Erika Leonards: Teaching what was once her least favorite subject – math

Published 8:12 am Thursday, February 10, 2022

Erika Leonards, a ninth grade teacher at Lake Charles College Prep, spends her days teaching what was once her least favorite subject – math. A graduate of Louisiana State University with her bachelor’s and McNeese State University with her master’s, she didn’t initially set out to become a teacher.

Leonards’ early career included working for the LSU Ag Center and in recruiting at McNeese and Sowela. It was the recruiting experience that opened her eyes to her true path as a teacher, she said.

“I was seeing a trend of students that wanted to go to college but weren’t making the grades. I was like, ‘There’s obviously these kids who want to better themselves that are falling through the cracks.’ And it took on a world of its own.”

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The ninth grade academy algebra one teacher is determined to use her past experience in school to give her students a different outlook.

“School was never easy for me. In fact, I hated math. I loathed it with the most passion you can imagine. So, it’s funny that I came back to teach it,” she said. “But I understand the struggle. It takes me back and changes the way I think about things and the way I portray that information to my students. At the end of the day I want them to know their best is all I’m asking for. ‘A’ or ‘C’, if that’s their best effort then we can work with that.”

This is Leonards’ 13th year in the classroom but her first year teaching high school having taught only elementary school prior to this year.

“I feel so at home right now. I’ve re-learned to love it this year,” she said.

Teaching high school is especially rewarding because of the necessity of relationships, she said. “They can only connect to you if they like you. I mean, it’s really like that with anybody. So I get to cultivate that and get them to understand I’m truly there for them.”

In addition to her mother and her grandmother who taught her to always strive for what she wanted in life, Leonards credited her former principal from Iota Elementary School, Shawn LeJeune, and leaders at LCCP as great professional mentors. “I can’t say enough good things about the school I’m at. Christen Waldrop, LJ Thierry and Mrs. Shanice Williams–they give us the autonomy to run our classroom as we see fit as long as we’re abiding by their structure,” she said.

“I’ve never been anywhere in all my years and had the support like I have here. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced.”

When Leonards is not teaching, she enjoys spending time with her husband and children and visiting her extended family in Iota on the weekends.