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Gwen Fontenette: The Head of the Class

I’m happy to say that Gwen Fontenet is a friend of the family. She has a southern charm about her that you just know makes her a great teacher.

The good thing about Gwen as a teacher that impresses me is that she was in college with a clear career goal as a Physical Therapy major. After completing her general studies portion of school, Gwen started teaching as a substitute and simply fell in love with teaching. She changed her career focus, earned her teaching credentials and the rest is history. Now that sounds to me like someone who should be in front of a classroom.

Gwen studied at Nicholls State in Louisiana and completed her education at Southern. She married her college sweetheart and has been married for 15 years with one son.

Gwen has now been teaching for 16 years. “I originally taught kindergarten and special needs classes but, since migrating from New Orleans to Houston in 2010, I’ve been a 3rd grade teacher. “

I love working with kids too. You must find it pretty fun, huh?

GWEN: I really love working with kids at that age. The learning possibilities are endless because they are wide open to adopt and adapt to whatever is presented to them. You are an inadvertent role model because they are watching you. The best thing is they take your encouragement and your “you can do its” to heart. I help them believe in themselves and they take that self-confidence forward as they grow up.” “I also enjoy interacting with and involving parents in the overall experience for my students. I try to create the atmosphere that we have two-way communication regarding all things education. We meet up at the start of the school year but I also keep an open door policy for all my students’ parents.

Well, speaking of parenting, how does your son like having a teacher for a mom? I'm asking because my mom was a teacher for a time, so the bar was automatically set pretty high me and my two brothers..

GWEN: (Laughs) Oh, he doesn’t like it. I always have extra work for him to do. Even over summer break, he’s got studying to do every day before he can go out and play or do his own thing. I mean, how would that look, my being a teacher and my own son is not making the grades he should?

OK, a question in a different direction, if that’s cool. Not that I want to get all racial in this interview but.. being a black woman, what’s your approach for curriculum during Black History Month? I mean, there is a tendency in public schools to rehash the same notable Blacks every year… George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, Harriet Tubman, MLK, etc.

GWEN: In my class, I mix in achievements of African Americans along with other notable people in any subject we cover year-round. I mean, if we discuss great inventors we will talk about inventors from all backgrounds; not just black ones and white ones. The images we have posted around the room are of all nationalities, male and female, so the kids don’t know any difference about the effort toward inclusion. So we don’t wait until Black History Month to talk about contributions from Black culture. Or any culture.

What do you see for yourself going forward? Are you happy with being in the classroom or do you have your eye on a ‘next move’?

GWEN: Well I really, really love what I do. I guess ultimately I would love to do training for teachers. Since I’ve worked within the special needs environment I’d love the chance to train other teachers to work with special needs students. Some teachers, though they're great teachers in general, are a little gun shy of bringing special needs kids into a standard classroom environment. They may not be comfortable maintaining their regular class flow and incorporating this new requirement into their daily routine. I’d like to focus training on integrating special needs students into a standard classroom. Having had experience in both types of classrooms, I think I’d bring a unique set of real-time skills to the table that other teachers can benefit from.

I must say that, in my opinion, an attitude like Gwen’s belongs in the classroom helping to mold young minds for what lies ahead. Whatever path she choses, she will rise to the top. Gwen is a genuine, organic positive influence.

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