Written by Lydia DuBois, AmeriCorps Member serving on the Capital Area United Way team at Capitol Middle School

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! While we’re busy handing out various appreciations to teachers this week, I thought I’d sit down with a few members of our team and a few partner teachers to discuss past favorite teachers, reflections, and advice for the future. Effective teachers nurture motivated students, and if we’re lucky, these pupils go on to become teachers themselves.


Rachel Jackson
6th and 7th Grade English Language Arts
Years Spent Teaching: 1

Who was your favorite teacher growing up?

Mr. Donn, my 10th grade English teacher. He was the first teacher who gave us methods on how to write; his class was where I became a good writer. He introduced us to interesting literature, which is always the sign of a good teacher. He had a really cool classroom- the chairs were set up in a circle and he sat in the middle. 

What makes an effective teacher?

A lot of attention to detail. And patience. 

If you could repeat this year, what is one thing you’d do differently? 

I would give students procedures for everything regarding how they move around the classroom. 

Things you learned from this year?

I learned that I’m not naturally good at everything; that to have things work in a classroom, you need to write them out first; that I could work hard. 

Advice for a first-year teacher?

Procedures, procedures, procedures. Sometimes the only way to get a grasp on things (such as procedures for moving around the classroom: walk in, get a pencil, sit down, raise your hand, etc.) is to learn them firsthand. 

Lydia DuBois
6th/7th Grade English Language Arts with Ms. Jackson
AmeriCorps Member

Who was your favorite teacher growing up?

Mr. Guralnick, 11th grade English. He proves that a teacher can motivate students through mutual respect. Students performed well not solely for the grade, but to prove to him that they could work hard. He had high expectations and strict rules that everyone learned to live by. He also had a day-by-day syllabus: every single day of the year was planned out before the school year started. He also had an excellent method for teaching us how to write essays.

What makes an effective teacher?

High expectations of students and the ability to take risks in giving students material they may not understand. Also consistency, even if it is with something small, like a classroom rule. 

If you could repeat this year, what is one thing you’d do differently?

So many things. I’ve learned so much this year about methods I could and should have used. But number one on my mind is developing more of a partnership between my Focus List students and their parents/guardians. That would keep us all more accountable. 

If you could repeat this year, what is one thing you’d keep the same?

My perspective. I don’t think I’ve lost it too much.  

One thing you admire about Ms. Jackson?

Her ability to power through a lesson even at the end of the day. Her ability to forgive. 

Advice for a first-year City Year?

Set rules for yourself that you will follow no matter what. Your job is as serious as you make it. Have a mission. Be consistent in three things: showing up, showing love, and a third rule that is totally your own. Track your progress. Save student work. Take pictures. 

Juan Porter
6th Grade Math
Years Spent Teaching: 4

Who was your favorite teacher growing up and why?

Ms. Monogan, she taught English 2 and English 4. She was my favorite teacher because she was the first person to teach me how to write an essay. She was also the first person to walk into the classroom to say, “I do not like athletes. So you must do the work to pass my class.” She pushed me to do my best and work hard in her class. We did end up winning the state championship, and we also passed her class with no less than a B. 

What makes an effective teacher?

To me the goal of teaching is to convey the information to students in a way that allows them to in turn use that same information to make life decisions and applications. An effective teacher is one that is able to teach the lesson in a way that is applicable to life. It is shown in the growth of students through test scores and students’ life decisions. The lessons must be engaging, up to date, and practical. That’s what teachers are often missing. Making their lessons practical. It must be something that allows students to use in their career.

What is something you try to keep consistent each year? 

Each year I try to get students to get an attitude of winning: whether it be in sports, the classroom, everyday life. The goal is to be successful at doing good things. 

Something you’d do differently if you could repeat your year?

I would use more differentiation and get more support teachers involved. I would not use the cookie cutter approach to say that everyone’s education is at the same level. My goal would be to bridge the gaps between students’ elementary school education to what we expect from them in the sixth grade. Meet them at their level, and build them up. 

Something you admire about Ms. Ransome?

She has this ability to create empathy with the students to the point where she is able to talk to them on their level, explain to them mathematical concepts that they can understand, and then bring them to the level at which they are supposed to be. 

Advice for a first-year teacher?

Create a good lesson plan. Stick to the lesson plan, but do not be afraid to make mid-course corrections. 

Anything else you’ve learned from teaching?

The first year, many teachers take it personally. Teachers should not take it personal when students do not act the way students should act. First-year teachers should realize that they are often helping someone grow who does not want to grow up. You should always keep your expectations high, and students will eventually come to meet them. 

Nayyir Ransome  
6th Grade Math with Mr. Porter
AmeriCorps Member

Who was your favorite teacher growing up?

I don’t know if I had a favorite teacher while I was in their class. But after the fact, Ms. Weathers, 5th grade math. I hated her class. She would do daily timed multiplication quizzes and I was bad at them. I’d get embarrassed. Ms. Weathers did a lot for the school and the students, like organizing the black history program. She cared about our success. She kept high expectations. She told us never to sell ourselves short. She made sure we kept high expectations of ourselves. 

What do you think makes an effective teacher? 

High expectations and empathy. 

What do you admire about Mr. Porter? 

He cares about students’ personal and emotional development. He isn’t afraid to stop the class lecture and talk about something emotional. He also isn’t afraid to be himself. Students who had him in past years still approach him because they appreciate him as a teacher and a person.  

One aspect of Mr. Porter’s teaching style you’d take with you if you were a teacher?

Don’t take yourself too seriously. 

If you could repeat this year, what is one thing you’d keep the same?

I’d continue to build relationships with students. Things you think are small could mean a world of difference to a kid. 

Advice for a first-year City Year?

