BEAR CREEK — World War I just ended and the delegates of the Allied powers are meeting in Versailles to hash out a treaty to ensure the atrocities of the war never happen again. Most of the negotiating power rests on the shoulders of the “Big Three” — Georges Clemenceau, Prime Minister of France; Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States; and David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of Britain.
That’s the scenario Cassadi Walden presents to her first-year honors world history class at Chatham Central High School. Each student is assigned one of these three leaders and charged with the task of determining their own Treaty of Versailles. In making the assignment, Walden matches the leaders to the personalities of her students — she wants her students to fight for what their characters believed in.
The combination of creativity and care are why Walden was named the 2022-2023 Chatham County Schools teacher of the year.
“I am deeply honored to have been selected,” Walden said after the announcement was made April 29. “I feel fortunate to have colleagues who have helped me learn and improve my skills in the classroom every year. We have a great district with so many outstanding educators.”
Walden, 32, started her teaching career in Durham County Schools in 2012. She came to Chatham County Schools, and Chatham Central, in October 2014. She is a 2011 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill with a major in history and English and received her Master of Arts in Teaching in history in 2012 from Duke University.
“Mrs. Walden has a special gift with how she interacts with and encourages her students,” Dr. Karla Eanes, Chatham Central’s principal, said. “She is able to reach students across the board, and she will be that teacher they will remember 30 years from now.”
Eanes nominated Walden for the honor. Each school selected its own teacher of the year, and the district then chose from that pool.
Walden will now represent Chatham County Schools at the regional level for Teacher of the Year.
“Chatham County Schools is very proud to have Mrs. Walden representing us,” said Superintendent Dr. Anthony Jackson. “The energy and dedication she brings to our profession are invaluable, as is the impact she has had on her students.”
Walden teaches world history, psychology and yearbook courses at Chatham Central. Because of the variety of classes she teaches, she often sees students grow up from their first year to their senior year.
“Education is really important for our communities,” Walden said. “I am from this community and I intend to keep living here the rest of my life. That gives me a unique insight on my students and what their needs are.”
Walden herself is a product of the school she now teaches at. She said having local knowledge of the area and the generations of families around Bear Creek makes her especially equipped to make a difference in the lives of her students. In fact, it’s why she came back to Chatham Central.
“Doing the little things right is what makes the difference for most people over their lifetime,” she said. “My biggest accomplishment is being there for kids in a variety of situations.”
Being a person students can turn to is evident in every facet of Walden’s work. Walden said she’s the kind of teacher students see in the hallway and immediately correct any antics or misbehavior, but also one they see at the local pizza place and can’t wait to say hello. All the little things Walden does to foster mutual relationships of trust and respect with her students make a big difference in her ability to do her job well.
“This is people work, which is the most important part,” she said. “This is hard and messy work sometimes because this is a community with a lot of challenges. There’s a lot of stuff going on beneath the surface.”
Building trust between community, families and schools is something Walden said is most important to her. She said because the community knows her as more than just a teacher, it helps ensure a sense of commonality.
Walden said she believes she has been very fortunate in her lifetime and she views it as necessary to use those gifts to shape young minds. Her ability to gain students’ trust and make students more engaged are how she consistently pushes students to reach their fullest potential.
“If you look hard enough and keep an open mind, there is something to like about all of these kids,” Walden said. “I demand they work hard, but they also know I work hard. I never sit at my desk, they know I’m engaged, they know I’m paying attention to them. They know I think they are worthy.”
Reporter Ben Rappaport can be reached at email@example.com or @b_rappaport.