Teacher candidate and master’s graduate hopes to inspire a passion for history in students

Student writer Andrea Day contributed to this story.

James Weiner speaks during a remote leadership presentation

As he prepares to graduate with a master’s in education and human resources, specializing in education sciences, teacher licensure candidate James Weiner’s goal is to instill a passion for learning in future high school students that goes beyond memorization of facts. Rather, Weiner hopes his future students will view the subjects of his history lessons as living, breathing people like themselves – a lens that inspired Weiner’s own educational and vocational journey.

In his video entry for the Teachers Test Prep 2020 “Pass the Torch” Teacher Scholarship, Weiner shared how his high school history teacher, Kirk Upton, introduced the concept of seeing historical figures as real people to Weiner and his peers. This, said Weiner, inspired a new perspective that shifted how he viewed the world around him.

“He got us to look at the people behind history – not just the dates and events, and reading about polished versions centuries after the fact,” said Weiner. “Acknowledging that every historic figure was a person with faults and worries and dreams, the same as us – that new perspective changed my worldview. I could suddenly see the world from perspectives vastly different from my own.”

This shift in perspective inspired Weiner’s post-secondary journey – an impact that continues today. In fact, Weiner credits Upton as an influencing factor in Weiner’s decision to pursue a new career as a history teacher.

“I’m now on the path to become a high school history teacher to try to pass on that same passion for education – of not just facts and outcomes, but a deep understanding that these names and pictures were people, too,” said Weiner.

From welding to education

Weiner grew up in a suburb outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He fell in love with Colorado during visits to the state as a high school student.

“I fell in love with the Rockies,” said Weiner. “That’s why I came out to the Rocky Mountains for college.”

He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Classics from the University of Colorado Boulder before going on Active Duty with the Air Force. During his nine-year military career, Weiner focused on aerospace programs and teaching. He was stationed at the Space Schoolhouse in Colorado Springs, teaching classes throughout the year on a variety of topics such as the Global Positioning System, satellites, and satellite imagery.

“When I left the military, I had the GI bill. I had spent nine years in classrooms or in a cubicle behind a computer; I wanted to do something hands-on,” said Weiner. “So I went to Front Range Community College and got a few associate degrees, one of which was in welding.”

During his pursuit of an Associate of Applied Science degree in welding, Weiner helped teach high school students taking courses at FRCC through the concurrent enrollment program. This experience made Weiner realize his true calling as a teacher, leading him to apply to the Center for Educator Preparation’s M.Ed. plus teacher licensure program at Colorado State University.

Rural fellowship brings opportunity

Soon, Weiner will be licensed to teach social studies – a broad subject that includes history, geography, civics, government, and sociology – to middle and high school students in Colorado.

“I love the history stuff, especially everything prior to World War I,” said Weiner. “If it were up to me, I’d teach a whole year on just medieval history. I enjoy all that stuff. Social studies is fun because it keeps me busy and keeps changing. I appreciate the fact that, whenever anything interesting happens in current events, you’re allowed to throw that into your lesson. It keeps things interesting.”

At the start of his student teaching semester, Weiner was awarded one of five fellowships through the Colorado Rural Fellowship program. The program, managed at CSU by CEP and funded through the Colorado Department of Higher Education’s Colorado Rural Fellowship Grant, is designed to address the teacher shortage in rural communities throughout the state by placing teacher candidates and newly licensed educators in rural school districts. CEP provides additional support for the teacher candidates and mentor teachers, with the goal of increasing hiring and retention rates of rural educators.

During his student teaching placement in Weld County School District RE-5J Johnstown-Milliken during the spring 2021 semester, Weiner worked with a mentor teacher in both geography and world history classes. Depending on the class, his role would change to allow for a well-rounded learning experience.

“The way the student teaching program works is, you get set up with a mentor teacher and then your specific role is worked out with your mentor teacher as you go along,” said Weiner. “We’ve organized it so I assist with the geography class and then take the lead for the world history class.”

Spending a semester in a new community brought new learning opportunities for Weiner and his students.

“Of course, I’ve been learning some of the little stuff such as how to set up Google Classroom, and what kind of details or instructions they want or things they want to read,” said Weiner. “Because they’re high school students, they do require a lot more instruction than adult learners. But all of that is great stuff for me to know for next year.”

Meeting challenges

Like other school districts across the country, the pandemic shed light on technology and infrastructure needs in rural areas required to move education into alignment with modern practices. Due to issues relating to access and reliability of the internet and tech devices, Weiner’s students returned to in-person learning sooner than many districts along the Front Range. Weiner and his mentor teacher worked hard to plan lessons to fit both in-person and remote learners, all while students adjusted to face-to-face interactions in classrooms again.

Balancing the health and safety of students and teachers with a range of learning needs was an challenge; however, Weiner and his mentor teacher were able to meet these needs successfully. With many of his students working part-time jobs or at family farms, Weiner had to find ways to keep his students engaged in the coursework. One creative way Weiner found to help students relate their daily lives with what they learned in class was to encourage students to look at the spices in their own kitchen and consider which spices would or wouldn’t be there, had historical trade not happened.

“Truly, the biggest thing for me has been learning to relate what we’re learning in class, in this world history class, to their daily lives,” said Weiner.

The master’s in Education and Human Resource Studies, education sciences specialization is offered through the Center for Educator Preparation. CEP is housed in the School of Education, part of the College of Health and Human Sciences.