“Perfect Storm of Coincidences” Draws Former Psychology Researcher into the Science Classroom

When Stephanie Ijames’ son Campbell left Cox Mill Elementary for the bright lights of middle school, Stephanie stuck around. She had been a plugged-in parent at Campbell and her daughter Columbia’s schools in Cabarrus County, and was offered a teacher’s assistant position at Cox Mill around the time of Campbell’s graduation.

Ijames was a member in a psychology research lab on the campus of UNC Chapel Hill for a decade after earning her undergraduate degree in biology from that school. She became a stay-at-home mom when the family moved to Charlotte in 2007. In the years following, volunteering at schools and working as a TA, Ijames was beginning to see and feel the potential for something new. 

“I love the interaction and building relationships with students. I love the challenge of connecting with students who may not particularly be interested in the content that I teach, but will engage because they know I truly care about them, and I want them to do their best.”

All that was needed was a spark. And the Cabarrus County Teacher of the Year Award obliged, if in serendipitous fashion. 

Ijames had mentioned to her husband Chris that she envisioned leading a classroom, and Chris told an acquaintance at the 2022 Cabarrus County Teacher of the Year Awards ceremony, where he was presenting as part of his role with Hendrick Automotive Group, a sponsor. The person Chris spoke to was Courtney Smith, Human Resources Coordinator with the school district. And she knew exactly where to send Stephanie next.

Three weeks later, Ijames had connected with Associate Dean Teresa Petty, applied, and interviewed to join the third cohort of the UNC Charlotte Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP). 

The program, it turned out, offered master’s students a full stipend that covers tuition, books, and a path to a teaching position with Cabarrus County Schools.

“It really seemed like a perfect storm of coincidences that landed me right where I was meant to be,” she said.

Ijames graduated from UNC Charlotte on Saturday, December 16th and will return to her students at Concord High School to begin her second semester as a science teacher in January 2024.

Learn more about Stephanie’s passion for teaching and plans for the classroom.

Stephanie Ijames with husband Chris, daughter Columbia, and son Campbell

Stephanie Ijames 

Degree program: Graduate Certificate and Masters of Arts in Teaching: Secondary Science

Position: Science Teacher (Physical Science, Chemistry, Earth and Environmental) at Concord High School

Hometown: Maiden, NC

What do you love about teaching? 

I love those moments when confusion turns into clarity–you can’t beat the feeling when a student who has struggled starts to understand because of the time and joint effort that was put into the learning process!

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

Education has such a need for teachers who are invested in their students, willing to adapt and try new things, and dedicated to making a difference in the lives of all students. There are so many ways that we can improve, and I want to be part of that change.

I feel such a measure of accomplishment to have completed this journey. It has been a sacrifice that my whole family has endured and supported me through, and I could not have been successful without their encouragement.

What do you hope your students say about your classroom? 

Above all, I hope that students feel my classroom is authentic, honest, supportive, and caring. I do not take lightly the influence that I could potentially have, and it is truly an honor to be in a position to make a difference every day. It is truly never too late to answer a calling, and I feel that is exactly what I did when the TQP opportunity presented itself to me. I have always been a teacher at heart, and I found a way to teach in every career I had prior to officially becoming a teacher. Now, I am where I am meant to be – it just took me a little longer than most to get here.

Follow another Teacher Quality Partnership student on the path to graduation