By Florence Bowman
Cassie Veasey retired from being a high school teacher in Oxford after three decades in a classroom. Just two years later, she returned to teaching, this time with elementary-age children at Lafayette County School.
Recalling the say she entered a room full of 20 first graders, “I was scared to death,” said Veasey, whose joyfulness makes up for what she misses in height.
Veasey believed she was meant to be a teacher, but there were times that she lost sight of that conviction, specifically during the pandemic. She believes the new generation is desperate for capable, caring teachers who remember that the child comes first.
As the assistant director at Leap Frog, an organization devoted to providing literacy support, Veasey is dedicated to preparing students for lives of impact.
Veasey spent most of her career teaching high school students. Day after day, she stood by the students, working to create learners rather than just passing them on. In her eyes, her students were the children she never had.
In her classroom, failing is not an option. She tells her students, “If you do this, if you do that, and as long as they work with me, I will not fail them.”
“In my first year of teaching, I had a boy, Tracy, he was pretty rough, and it turns out he was dyslexic, but Tracy never gave up.” Veasey was determined keep Tracy from failing.
“At his graduation, Tracy gave me a letter. He said he never had a teacher believe in him until me.”
His letter reminds her that she needs these students just as much, if not more, as they need her.
Everyone has that one person who influences their career path. For Veasey, it was her high school English teacher who inspired her to pursue a career in education. However, she never saw herself as an elementary school teacher.
Veasey always thought she was destined to be a high school teacher. “I enjoyed teaching high students because they are mini-adults with opinions,” she said, “but the little ones made me nervous; their minds are still so immature and so young, they haven’t made opinions of their own yet.”
In 2020, Veasey retired from her role as a high school teacher. With COVID-19 hurting the education environment, she thought her job as a teacher had finally come to an end. Yet, it did not take long until she was back in the classroom.
While Veasey has had different jobs throughout her life, the joy of teaching was a feeling she could never let go of. She returned to the school system instead of enjoying retirement because, she said, “I see the need for these little guys to have somebody who truly cares.”
Veasey now teaches first graders along with directing the students enrolled in the Leap Frog Program. Her transition to elementary teaching frightened her in the beginning. Now, she cannot see herself anywhere else because of the hugs and smiles she gets when her class greets her as she walks down the hall.
Leap Frog is a tutoring program for first- through third-graders from Oxford and Lafayette County schools. The tutors are Ole Miss students who come twice a week to work on the student’s literacy skills and schoolwork.
When she returned to teaching, she made it clear to everyone that her class would not be quiet class. Inside her classroom, she hopes children have the confidence to tell stories, share ideas and ask questions. Each day, she is reminded that children need that encouragement, especially from their teacher.
Despite her passion for teaching, one challenge remains, and that is to stop children from bullying. Bullying does not occur only in an unstructured school, but in any school setting. “When a child tells me someone has hurt their feelings, I take that personally because I love the bully as much as I love the child being picked on.”
The bullies do not drive Veasey away from teaching. She gravitates toward the children who may feel overshadowed in school. “I know, deep down, they are appreciative of the things you do for them because they recognize that you are fighting for them,” she said. “There is a place for every kid in my heart.”
Leap Frog tutor Morgan Williams did not know what to expect on her first day. “I remember feeling nervous while talking to a first grader that day,” she said. “My face definitely gave away my nervousness because Mrs. Cassie came right to my side. She was just smiling and upbeat even though five little kids were asking her for another juice box.”
“When I signed up for Leap Frog, I was just curious about the organization and looking for volunteer hours. But, when Mrs. Veasey began to tell us why she went back to teaching, I instantly knew I was needed.”
“Mrs. Veasey is a mom to each of the kids. I look forward to seeing my student at Leap Frog, so I could not imagine having that bond with all the kids,” said Williams.
Veasey sees Leap Frog as the best of both worlds. Through Leap Frog, she can be involved with the tutors, who are young adults, as well as the children. “The one-on-one teaching in Leap Frog gives the child the chance for their voice to be heard.”
As a young woman, Veasey knew she had a heart for serving others, particularly the younger generation.
“At this point in my life, I need those little minds and those little hearts,” she said. “As you get older, those little rewards are the special part of being a teacher.”