Name: Zach Cooper
School district: USD 435 Abilene
City/State: Abilene, KS
Class/content area taught:
Introduction to Ag (2 sections), Welding I, Horticulture, Greenhouse Management, Ag Fabrication
What are you most excited about with your new career? Mostly for the endless potential for where to take the program. In Ag, you control what you teach. There are plenty of projects and avenues to take, which means more flexibility. Each year you have different classes, so that makes it more unique. I’m really excited about the district I’m in. I’m the young kid, but they treat me with respect and are continually helping me in any form that they can. That was a concern because I had heard that the new teachers get picked on because of “lack of experience.” But that is not true here. They want to see me succeed. They understand that we as educators are a team and we must be there for everyone. They will walk out to my classroom (I teach in a different building) just to see how my life is going and see if there is anything they can do to help me.
What you enjoy most about teaching: The students—hands down. They bring with them everyday a passion. With that passion is energy that is contagious. And its not just their passions that make my job amazing. It is the students and who they are. They’re not just a name on a paper. Over this past year, I have had the chance to get to know the students outside the classroom—whether they’re building derby cars or raising livestock, to sports and other major commitments, each student is different, and their story is one that is incredible to hear. We’re building more connections and bridges. Getting to know them—it’s been really easy. Maybe it just comes naturally for me. We connect on a personal level; I have a professional understanding for my student. I care, and I try to help any way possible.
In what ways has your school/district supported you? If there’s been a conference I’ve wanted to go to, they’ve supported me. They’re very encouraging for me to grow and develop as an individual. The school board and interim superintendent and principal—they want to know what I want to see happen in the shop. They want to help as much as possible. I’ve felt connected with other teachers. They have lunch with me, talk about classes and stuff. When I was doing a project, the science teacher shared supplies with me. I haven’t heard anything negative.
What are some specific things you believe KSU especially helped prepare you for your new career? The College of Education and Ag Ed get us out of the classroom and into schools. By doing so, they help with the transition to be on the other side of the desk, so when we get our own classroom, we are confident in ourselves and use to the situation.. KSU gets a gold star in providing us field experiences. For example, in Block 2, I had Professional Development School visits where I taught three 11/2-hour classes. That hands on experience was tremendous, because we weren’t just sitting in a class listening to theories and strategies of education. We were actually putting the theories and strategies to actions. Whether it was Educational Psychology talking about child development and legal issues, or Core classes, or content-specific areas, we were able to apply it and see gems and opportunities in the classroom.
Are there specifics about your background that make teaching the perfect fit for you? My dad is a cop, and my mom was a warden at a corrections facility, and I grew up in a small Colorado town. With my parents’ occupation, I learned quickly that everyone is different, but they all deserve respect and deserve to have someone they can depend on. In a small town, I felt more confident because I knew everyone, and I was exposed to more opportunities to grow and become more diverse. The support system was always there. My first two years of high school I was shy, but everyone knew there was so much I could do, they continued to push and challenge me. By the time I was a senior, I was president of numerous clubs and received numerous awards for athletics. As a freshman, I wouldn’t speak to anyone out of school, and my senior year, I grew to the point where I presented a speech on world hunger on the state level to thousands of people. I’ve worked with cattle, pigs, goats, worked on wind towers, food industry, garden stores…and list goes on and on. I have been across the United States, interacted with people from backgrounds across the board, and seen another country and their way of life. I was given ample opportunities to become diverse in my experiences, build my self confidence, and communicate with others from every background possible.
I wanted to bring my experiences back into the classroom for my students. With so many different careers that are ag related, there are connections and bridges in everything, from being a bank loan officer to the government side of things. I want to give an opportunity in my intro class for my students to see all of those. I want to walk them through every possibility—introduce them to a career and give them life skills as well. FFA is a great example of the different avenues. The organization changes with the industry., with career development events, public speaking, etc.
Suggestions/encouragement for new teachers: Make sure you set some time aside for you. Yes, the first year of teaching is important, but you’re human. Take some time for yourself. Be the initiator—find someone to help you when you need the help—other colleagues, college professors are a huge help; teaching groups at conferences. Start meeting with teachers. If they have 30-plus years of experience, imagine the advice they can share—of what to do and what not to do. Go out—leave the school building and your house. Go to basketball games. People come up to me and ask if I’m the new ag teacher. That’s confidence booster. Socialize. It’s hard and scary in a new environment, but leave the buildings and meet people. And, finally, sometimes a “no” is OK. You can say “no” as a first-year teacher. I will admit that I felt like I was obligated to say yes since I was the new guy. But if you do that all the time, you burn yourself out and you leave yourself no time to breathe.
Other thoughts? Teaching is a rewarding area. But it is also challenging. In this profession (though I am just getting started), you will see so many things. Some good, and some that make your heart sick. But in the end, it is worth it–seeing those students grow and knowing you have been a part of their life. A quote I came across recently was this: “Teachers are people who start things they never see finished, and for which they never get thanks until it is too late”- Max Forman. We may not see the impact we are making every day, but when we do see it, we know we would do it all again.