Report from Louisiana: on Reading and Education

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – With the resignation of Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White, effective in March, many Louisiana educators are closely watching the process and the candidates for the post.

Personally, I shed no tears over John White’s exit. Under his tenure we have moved into Louisiana’s version of Common Core of which I have been a vocal opponent.

I am on year twenty-four right now, in my career, and plan to do one more and then leave the profession.  I have no desire to teach from a canned, scripted curriculum that assumes one size fits all in the classroom. The education profession has become something I no longer recognize; it might be better, it might not, but it’s left me behind.

As a secondary ELA teacher, it hurts my soul that my students no longer read novels. In tenth grade, only the PreAP, or honors kids, are assigned an entire novel and that is a summer reading assignment. In the classroom, my curriculum is based around two “anchor texts,” Macbeth, and then The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. We do actually read all of Macbeth but with Lacks, we only read the Prologue. We are required to read many, many scientific articles about ethics. We read a couple of short stories. We do a whole lot of graphic organizers.

So, it is my hope that the new Superintendent of Education will put an end to this nonsense and bring back actual textbooks rather than copied articles. But, it is also true that the new superintendent could double down and make this all worse.

The one thing that has made all of this bearable to me is that I am still fighting for my students. A couple of years ago I started a classroom library and in my classroom every child reads for fifteen minutes at the beginning of ever class period. Their reading is from a book of their choice and I’ve built a nice collection of both fiction and non-fiction.

My school is a high-poverty school and is Title 1. Most of my kids are not on grade level and many don’t have books at home. And you know what? The buy-in for my reading initiative has been awesome! It is pure joy to me to look out at my kids during that fifteen minutes and see every kid buried in a book, reading.  I hold them accountable only by their Friday reading response journals: every Friday each student writes a letter to me about what they’ve been reading all week. I often respond back, with a couple of sentences, and we have a sort of dialogue about their books.

Whenever a student finishes a book they’ve really enjoyed, they tell their friends and through word of mouth, interest spreads.

I now have students that have left my class and moved on come back to my room asking to check out a book. We have a school library as well, and some go there. But many of these kids now trust me to recommend a book they will like, or they know that I will order the next book in a series they’re reading. We’ve built a relationship around books. It’s pure joy!

I started out building this classroom library by going to thrift shops and pillaging every Little Free Library near me. I went to garage sales and estate sales. I ordered a lot of books with my own money, I wrote a grant and a local television station gave me money to buy books. I used my own blog and social media accounts to beg for donations and I set up an Amazon Wish List. Books flooded in. I was amazed! People I didn’t even know were sending me books. Many came from readers of this blog!  I still have my Amazon Wish List and I currently have a Donor’s Choose project running to add current titles to my shelves that kids have been asking for.

When I retire I’ve promised to donate my library to two other teachers in my department.

I will be closely watching the search for our next Superintendent of Education. It is my sincere hope that he/she also believes in independent reading, student choice, and teacher autonomy. Teachers know their students and know what they need. And what we don’t need is a one size fits all scripted curriculum implemented with an iron fist.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

The Brady Jimmy G Debate is Over 3 Strikes and You’re Out!

For three years on Boston Sports Radio we have heard caller after caller excoriate the Patriots for keeping Tom Brady while Trading Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers.

We were told this despite two trips to the Superbowl and a single defensive stop from it being two rather than just one Superbowl win.

Well this year Tom Brady ended his streak of three straight superbowl appearances unless you count the following ad.

and Jimmy G and the 49ers were taking on Patrick Mahomes who Brady had beaten the previous year in Kansas City to advance to the Superbowl.

The game was pretty even until the 3rd quarter when the 49ers took a 20-10 lead and when Patrick Mahomes threw an interception with 12:05 seconds to go Jimmy G was given a golden opportunity.

With a two score lead in the bank all he had to do is lead a team whose strength is primarily the run down the field and eat up time and when on the 1st play of the drive the 49ers ran for six yards it looked like this would be the case and a short pass later, with 11:18 to go it looked like the game was over.

Alas after a one yard run on 1st down Jimmy G was given two changes to get the 1st down for the 49ers. He failed forced out of bounds on a three yard scramble and then throwing incomplete forcing a punt with Nine minutes and one second to go, only managing to eat three minutes.

Strike One.

That was more time than it took Patrick Mahomes to drive down the field and score a touchdown for Kansas city making it 20-17 with 6:17 to go

But even so it was not a problem. Jimmy G had the lead and the ball with 6:17 to go. He was in the same spot as he had been five minutes earlier. All he had to do was get a few 1st downs and Kansas city would not be able to stop him from winning the game.

he had a two score lead so no matter what happened he would have another chance to put it away and when the 49ers ran for five yards on 1st down it looked like once again they would be in great shape to finish the chiefs off.

However instead the ball was entrusted to Jimmy G who managed to throw two incomplete passes giving the ball back to the Chiefs having run less than a minute off the clock.

Strike Two.

Now Patrick Mahomes had the ball and five minutes and eighteen seconds to take the lead and he did so with a five yard pass to finish a seven play 65 yard drive whose only fault was leaving two minutes and sixty seconds for the 49ers to come back from a 24-20 deficit.

Now here was Jimmy G’s chance to be Tom Brady. He had 2:50 seconds on the clock and three time outs. If he could drive the team down for a touchdown his two previous failures would be completely forgotten and he would get the win and his 3rd Superbowl ring only this time it would not be a gift from the greatest quarterback who had ever lived.

He started well driving to the 49 Yard line of Kansas City with a 1st and ten with 1:56 to go and four chances to pass his way into football immortality or at least four chances to advance ten yards and keep moving. The Result?

  1. Incomplete
  2. Incomplete
  3. Incomplete
  4. sack

To add insult to injury Kansas city only needed two running plays to turn their 4 point lead into an 11 point one and the ball once again was in Jimmy G’s hands to try and pull off a miracle, the result?

  1. Incomplete
  2. Interception

Jimmy G was 0-5 with one sack and one interception in his last 5 pass attempts furthermore with the game on the line during three 4th quarter drives he was a combined 3-9 for 36 yards and one sack. 3-11 with a sack and an interception if you count the forlorn hope.

Now I ask each one of you who has been calling WEEI or the Sports Hub or any other radio station for the last three years one simple question.

Do any of you seriously believe that if Tom Brady had been at Quarterback on those three drives that he would have failed to come through at least once?

Lets ask the chiefs

3 3rd and 10’s three first downs against this same Kansas City team only one year removed from the Superbowl win.

Or how about one more example. With a lead in hand last year and a chance to ice the game in last year’s Superbowl

Now don’t get me wrong. Jimmy G is a good quarterback and it would not surprise me to see him once again with a chance to win a Superbowl.

But can we finally stop hearing Patriots fans cry over the Patriots trading away Jimmy G and insisting that the Patriots would have done at least as good or better?