Stories from the Field

Lessons Learned: On second chances and hope— through education

Lessons Learned: On second chances and hope— through education

Tell us about your plans for your NEA Foundation funded grant project.

The grant provided funding for me to attend the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE) Convention. For four days, I was immersed in learning and surrounded by people who love the same things I do—teaching and students. Teachers and presenters from all over the country led workshops on their areas of expertise. I love teaching students, and I love teaching teachers. Actually, it’s what I do best in life. All throughout the school year I am called upon to train and teach others; rarely am I given the opportunity to be trained or to be taught. The NCTE Convention was a highlight of my teaching career. Earlier in the fall, I presented a Common Core-focused workshop to all of the language arts teachers in my district. I did this once more after returning from the conference. Additionally, I was given the opportunity to present my ideas to a classroom of Master’s level students at Weber State University.

How do you think your NEA Foundation funded grant project will help your students?

All of the information I gleaned from this experience has been put to work in my own classroom and in classrooms throughout the district. This fall, I will present at the Utah Council of Teachers of English annual conference, where I will share my ideas with even more educators from all over the state.

Photo by Flickr user bandita

Why did you start teaching?

As a teenager I made some choices that led to me dropping out of high school. For years, I worked 50-60 hours per week at minimum wage jobs, just trying to feed my son and keep the lights on, moving quickly to get nowhere. Eventually, I grew tired of washing clothes in a bathtub and dreading my walk to the mailbox, knowing the “shut off” notice would arrive any day. Life was hard—too hard. Education seemed like the way out and up in life, and it has been.

As I look back over my life, the people who taught me some of the greatest lessons were my teachers, especially Coach Coleman. Coach Coleman urged me to never accept “good enough.” Challenges were to be seen as blessings in disguise— mountains that could be moved. Teaching allows me to do just that. I move mountains every day, and I push students the way Coach Coleman pushed me.

Two Rivers High School is a second-chance school— a turnaround school. I teach students who have made some of the same choices I did as a teen, and I work to help put them on track for graduation and for happiness in life.

What is your passion – in or outside the classroom?

I love teaching about teaching, reading, and writing. During my last year at Weber State University, I took a “Teaching Young Adult Literature” course. My favorite things to read are young adult literature, including historical fiction and nonfiction. For the past six years, I have won trips from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the Holocaust Remembrance Project, and the National Park Service. Two years ago, Elizabeth Eckford, one of the members of the historic Little Rock Nine, walked out of the pages of history and into my classroom. Last year, Simeon Wright, Emmett Till’s cousin and a witness to his kidnapping, visited my school. In February, two Chautauqua scholars from Florida visited my classroom to perform as Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston.

I’m passionate about second chances and hope. I’m passionate about reading and the wealth of knowledge that I gain with each turn of the page, and I want the same for my students. My motto is “Ask until the answer is yes.” I thank the NEA Foundation for believing in me and for being a part of my life story.

Featured NEA Foundation grantee, Cassie Cox, teaches English at Two Rivers High School in Ogden, Utah. Find out what our newest grantees have planned for back-to-school on Facebook or learn about grant projects we’ve funded in our Grantee Archive. Find more information about how to apply for grant resources and how to support education grants for teachers. The next deadline for application is October, 15, 2014.