‘Mothering’ to excellence

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 4, 2001

NATCHEZ – Joyce Arceneaux says as a teacher she does a great deal of &uot;mothering.&uot;

To teach, students need to know that you genuinely care for them while you as the teacher remain in charge, she said.

&uot;It’s going to take awhile to win them over, but once you win them over and get that trust factor going, your job is 90 percent done,&uot; she said.

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With 31 years of educational experience, Arceneaux was selected as this year’s teacher of the year for the Natchez-Adams School District.

The Natchez High School choir and music teacher was selected for the honor out a group of teachers, one selected from each of the district’s schools.

She will now advance to the state level competition.

Arceneaux, a Natchez native and graduate of Thompson School, also serves as an alderwoman for the City of Natchez and is a former president of the Mississippi Association of Educators.

She also was recently named one of five finalists for a national award from the National Education Association’s Foundation Award for Teaching Excellence, all of whom where also awarded the Horace Mann-NEA Foundation Award for Teaching Excellence.

She travels to Washington D.C. today to attend the NEA Foundation’s Seventh Annual Salute to Excellence in Education Gala for the naming of the national winner.

But with all the credits to her name, Arceneaux cannot help but reflect on her &uot;tremendous teaching background.&uot;

With her mother and other close family members in education, teaching seemed a familiar step to her for a woman going to school in the 1960s, she said.

She also attributes her love of music to an early age having started piano lessons at the age of five.

&uot;So going into education and music just came natural,&uot; she said.

With a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in music education, Arceneaux now leads an award-winning choir at Natchez High School, in addition to teaching three keyboarding classes and a music appreciation class.

Arceneaux said she primarily teaches classical music because that training can open doors to all types of music.

&uot;If you get your foundation in the classics then you can sing anything,&uot; she said.

Currently 57 students participate in her high school choir full time with about 20 participating on a part-time basis. Arceneaux said the music department is also trying to expand the program on the middle school level.

Students who learn to sing gain a talent they can use when their days of playing sports are behind them, Arceneaux said.

&uot;You can sing or participate in music in some form or fashion when everything else is gone,&uot; she said.

And choir students also learn about self-presentation and how to carry themselves during job interviews or public speaking.

&uot;We talk about how you walk out on stage,&uot; Arceneaux said. &uot;We talk about what an audience sees when they see you.&uot;

The choir also focuses on teamwork and family, she said.

&uot;You can’t sing with people you (don’t) like,&uot; she said.

After all her years in education, Arceneaux is not sure when she will retire.

&uot;My litmus test is when I stop having fun. Then I’m probably going to go home,&uot; she said.

But no matter what she decides, Arceneaux knows she will stay in touch with many of her students and she knows she has built life-lasting relationships.

&uot;When you win a child, you’ve got a child for life,&uot; she said.