As Theresial Chatman prepares for her 11th year of teaching – and her 5th at New Sarpy Elementary School – she said it’s interesting to look back at what her led her to her beloved profession.
“I went to school trying to be anything but a teacher,” the Nicholls University alumna said laughing. “It’s funny … I knew I loved helping people and I loved kids, but I didn’t want to teach. I was looking into things, but everything I was trying to do at Nicholls I wasn’t interested in.”
She said it was when her friend Ciara Scott – who is now also a SCPPS teacher – suggested she try education that she finally relented and gave it a shot.
“We both went to high school together,” Chatman said of Scott. “She said, ‘You like kids just like I like kids, why don’t you try education? If you don’t like it, you can change your major.’”
Changing her major was something she was used to anyway, Chatman said chuckling, so she gave it a try.
Once she started the program, she was hooked.
“I remember thinking, ‘Ok God, this is my calling … this is what you want me to do,’” she said. “After I got into it I just excelled. With the other majors I tried I was just struggling and not doing well with it even though I was a really good student. I just flourished in education … I knew it was something I needed to do.”
Right out of college Chatman began teaching in Terrebonne Parish Schools, a decision she made to stay close to home. After five years there, she switched to St. Charles Parish Public Schools.
“I would talk to different people who ventured out here and they told me it was great but difficult,” she said. “It really made me grow as a teacher … it honestly made me a better teacher. It was a lot of self-reflective time and I had to shift my mindset on some things, but I’m better for it. I’ve grown a lot since I’ve been here.”
New Sarpy Principal Rebecca Matherne said Chatman is an exceptional leader of her kindergarten team and also a member of the school leadership team.
“She is our 2020 teacher of the year nominated and selected by her peers … always maintaining a focus on students first” Matherne said of Chatman. “She supports our school’s work to ensure academic success and social/emotional development through her positive impact every day.”
The leadership portion of her career wasn’t something she necessarily pursued, Chatman said, but that it came naturally from being the oldest of five children and then later through obtaining her master’s degree.
Chatman’s favorite part of the school year was something she didn’t get to experience this year due to maternity leave, but she said she’s excited for a new school year.
“I love end of the year with my students,” she said. “They change and they progress so much … they have their own little personalities then. The students who came in who were shy and maybe had a hard time being away from mom and dad are so happy and confident. I love to see how they’ve changed and how their personality has grown, and when they leave me I feel so accomplished because I know I helped them to develop.”
She said her students’ progress and growth always surprises her.
“It’s an amazing thing to see, because they’re babies when they first start,” Chatman said, adding that she has to get used to be called “momma” a lot in the beginning of the school year. “But it’s fine … it’s because they trust you and you have that relationship with them. Even when you’re challenging them, they think, ‘Well, my teachers there to help me.’ That’s what I hope to instill in them … to teach them to move through challenges all throughout their life. It’s an amazing feeling to help a child grow and become confident in themselves.”