Third-grade teacher for Birdville Independent School District, Texas
When Casey Orr stepped out her front door on a cold day in December and noticed the temperature, her first thought wasn't of the icy roads or a snow-covered car. Instead, she remembered a little girl in her third-grade class whose coat was too small. Her automatic response was to look for a coat of her own that might fit the child.
Such a reaction is merely part of Casey's definition of faith in the classroom: Even without talking specifically about Jesus, she can still live out the message of Christ.
"I think you integrate your faith by going the extra mile for your kids," she said. "Teaching is a ministry."
Fortunately, at her elementary school in Birdville Independent School District, Casey is surrounded by teachers who feel the same way. She considers herself fortunate to work with people who will help her through the hard moments of teaching and who share her passion for helping kids.
"I feel really blessed that I hired into a school that has such wonderful Christian people,” she said.
Casey started teaching in Birdville in the fall of 2009 after substitute teaching in several schools in the area. Although she says it had been a difficult year for teachers to find jobs, she was hired by the district three weeks after the school year began. Her class of third-graders came from other classes that were too large for other teachers to handle.
Despite a non-traditional start, Casey can't imagine life any other way.
"It's been a wonderful experience," she said. "I love everything about my job."
Facing the challenges
That doesn't mean the job is easy, though. Every day Casey is in charge of 17 children, ages seven to nine, who are working on the skills that will shape their future, both in education and everyday life. They've already mastered basic reading and math skills; it's her job to hone and polish those abilities on a higher level.
"You really get to work on higher-level thinking skills," she said. "I love challenging them, getting them to think about new things."
Casey is involved with the children after school as well. The school district has a number of after-school programs in which teachers participate. And though she's very busy, Casey doesn't mind as long as she's spending time with her students.
"I just love being around my kids," she said.
Casey discovered her passion for children's education as an undergraduate at ACU. She began college as a speech pathology major.
"I knew I wanted to work with kids," she said.
Change in plans
However, she discovered speech pathology wasn't what she wanted to do with her life. After a session at the Career Counseling Center, she decided to talk to Dr. Sally Gary and Dr. Dana Hood, both ACU faculty members.
Dr. Gary, who holds a juris doctorate as well as a degree in education, emphasized the value of teaching in her own life and encouraged Casey to consider education as a future career choice. Dr. Hood, chair of the Teacher Education Department, took her out for coffee and discussed the pros and cons of becoming an education major, and impressed Casey with her enthusiasm and energy.
"That's something I'll always remember - her passion for education," Casey said.
Now, Casey said, she has embarked on a career she loves, largely because of the advice she received from the two professors.
During the fall of her junior year, Casey began education classes. By the fall of 2008, she was student teaching at Taylor Elementary under the guidance of Karen Sharpe and Jodie Reese, both ACU alumni. The experience gave her confidence that she'd made the right decision.
"I learned so much from it," she said. "Student teaching really built my confidence. By the end, I felt really successful."
Casey registered for two night classes at Dallas Baptist last fall before she was hired at Birdville. She is now working on a master's degree in English, reading and ESL, and hopes to finish the 36-hour program in August 2011.
Although she finds graduate school challenging, Casey discovered that ACU had given her the academic stamina to keep up in her classes.
"ACU prepared me well," she said.
She looks forward to completing her master's, but doesn't plan on using it to go into an administrative position, at least not now. "For right now, I just want to stay with the kids," she said. "Even on the days when it's challenging, I love it. My days just fly by."