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North Texas school district addresses teacher shortage by tapping into young talent

Christian James started teaching less than two years after graduating from the district

CEDAR HILL, Texas — When Christian James graduated from Cedar Hill Collegiate High School, he knew it would open doors.

He just didn’t expect this to be one of them.

“I never thought I’d be back in a school environment, but it is definitely interesting to be on the other side,” James said.

Less than two years after leaving as a student, James came back to the district as a teacher.

Not a substitute teacher, but a full-time teacher. 

James, now 20, started last year while he was still a teenager. By doing so, he surprised not only himself, but his former principal, Heath Koenig.

“I really did not expect him to be back at all,” said Koenig, who’s now Cedar Hill ISD’s Executive Director of Elementary School Leadership.

Koenig didn’t expect it because James is getting a degree from Mississippi State in Meteorology.

He was able to start teaching because of a new program in Cedar Hill ISD called ‘Grow Your Own’ where the district is addressing teacher shortages by allowing former students and staff to earn their teaching certificate while finishing college.

James, who graduated high school with half of his college credits already earned, still wants to be a weatherman one day, but says he now has two passions.

“These kids are my world,” James said. “It’s the best feeling in the world to know that you’re able to teach them something and they grow from it.”

He says it helps that he’s only a few years older than these students.

“I know the lingo they speak, the videos they watch, the new apps they’re on,” James said. “I know how to engage them on their level.”

He also understands his teachers better and what they went through to give him an education.

That’s why he now seeks them out to ask for advice and forgiveness.

“I apologize to them every time I see them,” James laughed. “I say, ‘hey, I now realize what it is you went through and I’m so sorry for everything I ever did.’”

He may be a teacher, but obviously he’s still learning.

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