Cooke returns to classroom after more than 3-year absence
August 30, 2009
Steamboat Springs — Brad Cooke never really lost the desire to teach.
One of the new faculty members at Soroco High School, where he will teach social studies, Cooke returned to teaching full time this fall after about two years building furniture for Dovetail Designs in Oak Creek.
Cooke and his wife, Shayna, moved to Routt County more than three years ago. Cooke previously taught English and literature for eight years at schools in Fork Union, Va., and Chattanooga, Tenn.
“We’re the typical Yampa Valley story,” he said. “We moved out to ski for the season and to play around, and we’re still here.”
Before working for Dovetail, where he built furniture, Cooke worked as a ski instructor, at Galaxy Aviation and at Steamboat Art Company. And last summer, he helped Shayna open her business, Over the Moon Fashion Jewelry & Accessories, in downtown Steamboat Springs.
Cooke also has been teaching the General Education Degree class at Colorado Mountain College’s Alpine Campus for the past three years, so he hasn’t been too far away from education.
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But he missed teaching full time.
Cooke said he always kept his eyes open, and when the Soroco position became available, he jumped on the opportunity to return to the classroom.
“Professionally, I think it’s where I’m at my best,” he said. “The act of being able to present information in a meaningful and engaging way. I like to sort of get up and figure out new ways of doing that.”
Cooke said he hopes his experience these past three-plus years will enhance his teaching ability. He said when he took his first teaching job, at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia – where he taught English for three years before being named middle school commandant – he was just out of college at Virginia Military Institute and didn’t have any life experience.
He said the moving around, working at several different jobs between teaching stints and starting a business in a down economy enriched his life.
“That can be translated to the classroom environment,” he said. “I think all those experiences are relevant. I just have to figure out (how) to bring that relevancy to the classroom.”
He added that his military education – he also attended Fork Union before going to college at VMI – taught him accountability, which he wants to pass along to students.
“The experience factor is pretty big,” said Soroco High School Principal Dennis Alt, who added that Cooke’s time as an English teacher would allow him to raise the thinking levels of his students in history, civics and geography classes.
South Routt School District Superintendent Scott Mader said broader, deeper and more enriched backgrounds often assist with classroom instruction.
“I think we’re lucky to get those individuals, especially the ones like him who want to return to education,” Mader said about Cooke. “To want to come back to teaching, I think creates more passion for teachers. They come back with more experience and more passion.”
On Tuesday, Cooke told his first class on the first day of school that they wouldn’t be required to memorize every name and date of the time periods they’d cover. The students would have to know some names and chronology, he said, but that wasn’t what his class was about. Instead, Cooke said, it was important for his students to understand the significance of those events and how they shaped how the world works today.
By understanding what came before them, Cooke told his class, they can make better, more informed decisions. Cooke said he couldn’t imagine a better time to be a history teacher.
Cooke said some of the biggest initial challenges would be learning the names of 75 students and creating a curriculum that aligns with state standards, but added that those challenges would be fun. After Oct. 15 or so, he’ll have another challenge – he and Shayna are expecting their first child.
After his first day of school, in his ninth year in front of a classroom, Cooke said being a teacher still provides him with a lot of satisfaction.
“At the end of the day, you feel like you’ve done something,” he said. “I enjoy that sense of accomplishment. You get a lot of energy from the kids.”