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Stacy James is an elementary school teacher, currently based in Virginia Beach, Virginia where she lives with her husband and two dogs. She took some time out of her busy schedule to talk with me today.

Greetings Stacy. Would you care to share your background with us? What are your educational strengths and areas of expertise?

I was born and raised in North Carolina where I grew up in a family of six. I’ve always been curious to a fault, and my mother instilled a love of learning in me from a young age. She homeschooled me when I was young and became a first grade teacher shortly afterward. Not only was my mom a teacher, but my grandmothers had also taught professionally. Ironically, though, I never considered becoming an educator until I was in college.

I started attending Regent University as a Cinema-Television major with a focus in Screenwriting. I had a dream to screen write inspirational television shows for kids, but then quickly realized that I longed to work directly with kids. It was shortly after that that I switched my career path to teaching, and I have not looked back since.

I believe that one of my educational strengths is fostering a holistic learning environment. My goal is to help students grow as individuals in addition to academically. Another one of my strengths is my ability to create engaging and effective instruction, making learning fun for students. My area of expertise is teaching at a fourth grade level as a general education teacher. I have also had the opportunity to work in several inclusion settings, allowing me to gain experience with supporting students with varying needs.

Would you be willing to share with us a little about your personal educational journey? What led you to seek the education and vocation you chose? What advice would you like to offer to those students who wish to go into the same field as you?

My educational journey has not always been easy, but it has been such a blessing. I have always wanted to do something where I can make a difference and help others, especially with children. When I was at Regent University, I participated in an outreach program where we played and talked with kids that lived in a low-income gated community. I remember one young boy asking incredulously, “You wanted to play with us?” and my heart nearly broke. All that these kids wanted was for someone to love them and be there for them. Since then, I was convinced that I needed to be an educator in a low-income area so that I could do this each day with the students I interact with.

As for advice, the list goes on and on. The main ones I would give are -

1. Learn from your mistakes. I hate making mistakes, but they will happen and they are an opportunity to learn and improve. I realized that I would tell my students this all the time, but then not live by it myself.

2. Make sure to have a support system. It’s hard to support others without having support yourself. It can be other educators, friends, family, a spouse - but have someone you can rely on when things get hard, because they will.

3. Remind yourself that you can’t do it all, and that’s okay. Your worth as an educator does not lie in how much you get done in a day (because more often than not, you will have more things left undone on your to-do list than done). Give your all during school hours, then remember to take a well-deserved break at the end of each day so that you will be ready to tackle the next day.

4. Be positive. Joy isn’t always a feeling, but a choice. Unfortunately, there is so much negativity in our field right now (both within and surrounding it) that it will bring you down if you’re not careful. Not only will this affect your well-being, but it will impact your interactions with your students too. In the same way, being positive will inspire the staff and students around you, so choose positivity as much as possible.

You teach in the elementary school arena, which to the untrained outsider means you teach on a broader area than would a high school or even college educator. What would you say are some misconceptions regarding the area in which you teach?

The most common misconception I experience is that teaching the content in elementary school is easier than other levels. While the content itself may not be as complex, the concepts they are learning are new to them. As an adult, you may understand how to tell time or what a verb is, but that understanding had to come from somewhere. In other words, teachers at the elementary level are responsible for laying a firm foundation from which the rest of their education will be built upon, and this takes a lot of planning and work.

What is your favorite part about teaching?

My favorite part, by far, is building relationships with the students. When you build relationships with your students, this sets the stage for everything else. By investing in them and showing them you care, you get the opportunity to bring out their best and help them at their worst. You see their growth day after day and are able to celebrate every little victory with them. You get to see their passions and gifts firsthand, many times being touched by them yourselves. It’s hard to really express how rewarding it is, but when you see a child smile during a lesson that they’re enjoying, or hear a student say good morning after days of greeting them with no response, or witness a student become confident in a subject they used to avoid - it’s just so profound.

Last question: What is one thing you want to change about the educational system?

If possible, I would love to create opportunities where you could spend more time with students in small-group settings. Many students flourish in these settings, benefiting greatly from the more direct support.

Thank you for talking with us today Stacy.

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