Don’t expect to do anything “right.” It’s a steep learning curve. Be gentle with yourself. 

Debra Guay
8th Grade English Language Arts
Years Spent Teaching: 40 

Who was your favorite teacher growing up?

Ms. Gauthier, my 7th grade social studies teacher. She was so interesting. She told us side stories when she taught history. You could hear a pin drop; everyone always paid attention. She taught me how to love history. Even though I don’t teach it, I’ve been a lifelong history person. 

What makes an effective teacher?

You have to have love in your heart for the students and you have to have compassion. But you also need to be able to help them improve their skills. 

One thing you try to keep consistent each year?

I feel like I prepare my students to take the 8th grade LEAP test. I do a lot of test prep; I start in August. It’s probably not the most interesting, but I feel responsible to prepare them them for the difficult things. They need to be prepared for their academic lives.

One thing you’d do differently?

I’d  introduce more reading activities for fun.

One thing you admire about Ms. Sierra?

Her calm influence and her devotion to the students.

Advice you have for a first-year teacher?

Be as strict as you can and stick to your rules and always remember: they’re just children. 

What keeps you teaching?

I love young people. This age group was always my favorite. Getting rest helps. I always rest and then I’m ready to come back. I’ve met a former student who has become a lawyer, one who became an administrator, and 5 who have become teachers in this school system. It is rewarding to see productivity from my former students. 

Sierra Wills
8th Grade English Language Arts with Mrs. Guay
AmeriCorps Member

Who was your favorite teacher growing up and why?

Ms. Kilty, 5th grade. She was also my Chinese club teacher. She made school feel like it wasn’t a chore. It was always interesting. 

What did her classroom look like?

There was a coat closet that wrapped around the whole side of the classroom. There was a homework checker for when you first walked in. The class was very organized and structured but not in an overly sanitary type of way. It was a warm environment. 

What makes an effective teacher?

Reliability. Willingness to meet every student at a level that works for them. 

Something you admire about Ms. Guay?

Her willingness to give every student an opportunity to make better choices. She doesn’t automatically jump, like “get out of my room.” She makes sure students have options. 

If you could repeat this year, what is one thing you’d keep the same?

Building relationships with my students. It’s important to have a good foundation. 

If you could repeat this year, what is one thing you’d do differently? Have a life outside of City Year. 

One aspect of Ms. Guay’s teaching style you’d take with you if you were a teacher? Having different stations: computer, reading, worksheets; separating the day into those different stations. That works for our bigger classes. 

Advice for a first year City Year?

So many different pieces of advice… Hm. Sometimes it’s better to keep your opinion to yourself. Life can sometimes be easier if you do not voice every opinion.

Any other things you’ve learned?

Social emotional well being is often as important as academia. 

Lacy Honore
6th Grade English Language Arts
Years Spent Teaching: 40+

Who was your favorite teacher growing up and why?

Mildred West. She taught me English in high school. She was patient, understanding, worked well, never ridiculed, and always took the time to explain until you got it. 

What makes an effective teacher?

One who can listen and work well with kids, and can understand why they’re the way they are.  

One thing you try to keep consistent each year? 

Continue to demand the best from the students. 

One thing you’d do differently next year?

Try to get to know the children better at the beginning. 

What is one thing you admire about Ms. Brooke?

Her willingness to work with the children even when they’re disagreeable with her. 

Advice for a first year teacher?

Be patient, try to get to know the students, be stern, but fair. Know that tomorrow will be better than the day before. The more you work with them, the better you’ll get to understand them and the better they’ll understand you. 

What keeps you teaching? 

My love for children and my desire to help them be the best they can be. 

Brooke Duncan
6th Grade English Language Arts with Mrs. Honore
AmeriCorps Member

Who was your favorite teacher growing up and why?

I have so many who stand out to me. My 12th grade College English teacher, Ms. Bedell. College English was a crazy class; it was a college class while we were still seniors. She helped us grow. She would give us perfect motivation. On my birthday, she told me take something to the office. When I came back, the class had decorated my desk. She was a part of it. She is a very strong woman. I’m still in touch with her today. Also Ms. Richardson- my 9th grade geography and 11th grade AP US history teacher. She was the person who gave me the nickname “B. Duncan.” I still talk to her too. I remember when she had her daughter- I was a freshman. And to see her daughter now, I have seen her grow up. It’s been beautiful. She made me really love history. 

What makes an effective teacher? 

A personal relationship. Being able to make a relationship with your students. Understand that you have these students for a year, but it could be the best year of your life and the best year of their lives. Be there for them in a personal kind of way. The teachers I still talk to - we have a bond. 

Something you admire about Mrs. Honore?

Her wisdom. She has been in the teaching game forever, and she has a lot of wisdom about life, and I always respect my elders. She reminds me of my Granny, and I would just sit and listen to my Granny talk. Sometimes in class, Mrs. Honore tries to tell her kids about her own life, and I can understand where she’s coming from. 

One aspect of Mrs. Honore’s teaching style you’d take with you if you were a teacher? 

I’d share my life’s wisdom. 

If you could repeat this year, what is one thing you’d keep the same?

Keep doing service events- they give you a different perspective of City Year and of Baton Rouge. 

Advice for a first year City Year?

Make the most of everything. Get outside of your box. 

Things you’ve learned this year?

Inclusivity is important. 

Throughout the year, personalities meld together; it is difficult to imagine Capitol’s AmeriCorps Members and teachers in any other partnership combinations. We’re so grateful to our teachers, who bare the responsibility and weight of running the entire classroom, for allowing us to leave our mark and to integrate ourselves into their communities. Through these AmeriCorps Member-teacher partnerships we’ve created dynamic duos, we’ve received hands-on experience, and we’ve weaved through trial-and-error to learn a lot about teaching. 

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