Teacher Spotlight: LASD’s Christine James

June 9, 2021

Teacher Spotlight: LASD’s Christine James

By Kate Krieger-Watkins, staff writer.

Teacher Spotlight is a presentation of Shelby State Bank, with offices in Ludington, Pentwater, Shelby, Hart, Hesperia, Manistee, Montague, Whitehall, North Muskegon, and Fruitport. 

LUDINGTON – With the help from a group of special needs children, Ludington Area Schools teacher Christine James discovered that she wanted to become a teacher at a pretty young age.

“I attended St. John’s Lutheran School in Midland and while there I had the opportunity to serve as a volunteer in a severely multiply impaired classroom at State Street School,” James said. “This center-based school was within walking distance of our elementary school and one that we visited once a month during my fourth grade year. After a while, I began visiting more frequently and volunteering more often with the permission of my teacher and principal. Over time this evolved into a connection with an amazing group of children and staff members that went far beyond my fourth grade experience. 

“The children were non-verbal, most were in wheelchairs and they required around the clock care. Their needs exceeded any that I had ever experienced and yet I had never felt more a part of group of people in my life. There was so much love, compassion, care and concern within that space that I just had to be a part of their classroom family. I never wanted to leave. I stayed with this class for many years, helped them move into a local elementary school and was fortunate enough to be a part of fully including every one of the students into a general education classroom setting. This experience made such a lasting impact on my life and continues to push me to make a difference in the lives of all kids that enter my classroom.”

James graduated from Valley Lutheran High School in 1993 and earned an associate degree from Delta College in 1995 and then a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and special education in 1999 from Central Michigan University. In 2008 she earned a master’s degree in elementary education from Grand Valley State University.

Teaching for 22 years, James started out her teaching career working as a special education teacher at Mason County Central Schools and then was offered a position for Ludington Area Schools, which is where she still works currently.

“I taught for two years at Mason County Central Middle School as the seventh and eighth grade resource and inclusion special education teacher. In 2001, I joined the Ludington Area School District staff as a third and fourth grade resource and inclusion special education teacher. I was fortunate enough to serve in that role for five years. Due to a need to drop one special education position in 2006, I was moved into a fourth grade general education teaching position. I taught fourth grade for three years and then had the opportunity to join the third grade teaching staff and I’m just finishing my 12th year in that position.”

As most teachers would say, building relationships with students is one of the most important aspects of any teaching role. Having those relationships in place with students, their families and other teachers and staff can be the glue that holds any school together.

“I feel that student engagement is one of the most important elements of teaching,” James said. “Being creative and enthusiastic in the manner in which we deliver the content makes learning so much more fun. Allowing the students to interact, to talk through their present level of understanding of a particular concept and then feel comfortable sharing with their peers and teacher what they have learned is a very empowering process. As elementary teachers, we are responsible for teaching all of the core subjects every day, so we have to be able to transition from one content area to the next multiple times throughout the course of the school day with the same group of children. This is often challenging, but also a huge privilege. We are able to spend a great deal of time with these students and during that time we make lifelong connections and relationships that go well beyond the walls of classroom, not only with the children, but with their families as well.”

James’ passion for teaching shines within her classroom and her love for the career is shown through her compassion for each child who enters her room, whether or not that student is one of her students.

“One of my most favorite things about working in education is that I get to spend each day with kids,” she said. “Honestly, there isn’t a profession better suited for me. I love their sense of humor, their ideas, and their energy. I thrive on challenging them and helping them to achieve things that they didn’t believe they could. I believe that every student can learn. 

“They are all capable of being good citizens that can make a difference in the world around them. As much as I love structure and routine, these are definitely essential in of our learning spaces, I also love not knowing what might happen throughout the course of a school day. 

“A classroom can be a bit of a triage unit at times. We have a strict schedule for the day, but we are also working with little living and breathing humans that have can have big emotions, endure major life events and may really depend on school to be the most stable, predictable and caring environment in their lives. I feel honored to play a role in all of this and to be a source of support for the students and their families.”

Even though education has so many bright lights, there are a few things James would said she would love to see put into place to make schools stronger for all the families they serve.

“If I had the ability to make changes within the field of education, I would like to see more funds made available to increase the number of counselors and social workers within schools,” she said. “The mental health issues that arise every day, among students at every age level, are so concerning. Meeting the children’s basic needs for food, clothing and self-care, along with mental and emotional health must be paramount. Kids cannot learn if they are in crisis. With more caring adults available throughout the school day to meet the needs of kids, more learning and emotional growth can take place.”

James has definitely found her place working as a teacher and she stated that she always loves to she students display a passion for education and a desire to become an educator themselves.

“I am so proud of and excited for anyone that wants to go into the field of education,” she said. “They are brave and intelligent souls for making this decision and I am so grateful for anyone that chooses to head down this path. I am very thankful for the teachers that I have had and for the ones that are educating my own boys. My advice to anyone going into this profession is to be ready for anything. Spend the time and money to learn as much as you can about Kagan Structures to have strategies to engage even the most reluctant learners. I also feel that it is very important to not only be trauma-informed, but trauma sensitive. We may have read all the books and reviewed all of the research, but without empathy and sensitivity, those kids will see right through you. Be authentic and a bit vulnerable. Admit that you make mistakes and own them. Most of all, be ready to show them that you care.”

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