Recent McNeese State University graduates Demi Boudreaux, Katelyn Bihm and Makenna Sanders are celebrating being chosen New Teachers of the Year in Calcasieu and Allen Parishes.
The State of Louisiana recognizes amazing educators who demonstrate excellence in their first year in the classroom with the New Teacher of the Year award.
“I love that I can give my students the best possible learning experience in the classroom because of the historical knowledge that I learned at McNeese,” Boudreaux said. Boudreaux, a history education graduate, is the Calcasieu Parish New Middle School Teacher of the Year. She teaches Louisiana history to eighth graders at Moss Bluff Middle School.
Bihm, a general studies graduate, is the Calcasieu Parish New Elementary Teacher of the Year. She teaches first grade at College Oaks Elementary School.
“I want my students to feel the same freedom as I did when I learned that you don’t have to be the smartest kid in the room to LOVE learning,” Bihm said.
“This award was a shock to me,” Sanders said. “There were days when I felt like I was failing, but just kept swimming because no matter how hard the day is my kids deserve my very best.” Sanders, an elementary education graduate, is the Allen Parish New Elementary Teacher of the Year. She teaches first grade at Kinder Elementary School.
A high school teacher inspired Boudreaux’s love of history that led her to become a teacher. She chose McNeese because it was close to home, and she felt welcome and supported while attending. Professors in both the Burton College of Education and the history department helped hone her skills as a teacher. She cited one of her teachers—Dr. John Keeling, a history professor, who teaches his classes in a dynamic way that keeps the students’ attention.
“I related a lot to his classes because he loved the Cajuns. I have Cajun blood, so it was very interesting to hear about those who came before me,” she said. “It’s the exact same material I am teaching.”
Bihm says teaching chose her. She was never an all-A honor roll student and was causing issues in her elementary classrooms as she struggled to keep up. Bihm wants to help children who have the same struggles so she became the teacher she needed but never had. The professors and advisers at McNeese helped her find the pathway to becoming that teacher.
“I learned that if at first you don’t succeed then you have to figure out what to do to come out on the other side.” Bihm exclaimed. “McNeese taught me perseverance, grit and tenacity and prepared me for challenges in my career.”
Education runs in Sanders’ family. Her mom and aunt, both McNeese graduates and educators, encouraged her to try education when another major did not work out. Once she started in the college of education, she felt at home. Several professors helped and encouraged Sanders, but Dr. Fara Seal stands out.
“Dr. Seal guided me through my student residency during my last year at McNeese. It was a difficult year for me in school and in my personal life. She gave tons of grace, support and encouragement through it all,” Sanders explains. “She never gave up on me, pushed me and redirected me when my focus would fall. She truly made a difference in my years at McNeese.”
McNeese offers close interaction with faculty members and student teaching opportunities to help students develop a lifelong love of learning and the skills, experience and knowledge to pursue teaching careers. Local, state and national demand for teachers remains high and, with initial teacher certification, education majors from McNeese graduate with a valuable degree.
Sanders says the class sizes, the extracurricular activities and the people at McNeese create a fun, inclusive environment. She added students should not be afraid to speak up in class, ask for help and talk to professors.
“McNeese gave me a group of friends and mentors that I can always count on.” Sanders said. “I found people who pick me up when things are down and gave me the skills I need to be successful in my profession.”
Bihm says there were times she thought that getting her degree was just not going to happen but she was pushed through tough times.
“A degree is more than just a piece of paper,” Bihm said. “It is proof that you made a commitment and sacrifice to achieve your goals.”