Best part of teaching for Jill LeBato is ‘helping her students flourish’

Published 5:00 am Friday, February 9, 2024

By Emily Burleigh

Jill LeBato, 58, finally got to return to her “home” this school year: fifth grade.

She has 30 years of education experience under her belt. She taught fifth grade at Vincent Settlement Elementary for most of those years. She has held teaching positions in grades first through fifth, but fifth grade holds a special place in her heart, she said.

At this grade level, she has the opportunity to form bonds with students at a transitional point in their lives.

“Fifth grade is a wonderful grade to teach because they are young adults, but they still want to do well for those teaching them. It is all about establishing respect in both directions.”

In 2017, she retired from the Calcasieu Parish School Board, but a year later she accepted a position at Our Lady’s School (OLS) in Sulphur. Early on in her career, LeBato knew she wanted to retire from the public system and move to the private sector.

“I feel like I still have a lot to offer my students. I do appreciate all the professional development I have had throughout the years to better accommodate my students.”

She chose OLS because she believes “it is a beautiful process to thread Christianity in particular Catholicism throughout the day to the education of our students.”

After retiring from CPSB in 2017, she joined OLS’ administration staff.

“I wanted to be in the classroom, but Our Lady’s School had a need for an administrative assistant. I did that for two years, then COVID-19 and the hurricanes hit Our Lady’s School hard.”

After one year off, she returned in the spring of 2023. In the fall, a space opened up for her to teach again.

Teaching runs in the family. Her father, Maurice Mueschke, was a high school basketball coach and eventual CPSB associate superintendent. Her husband of 38 years, Clint LeBato, who is retired, worked as the boys’ basketball coach at Sulphur High School. This tradition was carried down to their oldest son, Matt LeBato, who is an assistant boys’ basketball coach at Sulphur High.

LeBato was spiritually called to education when she was young.

“I knew I wanted to be a teacher from a very early age. I feel like it was a calling from God. I love learning and teaching.”

She graduated from Vinton High School and earned her bachelor’s and master’s plus-30 from McNeese State University. She also has a certification in supervision.

In her role, she teaches all subjects, but she has a soft spot for math. It is a life-long skill that is solidified in the fifth grade, she said. The core principles they learn, like algebra, are the ones that will be used in middle school, high school, college and beyond.

She also appreciates the subject for its structure.

“In my opinion, math is a precise curriculum. There is immediate feedback to understanding the objective. If the feedback isn’t positive, then reteaching can happen immediately.”

LeBato is also the Math Club sponsor for third, fourth and fifth grades.

The best part of her job is helping her students flourish into productive and established people.

“I love being apart and witnessing first-hand the students growing intellectually, emotionally, and physically. I think it is important to teach students to be good citizens and how to be successful in society and that can’t happen by itself. We have to have good teachers in place for that to happen.”

She said education is an important component of ensuring a community thrives, as it creates thinkers and workers that are disciplined.”

LeBato has three tips for new and established teachers: learn the curriculum front to back, find a mentor and learn everything that you can, and “don’t give up.”

“It is hard in the beginning, but things will get better with more experience.”