Jennifer Saldana was always a strong language arts student, but she admits when it came to math, she had her struggles growing up.
When she decided to pursue a future in education, Saldana learned she was far more passionate about teaching than she realized. And when the now-Luling Elementary teacher began her career, she came to truly believe in not only the role of a teacher itself, but also in the curriculum itself.
“As I continued teaching, I learned that I really didn’t know all that much,” Saldana said. “The way we’re teaching kids now isn’t the way I was taught, and I think that had a lot to do with why I struggled in certain areas (like math) in school.
“I don’t remember when it clicked, but there was a moment where I decided, ‘I’m going to do this, give it my all, teach this way and really make sure these kids have a strong foundation in the subject matter.”
“You have to have a conceptual understanding, why the numbers work the way they do … not just procedure, but the whole of it,” Saldana said. “Because when you get older there is that procedural part of it. Without conceptual understanding, there’s kind of a missing link, and I want to make sure that doesn’t get broken with the young ones.”
Saldana has taught at Luling for 17 years, and as she prepares to enter year 18, she says she’s as energized as ever to return to her third-grade classroom, where she teaches all subjects.
One reason is the feeling of family she has when with her students or speaking with their parents – or even former students and their families.
“St. Charles Parish is such a close-knit community, so when I see or hear about the kids through their family members and I hear what they’ve gone on to do … just this past week I heard of two former students going into the military. It makes me so proud,” Saldana said. “When I hear other kids come up to me and say, ‘I remember we did this in your class,’ that completely warms my heart.”
The past year was a challenge, she admits. As her teaching methods include plenty of group activities and collaborations, the distancing and separation was taxing. Even so, she said she knew it was for the best.
“The district was wonderful with guiding us … everything we did was worth it. Ultimately it allowed us to get back into the classroom,” Saldana said. “I’d read a book to them aloud, and it was difficult with the mask on, and having the kids spread out in the room I had to try to make sure they could hear it. But I told myself, it’s worth it … this could be through a computer screen.”
Working with younger children is particularly fun for her, she said, because she gets to see and be a part of so many first-time experiences.
“They’re like little sponges. They’re still at that stage where they absorb everything … for a lot of them, they’re getting their first experience with chapter books. You tell them ‘You just read your first chapter book,’ and they can’t believe it. There’s a lot of first experiences in the third grade.”
A Luling resident for 15 years with a son on his way to Hahnville High for the coming year, Saldana said she’s in no hurry to step away from her passion.
“I’d love to keep doing what I’ve been doing for the last 17 years until I retire,” she said. “I definitely see myself doing this for the rest of my life.”
Saldana will also receive a $25 gift card from Birdies.