Thomas Jefferson

High School | Home of the Spartans

Teaching the Next Generation

Posted 02/13/2024 by Ben Scherer

Mr. Stephenson makes sure he leaves a huge positive impact on his students and the TJ community. photo by Emanuel Morales-Gomez

James Stephenson teaches Civics and AP U.S. Government and Politics, educating future students in political science.

According to a Foundation for Individual Rights and Expresion survey, only a third of U.S. citizens were able to name a First Amendment right. In fact, only three percent of all people could name all five of the rights. How could the world prevent this lack of knowledge in future generations? James Stephenson may just be the answer. 

Stephenson has taught at Thomas Jefferson High School for a little under six years. He is TJ’s Civics and AP United States Government and Politics teacher and hopes that by teaching, he’ll be able to make a positive impact by educating students about the world of politics.

Stephenson got his Bachelor’s degree from Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU) in history and later got his certified teaching license, also from MSU Denver. Before he was a teacher at Thomas Jefferson, he worked as a land surveyor and then worked for an engineering company for a little while, where he was tasked with testing the durability of concrete for different buildings. 

When Stephenson was in 6th grade, he had a really impactful teacher who he claimed inspired him to become a teacher. Right after he got out of college, Stephenson began to sub for schools in DPS and Jeffco. He subbed for English classes and Social Studies classes, which sharpened his teaching skills and helped him to later become a Civics and AP U.S Government teacher. Stephenson believes that politics are very important, stating that, “If we don’t have the right people in charge making the right decisions, we are going to lose basic fundamental rights, so we need to make the right decisions on who we elect so we can not only maintain our freedom, but maintain freedoms as our country moves forward.”

Stephenson likes to teach his class in a fun and engaging way, where students can participate in group discussions, readings, debates, and projects. In his classes, students do a special type of reading called “watermelon reading,” where students can participate to read a paragraph, then the teacher will pass them a watermelon ball, and they will read their paragraph they chose to read. Then, when they finish reading their paragraph, they will toss the ball to the next person who volunteers to read for the class. This is considered among students much more fun than just independently reading, or the teacher reading the passage and/or document. 

The reason why Stephenson wanted to become a Civics teacher is because of his observations during college, where he noticed that many individuals lacked understanding of governmental functions. This motivated him to address this knowledge gap, and he felt like he had to take action and contribute to educating others about civics.

Stephenson’s favorite thing about working at Thomas Jefferson is the diversity, because here at TJ, everyone has different views on different topics. He also likes the TJ team and the students here because “we work here every day, and we make sure that we are bettering ourselves, not only as a teacher but as a person in general.” Another thing he likes about his job is that there is always something to talk about. He says, “Students come in with questions, and they want to know my thoughts, so I need to be ready to provide answers.”

Stephenson encourages students to take AP U.S. Government because it covers everything in Civics, but goes much deeper into the content. Civics is only a semester long class, whereas AP U.S. Government is broken up into two semesters. Students in AP U.S. Government cover a wide range of content such as civil rights and liberties, how the three branches of government interact, and much more. 

Since politics change all the time, Stephenson has to always stay on top of the news. This is because the classes he teaches are shaped around current events. He says that he needs to know what the government is doing, what decisions they are making, and he has to be a constant consumer of the news. In his class, he also has to keep his political opinions out of the way at all times so students don’t know where he stands politically.

Stephenson hopes that his students take all the knowledge and skills from his class into the future with them. He specifically wants his students to become more educated citizens who possess the ability to know how they can impact/influence the decisions the government makes. Stephenson plans to continue to make a positive impact on the TJ community and inform students about politics for as long as he can.