Curiosity, Opportunity Propel First-Year Social Studies Teacher to Master’s Degree

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“Everything fit together. I decided that day to apply and felt like all of the pieces of my life led to that moment. I wanted to combine my passion for learning about the world around me with teaching others to see it too,” graduating Cato College of Education master’s student and first-year social studies teacher Cassidy James explains. 

After earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Tennessee, James was narrowing her career focus to teaching when she was recruited to the Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) and a stipend that includes the full cost of tuition, textbooks and supplies.

“When I applied, I was only considering my graduate certificate in teaching. With TQP and the opportunities it offered, I was able to earn my master’s degree and continue my journey as a lifelong learner,” said James, the first social studies teacher to graduate from the program.

Clinical faculty member Daniel Maxwell, who reached out to James about the opportunity, said her potential was easy to see.

“I was always impressed with Cassidy’s attention to detail and her valuable contributions to class discussions. When you interact with her, you can tell she is a person who has a true heart for children and is dedicated to creating a welcoming, engaging educational environment. Cassidy is kind, considerate, and, most importantly, believes in each of her students, making her a perfect candidate for TQP,” Maxwell said. 

Maxwell works in the Office of School and Community Partnerships and taught James’ Planning for K-12 Instruction and Assessment in Social Studies course. The course is one of a series of subject-specific classes required for future teachers at UNC Charlotte. Throughout her studies, James benefited from an array of programs supporting students in instruction, experience, and paying for college. As graduation approaches, James reflected on her commitment to her subject and her craft.

Cassidy James

Degree program: Graduate Certificate and Master’s of Art in Teaching Secondary Education – Social Studies

Position: Social Studies Teacher

School: J.M. Robinson High School, Cabarrus County Schools

Hometown: Oswego, IL

What do you love about teaching?

Cassidy James: I love the connection I’m able to form with my students. It fills me with so much joy to see these kids growing up before my eyes. High school was not that long ago for me, and I enjoy helping them navigate the bigger life lessons a lot of them are learning in conjunction with their education. I also absolutely love the subject of social studies, one that connects so deeply to the world around us. Guiding my students to understand these complexities as they begin forming their own opinions and grow is an amazing experience. 

Why social studies?

Cassidy James: It was my best subject in school and something that felt easy because I am passionate about understanding the world around me. When I began my undergraduate degree, I always wanted to take this passion a step further. My freshman year I was a forensic anthropology major and had to take a sociology elective. I fell in love with the subject and the inquisitive nature of everyone around me. I have always been the person asking questions such as “Why is [thing] like this?” or “What structures are in place to have [thing] happen this way?” Growing up, I was often made to feel belittled for asking such questions. With the study of sociology, I was surrounded by people who wanted the answers to those same questions. Completing my teaching certificate and my master’s degree in this subject area made sense due to this passion! 

What are your short- and long-term goals as a teacher?

Cassidy James: As a first-year teacher, my short-term goal is to get through my first year! Completing my master’s in my first semester of teaching has been a challenge, but I am so thankful to have been provided this opportunity. As a long-term goal, I would love to eventually go back to school and get my doctorate. I love learning and the idea of furthering my education, especially when I have the opportunity to become a better educator. 

What do you hope your students say about your classroom?

Cassidy James: When my students come to my classroom, my one goal is that they feel that they can be 100% themselves. I hope they say that they are accepted no matter what, that they feel supported, and that they learned something from my class, whether about the content or themselves.