Education wasn’t the first career choice for West Thibodaux Middle School teacher Trinette Wallace, a finalist for the 2021 Louisiana Teacher of the Year award.
“My mom actually was an [school] administrator and teacher for 33 years…I saw how tired my mom was every day. I said, ‘Okay, I don’t want to do this,’” she recalled. “…I ran from it, to be honest.”
However, fate led her to start substitute teaching 13 years ago, and her feelings toward the profession quickly changed. “It came naturally,” Wallace remembered.
A native of Paincourtville, Wallace moved to the area after marrying her husband Brooks Wallace, a native of Thibodaux. “My husband is one of my biggest supporters,” Wallace shared. “I don’t think I would be able to devote so much time to my profession if it wasn’t for him.”
After spending some time teaching in the Terrebonne Parish School District, Wallace was offered a position at West Thibodaux, which she said she couldn’t pass up. “I had just had a baby and it just seemed ideal,” she recalled. “West Thibodaux was actually maybe around the corner from where I was living at the time.”
Now going on her eighth year at the school, Wallace shared what her students mean to her: “My students make me feel needed, wanted, special and essential.”
The educator said the feeling of helping children and the excitement of being in the classroom are some of her favorite things about teaching. “I’m very animated as a teacher. As a teacher, I can be myself but also be what those children need at that particular time — if they need a hug or if they need laughter.”
Wallace, who educates sixth-graders, added that she also prays for her students and learned that when someone helps others, that person’s blessings come as well.
Being a Teacher of the Year finalist creates a lengthy process that includes interviews, videos and papers, Wallace explained. In January, she found out she was the Lafourche Parish Middle School Teacher of the Year, she said, and then learned she was a semifinalist for the state award In May.
On July 10, the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) announced the finalists for the 2021 Teacher and Principal of the Year awards. “These 18 educators represent the very best in Louisiana and are all deserving of our state’s top honor for teachers,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley. “We’re in uncharted waters in education, but one thing that remains constant is the life-changing impact a high-quality teacher has on a child.”
“I’m still in disbelief,” Wallace said. “I think many teachers don’t get the recognition that they need, especially from schools where I work. You rarely see teachers from Title 1 schools get such a recognition. And I think I may be the first teacher in Lafourche Parish from a Title 1 school to get this far.”
Wallace continued: “It means a lot to my students — just to see their teacher get this honor.”
At the 14th Annual Cecil J. Picard Educator Excellence Awards Gala, which will be held virtually this year, all the finalists and semi-finalists will be honored, and the winners will be announced.
The social studies teacher isn’t the only one in her family to gain noteworthy accomplishments in education. Her sister, Dr. Latatia Landry Johnson, was the 2016 Ascension Parish Primary Principal of the Year, and she led her school to win a National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) Founder’s Award in 2017. Wallace’s mother, Sonya Landry, was the first African-American administrator at Pierre Part Primary in Assumption Parish.
Wallace is the only African-American finalist for Teacher of the Year this year.
“I feel honored, humbled and blessed to represent West Thibodaux Middle School and Lafourche Parish School District in such an amazing way,” she said. “I represent every hardworking, dedicated educator who is passionate about what they do for students.”