Tapia Named WEE Teacher of the Year

West End Elementary 2024 Teacher of the Year, Cassie Tapia. Maggie Beamguard/SLI

By Maggie Beamguard

Insider Editor

Take some shaving cream, baking soda, balloons, music, dancing, games, a dash of vinegar and add a couple dozen students and one teacher named Cassie Tapia and you get all the ingredients for an extra special second grade class at West End Elementary School. 

Tapia was recently recognized by her colleagues at WEE as this year’s Teacher of the Year. She got her start as a student teacher at WEE before being hired at West Moore Elementary 12 years ago, where she taught kindergarten and third grade. She joined the WEE faculty six years ago, where she taught fourth and now second grade. 

To her students’ delight and edification, Tapia keeps things interesting in her classroom with hands-on learning methods. During a recent class on measurement, they went into the wild with lists of things — from rocks to leaves — that the students needed to measure. 

“I love teaching math even though when I was in school it was not my favorite subject. But it’s fun to teach,” Tapia said. “The kids get excited when you tell them they’re going to learn how to add and subtract within a thousand. Because in first grade they are used to counting to twenty.” 

Teaching and play go hand-in-hand for Tapia, who started playing “teacher” as a child with her cousins, stuffed animals and baby dolls. She employs “brain breaks” to keep her students engaged. GoNoodle videos, available on YouTube, get her class up and moving. Or she will turn to tried and true games like “Simon Says,” only the helper of the week gets to be “Simon.”

Her students love “Magic Number,” in which they race each other to count by fives to a number she names. “They think it’s a game,” she said, “but they are working on skills.”

She is known to use a microphone in class to solicit student engagement,  sometimes singing a little KidzBop karaoke with them. On Thursdays they have a dance party break. “I get my microphone out, and we sing and dance for about 10 minutes. They love it. We even get like the janitor in on it and the music teacher.”

Tapia has been called to teach for as long as she can remember. Tapia’s third grade teacher at the then-Star Biscoe Elementary in Montgomery county, Mrs. Thomas, stands out as a significant influence. 

“If you didn’t get something, she always talked to you one-on-one, but gently. She didn’t get mad at you,” said Tapia. who still remembers learning the magic nine finger trick for multiplying nines from her.

“I always say ‘Your students work harder for you if they know that you care,’ and I knew that she cared.”

One of her college professors, Sylvia Pusser, was another teaching role model and demonstrated the importance of building relationships with students. 

Tapia finds teaching to be a rewarding career. She is fond of saying “we’re not in it for the income. We are in it for the outcome.” Watching the children develop over the course of a school year, growing in knowledge and confidence gives her a lot of satisfaction. 

She appreciates hearing from parents and grandparents and even students about how she is making a difference. 

Out of all the lessons Tapia teaches, she hopes when children leave her classroom at the end of the year that they have learned to do their best and to not compare themselves with others. “As long as you’re trying your best,” she says, “don’t worry about the rest.”

The biggest challenge Tapia faces is time.

“You spend all this time planning and then things don’t go the way you planned.”

But the classroom environment can be unpredictable. “You have to stop what you’re doing and redirect. Time is probably the most challenging thing — having enough time to get it all in.”

For Tapia, who strives to cultivate a welcoming environment where student relationships can flourish, her favorite part of the day is when the students come in the door.

“They’re just so happy to see you,” she said. “Some of them are not awake yet, but I always say ‘good morning’ to them.”

Each day starts with some kind of affirmation. This year an affirmation song by Snoop Dogg gets everyone geared up with lines like, “I’m gonna have an amazing day.” The students also enjoy getting their days started with advice from Kid President videos.

A book she reads with the class at the beginning of each year about the golden rule, “Do Unto Otters,” by Laurie Keller, encapsulates her personal values and guiding principles. She goes back to the lessons from the book throughout the year and she and her students remind each other to “treat otters the way you want to be treated.”

She loves the feeling of family that she gets as a member of the WEE School faculty. “Anyone will jump in and help.”

In addition to teaching her second graders, Tapia is the grade-level chair, leads a newly formed yearbook club and participates in the school climate team, school improvement team and PTA.

She was shocked and honored to be recognized as WEE’s Teacher of the Year. “Everyone deserves it,” she said, “so it really meant a lot that my own peers voted for me.”

Principal Katie Lockamy celebrates Tapia’s recognition among the faculty.

“Ms. Tapia is a true WEE Warrior. Her joyful spirit and love for students inspire me daily,” she said. “She strives to ensure every student is successful and grows to their maximum potential. We are blessed to have her at WEE!”

Contact Maggie Beamguard at maggie@thepilot.com.