BABE #141: CASSIE TEJERA,
3rd Grade Teacher
How well do you remember your third grade teacher? Odds are the students of today’s Babe will remember theirs very well. As a 3rd grade ELS (English Language Arts) teacher at a Title 1 elementary school, Cassie has her hands full and is always on the move. Between her unwavering dedication to go above and beyond in the classroom and her refreshing perspective on learning, Cassie sticks out as the kind of educator our world needs more of (and the definition of a hustlin' babe.)
Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
Current city: Jacksonville, FL
Alma mater: University of North Florida
Degree: B.A., Communications: Advertising
Very first job: Babysitting
Hustle: 3rd Grade Teacher
Babe you admire and why?
My mother. Susan Ivey works everyday with one thing in mind - her family. She is on her feet as a medical assistant for 10+ hours to this day. According to her, my siblings and I were always ‘beautiful, brilliant, capable of anything.’ She corrected us with firmness but spoke with kindness. The reason I have confidence in myself is because somehow she lifted me up and kept me grounded all at once. Can we bottle that?
How do you spend your free time?
I love to eat and I love my pups. You can catch me dragging my husband to brunch and then running with our pups at our local dog park.
Describe yourself in three words?
Idealistic, loud, compassionate
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Some sort of gourmet grilled cheese sandwich, roasted broccoli and french fries with aioli.
Go-to news source?
I don’t have a lot of time to sit down and read anything - although I did just get a digital subscription to the New York Times. I’m a big podcast listener; anything from Crooked Media (especially Pod Save the World), NYT The Daily and of course… Twitter.
Favorite social media account to follow?
Goldie Hawn is on Instagram and it brings me joy.
Go-to road trip snack?
PAQUI Ranch chips: basically fancy Doritos. Buy them, love them, you’re welcome.
What’s one thing you wish you knew more about?
One thing I try to get across to my students every year is that the key to a lifetime of happiness is being a lifelong learner. I strive to learn about new subjects any chance I get. My husband and I recently decided to get Audible memberships, and after listening to all the Harry Potter books, I now read one nonfiction book a month, starting with A People’s History of the United States. I think it is important to have a general knowledge of American history in order to formulate informed opinions. My goal this year is to dive deeper into our history as a nation.
Tell us about your hustle.
I am a 3rd grade ELA (English Language Arts) teacher at a public school in Jacksonville. In Florida, 3rd grade is the first year of high stakes state testing. That means I'm responsible for making sure all 38 of my title 1 students (who come from low-income families) read on grade level by April of their 3rd grade year. I have been teaching this curriculum since it was rolled out three years ago. My team and I create focus calendars and gradebook breakdowns so we are all on the same page at the same time. I belong to our school’s Sunshine Committee, which is all about boosting teacher morale throughout the school year. I also co-chair our school’s very first student council organization, which we started this year, and on Tuesday and Thursday, I tutor a group of about 30 third graders in order to give them an extra push towards being on grade level.
What does your typical workday look like?
Mornings are spent walking with our pups or catching an early bird class at Pure Barre San Marco. In the prepping stage of the day - the only time when students aren't in my classroom - I'm a chicken with my head cut off: picking up/making copies, grabbing new small group books, and chasing people down. Once school starts, we do about an hour of "center time" (computer-based learning, independent reading, teacher-led small group), and I take full advantage of this time to move my kiddos from where they are to where they need to be by Florida State Assessment time. I have students that walk into third grade reading at a kindergarten or 1st grade level, and I take this challenge head-on. We spend the rest of our time as a full group, splitting between a reading lesson and writing research papers. (3rd graders these days write research papers citing multiple sources, and they're pretty good at it!) I also always try to carve out one day a week to have students eat lunch in the classroom, where they get to watch a movie and chat with me. It makes them feel special, it encourages other students to strive to be in the next week’s group - and it’s free! It only costs my time and it is a great motivator. From 2:45-3:00, I wrangle 35 students out to the walker area for dismissal. My secret to success? Starburst Jelly beans. As you can tell, we don’t get much of a break daily. I have someone watch my class if I need to run to the restroom, which sometimes I realize doesn’t happen until I make it home in the afternoon.
What inspired you to pursue teaching? How long have you known it was what you wanted to do?
I come from a family of teachers. My father recently retired from education after teaching in public school for the entirety of his career. My mother taught special education before becoming a nurse. My aunt and my sister taught at preschools. My brother is a principal and my sister-in-law just won teacher of the year at her school in Clay County. My grandmother taught all of her grandchildren in Sunday school and continued teaching until she no longer could. My family has a nurturing gene; we specialize in growing relationships. I didn’t always believe that this was the career path I would choose, but once I did, it was second nature.
Were there any teachers or mentors from your life that inspired you to pursue your work?
