into every task I perform, even if the improvements to be made are only obvious in hindsight.

“The next time that comes up, I’m not leaving anything on the table.”

Where do I draw the line in this thought process, though? While my career in education has provided me with so many professional moments of joy, it has provided me a fair bit of personal anguish. I am a father to three children and husband to a wife that reassured me I would do well in this career. Over the years, I have missed those little moments that make up childhood because of my commitments to my students; I have delayed family outings and, unfortunately, let my own family fall through the cracks so someone else’s children would not. I don’t admit this with any ease; I would, in fact, tell you that it creates a unique conflict internally for me – pride in my career against dedication to my family.

Were I a lawyer at a top firm or a trauma surgeon, everything in the previous paragraph would be standard practice. Despite having a similar amount of education, including multiple fields of certification, graduate degrees, and hundreds of hours of specialized training, I bring home a fraction of the salary a similarly-dedicated professional would make to support a household. The income I do bring home is only acceptable because I spread myself so thinly; in addition to teaching in your standard middle or high school, I coach high school soccer, sponsor multiple clubs, and serve as an Adjunct Instructor for LSU Shreveport’s education program. Each of these additions to my standard responsibilities requires a unique time commitment that pulls me further from my family. High school athletics, for example, are essentially a year-round endeavor when scheduling, strength/conditioning, and fundraising are accounted for, and my work to prepare pre-service teachers at LSU Shreveport continues  throughout the summer months.

So, which family comes first? Why do I, as so many other teachers, have to make that choice at all? The number of educators investing more time and money into their professional growth is only increasing; there are more teachers with a Masters degree, Doctoral degree, or other specialized training than any other time in recent memory. Most importantly, this is all out of a desire to do right by their students. Unfortunately, the standard pay scale for teachers, even in the most generous districts, does not reflect the work put in by the professional or the proven value that good teachers and schools bring to their communities.

Bossier Parish will soon have a chance to lead by example on this issue and show just how much we value our teachers. On May 4th, citizens have the chance to raise educator and support staff pay to levels that match not only the surrounding school districts, but also the performance they have come to value and expect from educational hubs around our parish. This is Bossier Parish’s moment to show other districts and states that are struggling over this issue how to truly value educators and the work they do in society. 

#LATeacherVoice / / Amanda Braswell: “In Education, There Is No Sideline”


Amanda Braswell, English Language Arts and Content Leader at Elm Grove Middle School, is a LEAD Fellow with Louisiana Stand For Children.

Teaching young adults, teens and tweens, is not just a career for me. It is my passion. I absolutely LOVE helping students grasp difficult skills such as writing essays and reading challenging texts, and watching my students succeed derives from hard work and dedication. I live for the moments when a student says, “I actually liked writing that essay now that I know how to do, and it’s because of you” or “I moved up FOUR reading levels in half of a year because of you.” Yes, I would love to take all of the credit, but I always reply, “No, you did it!”  Teaching was not my second or third choice as a career. I chose to be a teacher because I wanted to change lives. I am a daughter of a teacher, a sister to a teacher, a cousin to a teacher, as well as a niece to a teacher; not to mention a granddaughter to my Granny who drove a school bus for Bossier schools. I was raised and molded by educators, and I would not have it any other way.  

As a product of Bossier Schools and now a teacher in the parish (I spent my K-12th grade years in our school system), I have seen many teachers do some amazing activities with their students. Most of the time, the materials necessary were purchased out of teacher’s own pockets. I know I have spent countless amounts of my own hard-earned money to purchase books for our classroom library, so the “I can’t check out a book because I owe a fine to the library” is avoided because students can check out books from my classroom bookshelf and keep them as long as they like. Every year, at least one third of my precious novels magically disappear and never return. So, every year, I purchase more books for the next group of 100 students, so they may have the same opportunities to find a novel in which they are actually interested. And so this yearly process continues all in my vision and mission of pushing students to love reading and of course, to achieve higher reading comprehension as this is a necessary life skill for their futures.

Other than novels and books, I purchase paper, pencils, pens, jackets, school uniforms, food, spirit shirts, etc. for those in need because kids, especially by middle school, are more aware of what they have and don’t have compared to others around them; and not having everything one needs can cause students to shut down, not participate, and sadly, fail their classes. This teacher pay raise will help teachers help students more than one could imagine.

Although I am very passionate about helping my students in their paths to success, I am also very passionate about my own personal, future goals of buying a home (I’ve been renting for years now) and starting a family. I am not sure as to how I will be able to afford all of my own needs as well as continue to provide for my students whether it be books, supplies, or just a snack for someone who did not have anything to eat. Some may say, “You don’t have to do that. That’s not your job.” It is my job. My job is to care for our children and help them in any way feasible. I cannot and will not sit on the sideline and watch as students who are in need go without. I didn’t choose this career to go to work and come home early every day. Instead, I chose to walk a path that leaves a legacy of students who felt loved, accepted, and supported by their teacher.

I chose this career so I could be an active participant in the lives of thousands of children and guide them through their daily struggles, successes, problems, and emotions. (Countless amounts of emotions in middle school.)  I am here for my students in more ways than simply delivering the English curriculum and spouting out information, and my students know this because they see that I love and care about them every single day. To me, supporting the Bossier Schools salary proposition is the support I need to continue my mission to make a difference in the lives of my students.

#LATeacherVoice / / Spencer Kiper: “I’m the State Teacher of the Year, and I Live Paycheck to Paycheck”

louisianian of the year - spencer kiper

Spencer Kiper, 2019 Louisiana State Teacher of the Year and 2018-2019 Stand for Children LEAD Fellow, has been a teacher in Bossier Parish for 8 years.

