Former Janitor Who Struggled With Literacy Now Heads Middle School as Assistant Principal: ‘I Had to Persevere’

A Louisiana woman who once cleaned schools and bused students across Baton Rouge is now sharing her story of perseverance after kicking off her second year as an assistant principal.

Pam Talbert said her journey has been nothing short of “a miracle.”

Pam Talbert
Before becoming an assistant principal, Pam Talbert cleaned schools and a local nursing home. She also bused students in Baton Rouge. (Photo: WBRZ / video screenshot)

“Miracles happen, and you’re looking at a miracle,” she told local station WBRZ. “I’m so blessed to be here.

Talbert, who co-heads Istrouma Middle School in Baton Rouge, admits her journey has been atypical and far from peachy keen. For one, she was a struggling mom of three with a learning disability that left her unable to read or write.

“I only had a third grade reading level and the reason I knew was they did a diagnostic test,” Talbert told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “I knew I had a deficiency because [later], I couldn’t help my kids [with homework.]. My strengths were math. I love math.”

The former custodian said it was her children who helped her pick up where the education system fell short, later tutoring her in phonics and other reading basics. There were times she recalled crying in frustration because she couldn’t read the word “bear.”

Despite the struggle, Talbert said she’s forever grateful for her kids because “everything [they] learned, they would come back and they would sit down and they would teach me.”

“They’re my inspiration, because they know how hard it was for me,” she added.

After working as a janitor and school bus driver for several years (and taking remedial classes on the side), Talbert decided to try her hand at college. She would go on to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Southern University.

“I started that journey not being able to read and write,” Tabert recalled. “It was very hard, but I persevered because I knew that it was important that I did that. It wasn’t just for me. My story’s not for me, it’s for others.”

By 2002, she’d landed her first teaching job teaching fourth graders. Talbert has also taught second and fifth grade, and provided tutoring to sixth and seventh grade students, according to GMA.

She later became a dean of students and is now running things at Istrouma Middle School as an assistant principal.

“Despite where you’re coming from, or your background, your history or where you live … it’s going to be all right if you persevere,” she added. “If you try.”

Talbert isn’t done striving for success, however. The educator said she plans on returning to school and pursuing her doctorate with her eldest son. Her ultimate goal, she said, is to open a school for children and adults who have literacy issues.

“Whatever you go through, it’s not for you,” she said. “In the end, your story is there to help others.”

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