FORT GIBSON — Advanced Placement teacher Cassandra Edwards always seems to smile.
"She loves her job," Principal Gary Sparks said. "Her students will tell you she loves her job. Every day, there's a smile on her face and it's part of her job."
Edwards has a new reason to smile. Fort Gibson schools recently honored her as district teacher of the year. The district presented her with a plaque Thursday at the Red and White Scholars Banquet.
"I feel good about it," Edwards said. "We have a lot of really great teachers at Fort Gibson. I was voted on by the teachers. It means a lot to me that my colleagues have that much confidence in me."
She has taught at Fort Gibson for six years.
"I do really love my job," she said. "I work with AP students, and they're great kids who work hard. I enjoy them."
Edwards said Advanced Placement students need to be challenged.
"They need to have difficult tasks placed before them, and they need to learn the steps to be able to take on those larger projects, so they can break them down and scaffold up," she said. "A lot of the AP classes are geared toward preparing students for college level work."
But it's not all hard work. Students also make AP-themed ornaments for the class Christmas tree. Examples hang on Edwards' classroom wall.
"When I taught English solely, I had them do ornaments based on literary works," she said. "Now that I teach AP world history, they also do historical ornaments."
A Kansas native, Edwards grew up loving to learn.
"I don't think I ever needed to be motivated to learn," she said. "It was really just having the access to interesting materials, interesting teachers."
She developed a love of English.
"I took so many literature classes in college, it didn't make sense to learn anything else," she said.
Her desire to teach came from working in a restaurant during her years at the University of Arkansas.
"We had a lot of high school students who worked at the restaurant as well," she said. "They knew I was working on an English degree, so they'd come and ask me for help with 'I don't understand this poem,' or 'can you help me with this story.' I really enjoyed them, so it made sense to me that I would enjoy sharing what I learned."
Edwards spent six years as a graduate assistant at Arkansas. She taught four years at Shiloh Christian School in Tahlequah, one year in Kinta and six years at Fort Gibson.
She said she sees herself as a student.
"I never quit learning," Edwards said. "I enjoy sharing what I've learned with my students."
Next school year, Edwards drops AP English and will teach AP history.
"I'll be learning a lot more details about history in order to prep for my classes," she said.
She said the biggest reward to teaching is seeing students "when they finally see something from a new perspective or grasp a new concept or learn a new skill."
"It's that look of wonder when they have an idea that's floating in their heads," she said.
Meet Cassandra Edwards
HOMETOWN: Wichita, Kansas.
EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in liberal arts and master's degree in English, University of Arkansas.
PROFESSION: Advanced Placement teacher at Fort Gibson High School.
FAMILY: Husband, William Edwards; three sons.
HOBBIES: Reading and knitting.