Kelli is my reading coach and mentor at school. A reading coach takes on the role of assisting teachers by helping them maximize their time and lessons - and if you’re lucky - leads by example to show you the kind of teacher you can become. Kelli taught me the importance of believing in my kids. She is passionate about the success of every student at our school. She taught me that we should think of every child in our building as “our student” even if they aren’t in our room. Kelli is serious about her work but knows the importance of having fun in school and in a classroom. She is the best to vent to because she is solution-oriented. When she taught in the classroom, she wrote individual notes to students before standardized testing and continues that tradition in her current role writing to students who need the encouragement.
Have you always had a love for the classroom? Where do you think that comes from?
I have always loved being at school. I was lucky enough to attend the elementary school where my father was a fifth grade teacher. I would clean his chalkboards, set up his classroom and teach lessons to an imaginary group of students as a kid. I think I love teaching and learning because so much of those things are associated with my father.
What are your side hustles (if any,) and how often do you clock into them? How do side gigs influence your work ethic and productivity?
I have always had a side hustle. I cannot remember ever working just one job. My side hustles actually don’t have anything to do with teaching. I have always loved interacting with people, and of course, shopping. I started working at Jaffi’s and KYDS boutiques in college. Since then, I've always helped out at boutiques around town. You can catch me at Sailors Siren in Neptune Beach a couple Saturdays a month as well as hanging out at Jaffi’s or Tenley Dietrich randomly. I love helping my friends as they achieve their goals, so I'm always down to be a shop girl when they need me!
What is your relationship to your local community? Specifically in your industry?
I serve as membership director on the Duval County Reading Council. The DCRC is a nonprofit, volunteer-based organization that promotes literacy. We provide meetings 3 times a year for our members and put on an annual conference (which is coming up on Jan. 27th at the Schultz Center). Our members include teachers from public, private and charter schools and many from the public library, but anyone who is has an interest in literacy is encouraged to join!
What would you say is your biggest career milestone and why?
Most recently, I was featured on First Coast News as Teacher of the Week. I have also been recognized as a teacher of year twice since I began my career 5 years ago. But my biggest career milestone is making it to five years with no end in sight. Most new teachers spend 5 years in the classroom and then leave to find another profession. Cheers to sticking with it!
How would you say being a woman has affected your professional experience? What is the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
I don’t think it will surprise anyone that most elementary school teachers are women. At my school, there are two male educators on a staff of about 35 teachers. Growing up, there are only one or two years I can remember a male teacher other than my father at my school. It's important for our children to see both males and females taking various roles in education, and I do see an evolution in the area of substitute teachers. In the past two years, more and more male substitutes have walked through the doors of my school, and I love it. They are young, energetic and really connect to the students. I hope this trend translates into the substitutes going through the steps of becoming full time teachers, because we need them!
What would you say is your biggest strength in your role?
I think my biggest strengths are encouraging my students to succeed and creating a cohesive classroom environment. We celebrate our success together as a class, but I also send students back to their former teachers to share their accomplishments. Students love the feeling of success, and I love when they pick up the habit of cheering each other on, and overhearing things like “Way to go!” from across the room.
What advice would you give to a Babe trying to break into your industry?
Teaching is a huge responsibility. It is also a labor of love. Do not enter into this career lightly, especially if you begin teaching at a title 1 school. These students need vibrant, driven and loving teachers. As Rita Pearson, lifelong educator and TED Talk presenter said, “Every child deserves a champion. An adult who never gives up on them and pushes them to become the best they can be. Is this job tough? You betcha. But it is not impossible.” Take advantage of the school environment you have, build relationships and surround yourself with positive colleagues, always work to learn more and refine your craft. Never stop learning, it sets a wonderful example for your students. But most importantly, have fun. Your students will learn more if you enjoy the process together.
How do you stay emotionally and mentally balanced in such a stressful and purposeful role?
First and foremost, I have a work wife. Teaching can weigh on your heart and soul. Sometimes you feel like you’ll go missing under the piles of paperwork and ungraded tests, sometimes it feels like you’ll never catch up on all the reports and lesson plans, and sometimes you feel like you aren’t moving the needle at all. During those times, I turn to my teaching partner, Natalie. She teaches our students math and science, and we've been teaching together for 4 years. We laugh together, cry together and entertain our students by running through inflatable obstacles courses together! Additionally, I'm very fortunate to have a loving, supportive and silly husband who is always up for the task of making me smile. I have a wonderful family and friends who are always there to offer advice. They all encourage me, listen to my endless teacher stories and many of them volunteer and donate to my classroom. It takes a village, and my village comes through in the biggest ways.
What are some notable (funny, embarrassing, intense) experiences you’ve had on the job?
Children are so entertaining! One of my favorite parts of my job are the stories I collect from my students. I think one of my all time favorites happened last year. My partner teacher and I took our students out for recess when one of the little girls in our class ran up, took off her knitted hat and revealed that she smuggled the leftover bacon her aunt had made her that morning in a gallon-sized ziplock bag UNDER HER HAT and had been sharing with everyone all day!
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
It is easy to criticize, it is much more work to play apart in creating a solution. Be a part of the solution.
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