The month of September features a variety of health awareness observances including National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, Healthy Aging Month, Better Breakfast Month and many more!

For Crockett Middle School CTE teacher James Payne, these observances serve as a reminder of what his life once was, as well as the necessary steps he took to change his life for the better.

“No joke, becoming a teacher has changed my life,” says Payne. “I had always been a real big guy, like 300-ish pounds most of my adult life.”

When Payne would visit his doctor, they would express concern about his blood pressure and his resting heart rate, which would come in at around 98 beats per minute. On occasions when he would sign up to donate blood, he would be unable to do so due to his heart rate being too high.

“It was affecting my sleep,” says Payne. “I’d wake up in the middle of the night because my arm would be asleep due to lack of circulation. I also suffered from sleep apnea and heartburn.”

Through encouragement from his wife, Patricia, Payne signed up for a weight loss program. 

“The app compares your activity levels, and I remember looking at my steps when I started teaching. I was at around 12,000 – 15,000 steps,” says Payne. “I looked back on the number of steps I had at my office job before becoming a teacher and I was at around 4,000 steps.”

Payne’s journey to becoming a teacher is a unique story in and of itself. After working at a corporate office for nearly 10 years, he was laid off during the pandemic. He and his wife had just recently welcomed their daughter into the world. Nevertheless, his wife reassured him that he had some time to think about his next steps.

“She knew I wasn’t super happy at my office job, and she encouraged me to go sub [substitute teach],” says Payne. “I was a part of Future Teachers of America in high school, and I had gone to college to become a teacher. However, I ended up graduating with a degree in advertising.”

Payne decided to give substitute teaching a chance. He saw an opening at Lady Bird Johnson Middle School, the campus closest to him and the rest was history – sort of.

“I clicked the wrong school!” says Payne as he chuckles. “I clicked on Crockett. The two jobs were next to each other, and I didn’t follow the line over. I had never heard of Crockett, but my wife persuaded me to not cancel and just go check it out. I was bound to sub at a bunch of different places anyways, right?”

Payne subbed his first class at Crockett – an English Language Arts class – in January 2021. He ended up not subbing anywhere else as he was asked to remain in that role as a long-term sub until the end of the school year.

“I loved it here – the people, the staff. I fell in love with Crockett, and at the end of the year I saw that they had a position opening up for CTE, and I went for it,” says Payne.

Payne obtained the necessary teaching certifications, and he has made Crockett his home. Now in his second year of teaching, Payne is not only eating better, but he’s feeling better as well. Payne also takes advantage of one of Irving ISD’s employee wellness benefits, a free membership to Sunstone Fit. This perk provides any Irving ISD employee with unlimited access to yoga, pilates, barre and fitness classes in-studio and at home on-demand.

“Yoga has been the next level in my journey,” Payne says. “On top of eating better, I’m able to see those bigger changes happening. It’s been huge.”

Payne does his best to go to yoga twice a week to the in-person classes at the Las Colinas location and take advantage of the remote classes when he is at home. Both he and his wife take part in doing yoga, and his daughter has started to join in on the fun as well. 

But Payne isn’t stopping there. He encourages all Irving ISD employees, both male and female, to take advantage of the free yoga.

“I do a bunch of body weight fitness stuff like push-ups and pull-ups, and I find that yoga is helpful in enhancing my overall strength,” says Payne. “If we look at pro athletes and what they do to make sure they’re not getting injured, it looks a lot like yoga.”

Payne recalls the first time he went and just how beneficial it was for his body.

“It was like the stretching I did for wrestling in high school,” says Payne. “It’s a lot of the same stretches that I would do before a wrestling match, but it’s in a hot room. You also have someone who is way better than my wrestling coach at guiding you through correct positioning.” 

Payne motivates everyone who may be hesitant to try yoga to participate at least one time. 

“Going just once completely tears apart any previously negative stigma you may have had,” says Payne. “Once you get in there, get on the mat and see what it’s like firsthand, it’s like you’re giving yourself a massage.”

Irving ISD employees interested in redeeming their free yoga membership can email for additional information.