There’s not a lot you can do to truly prepare you for what you will see and experience as a teacher. This fact wasn’t something I was really prepared to emotionally or situationally deal with when I went into the classroom eight years ago. In a family of educators and blue-collar workers, my family had hopes of me becoming something other than an educator. An astronaut, maybe? My grandmother had hopes of me becoming a computer engineer. However, I never chose teaching as a career. Teaching chose me.

It is impossible to prepare yourself for all of the emotions you feel as a teacher. My mind often wanders back to the moments that have defined the teacher and the person that I have become. Moments like sitting in a funeral, crying alongside a number of my students, mourning the loss of one of their classmates who lost himself in the struggle that so many of our youth find themselves in today. Moments like sitting in academic assemblies, and feeling like a proud parent when you see one of your “project” kids walk to the front of the gymnasium to receive a ribbon for A/B Honor and see that student’s face light up with pride as if he had just won a Nobel Prize. There isn’t a day that goes by that I am not reminded of the reasons why I stay after school to sponsor clubs, check on that student whose mother is sick, write that grant to bring more opportunities to my students, or write that letter of recommendation for a former student trying to make a better life for him or herself. Reasons like these are why I know what I do matters. Teachers matter. What I do matters to the students that walk through my door everyday.

These formative moments of my career are the ones that I carry with me as I head into my year as the 2019 State Teacher of the Year. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to represent my students and my school at places like Google, the White House, and even far-away places like Dubai and Abu Dhabi. It’s going to be a year of my life that will be unforgettable. As joyous as this time is, I still feel the stresses that every teacher that I know feels: am I giving my students what they need to succeed and am I working enough to pay my bills? You see, as far as I have come, I still live paycheck to paycheck. I’m not alone. Most teachers that I work with and know through my professional network are in the same boat. The lifestyle that my family and I live is fairly modest. The vehicles we drive are domestic. The home we own is below the median house value in our area. The “extras” are kept to a minimum so that we can be prepared for the small things, like hospital visits and home repairs, that may arise. In a typical year, I work as an adjunct instructor at LSU Shreveport to supplement my monthly income and to pay down some of debt I have accrued. During the summer months, I use my “vacation” time to move to Alabama and work for two months delivering professional development to other educators. All of this work is extremely rewarding, and I am beyond thankful for these opportunities, but time with my family and friends is the sacrifice I make in order to be financially stable. As I head into my year as State Teacher of Year, I must let go of these side jobs for now in order to focus on the vital work ahead of me, which means that I am now back to living paycheck to paycheck and minimum payment to minimum payment. To add to the stress, my spouse is a federal employee whose pay is now frozen until the government shutdown is resolved. Our biggest financial fear is now being realized: we are now a family living off of my teacher income alone.

In the next few months, there’s going to be a lot of discussion about the salary proposition for the teachers and support personnel in Bossier Parish. There’s going to be a lot of data that is presented on both sides, as well as valid points both for and against the proposition. As we head into the coming months, I ask that our community keep these thoughts in mind: Do we see value in the service that Bossier teachers provide to our community’s children and what are the best methods of supporting public education in our area? For me, and for the thousands of teachers and support personnel that have been instrumental in making Bossier Schools some of the most successful schools in Louisiana, taking some of the burden of trying to figure out how to gain a sense of financial stability is the first step in ensuring that our educational professionals stay focused on continuing to provide the best education possible to our area’s youth.

Engaging Students + Industry / / Announcing the 2019 NWLA STEM on Screen Film Festival

As we head into this holiday season, there’s a lot that crosses my mind as we head into next year. I’m so proud of the progress that my students have made, and the values and the drive that I have been fortunate enough to see them build upon. Spring is always the busiest time in the Elm Grove Middle School STEM Lab for a number of reasons, whether it be rocket launches, field trips, robotic competitions, or award ceremonies to honor student achievement. No matter the event, the undertone of all of these experiences remains centrally focused on one thing – the connections.

This year, our students are lending their voices to plan the 2019 Northwest Louisiana STEM on Screen Film Festival. With over 550+ students engaged over the course of two years, the film festival is one just one of the experiences that we build to help bridge the gaps that organically exist between industry and education. For the 2019 film festival, we have assembled a Student Advisory Committee to help form and shape the impact of this year’s festival. Students on the committee worked to select the theme of this year’s festival, the films we plan to include in the festival line-up, and the promotional materials to announce the 2019 festival.


Industry connections provide so much context to the content that STEM courses cover. Listening to industry needs, leveraging these connections, and putting local and regional STEM industry leaders in the front of our students directly and allowing them to explore STEM-rich themes through the lens of film is such a powerful thing to watch. We are so excited to see what this year’s festival has in store!

Student Voices & Experiences

The Student Advisory Committee is proud to announce that the 2019 Northwest Louisiana STEM on Screen Film Festival theme is “Breaking Boundaries: Becoming Part of the STEM Revolution!”

Here are some thoughts regarding past STEM on Screen experiences:

“I have a lot of fun going to STEM on Screen. The choice of movie is always connected to STEM in some ways and is really interesting to watch. The food is also amazing and the people that come and talk to us about how they got involved in STEM and how we can as well is fun. Overall STEM on Screen is a fun and amazing experience.”  – Sam

“Getting to see the movie was an awesome experience. Also the lecture, because they allowed me to realize how much STEM was actually involved in the movie.” -Chloe