Feature Friday: Cassie Lee

Welcome to Feature Friday! Where we showcase a new teacher each week in an interview. For past Feature Friday interviews, go here. 

Today’s Feature Friday is highlighting Cassie Lee, an elementary teacher in West Jordan, Utah. She taught second grade for a year and is currently teaching in a first-grade classroom. Here’s what Cassie has to say: 

What is your favorite thing about teaching this age/subject?

“First graders are so enthusiastic and curious about everything! They are all little scientists and just want to know more about the world around them. Any question or experience can be turned into a teaching opportunity, and I love fostering that love of learning in them. They have such a love of life and there is never a dull moment in my classroom. How many people can say their job is never boring?” 

What made you want to go into teaching? 

“My main reason for going into teaching was that I wanted to pay forward the hard work that good teachers before me had done. My dad is an immigrant and had some teachers who impacted his life greatly, to the point where he named my brother after one of them. Those teachers took the time to really care and went above and beyond the call of duty. I myself had many amazing teachers who also took the time to get to know me and loved me for who I was. I wanted to be able to have that kind of impact in the lives of children as well.” 

What is one of your favorite ways to utilize technology in the classroom? 

“At the first school I taught at, I had a SmartBoard in my room and that was a really fun, engaging and interactive tool. My students loved getting to use it and interact with it. It had its fair share of shortcomings and glitches (I will never forget when it didn’t want to work during an observation, ahh!) but overall it was an enjoyable resource. My students could sort information on it, roll interactive dice, write on it, etc. It gave all of them an interactive visual to participate with during my lessons and I enjoyed learning the variety of ways I could use it in my classroom.”

How have you integrated the arts into your core curriculum? 

“I enjoy using visual art in my teaching most of all, but I also enjoy using elements of drama, dance, and music. Integrating the arts is engaging and enjoyable and gives students more chances to be creative and demonstrate their learning.” 

“As a first-grade teacher, I have to keep my kids moving, so we act out and dance a lot. We will also learn songs connected to our curriculum too. Due to time constraints and maintaining a rigorous pace, I integrate social studies and science into reading, and I integrate the arts into that as well. We do an art project every Friday that is linked to the unit we studied that week. It is a really fun way to cap off that week’s worth of learning.”

If you could recommend one children’s book, what would it be and why? 

“What a hard thing to do! I openly acknowledge that I am addicted to kids’ books. So I’m going to cheat a little and give two answers.”

“If I had to pick a book to use for teaching, it would be The Panda Problem by Deborah Underwood. It is such a fun and clever way to teach story elements and get the kids engaged in narrative writing.”

“If I had to pick one children’s book that changed my life personally it would be The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. What a heart-wrenching and beautiful story. It really tugs at your heart and makes you think. If I taught an older grade I would totally read it as a read-aloud.”

What are your best tips for avoiding burnout? 

“That’s a big question. Burnout is very real and very overwhelming. I recommend remembering to take time for yourself and your own hobbies, outside of teaching. I myself am married but don’t have any kids. It’s easy for me to come home and work non-stop. I’m learning how to cut myself off and take time for self-care. It’s not a selfish thing, it’s how I keep myself healthy and fully able to do my job to my best ability.” 

“I’m also working on saying no. That sounds weird, but I tend to be the kind of person who just keeps accepting more and more additional work and responsibilities. I like being helpful and tackling big projects, but I’ve started noticing that I am burning out quickly. It’s important to be self-reflective and learn to create some boundaries.”

What do you wish someone would have told you in your first year teaching? 

“That it’s okay to acknowledge my mistakes and apologize to my class. Whether that was over something I mistaught, a situation I mishandled, etc. You’re not a bad teacher because you’re not perfect. You’re not a bad teacher for messing up. You’re just human, and that’s okay. It’s always funny to me how my kids react to me apologizing. They’re always so shocked. Adults hardly ever apologize to kids for their mistakes, right? But it’s a valuable lesson to see and learn- no one is perfect, and that’s okay.”

What are the benefits you’ve seen in collaborating with your team of teachers? 

“We all learn from each other! I have always been the youngest person on my teams and I worried in the beginning about not being able to contribute. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Younger teachers bring a fresh perspective and new ideas. It’s been really enjoyable to collaborate and see what comes of it. Everyone benefits and all of our teaching practices improve.”

How do you use student voice in your classroom and what outcomes have you seen from it? 

“Student voice is a funny thing in first grade. First graders can be very random and silly, so I try to hone that to my advantage. You gotta think quickly on your feet when a kid replies to your question with a random answer, like telling you their pet’s name. I always try to affirm their initial response but will push for deeper thinking with questioning. I want kids to feel comfortable to be themselves and express themselves, but I also want them to learn how to do that respectfully. They are all such unique individuals, so it’s also fun to work on collaborative projects, like a class story or art project.”

Thanks, Cassie for the great words you have for us today! 

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