By Audrey Carroll Contributing Writer
In the summer of 2017, AlLee Cookson was on track to graduate a semester early from UMF. All that stood between Cookson and her diploma was one general education course and the student teaching requirement of the Education Program, which she would obtain credit for during the upcoming fall semester – allowing her to graduate in December of 2017, instead of May. However, in August, before she had acquired any student teaching experience or her diploma, Cookson accepted a job at Glenburn Elementary as a fourth grade teacher.
At the start of the school year in September 2017, Cookson stood in front of a classroom full of fourth graders with no field experience to guide her through this sudden and unfamiliar journey. “It was terrifying,” said Cookson, “I had no student teaching. I had my practicums, but those were only two days a week. There was only so much I could get from that.”
Cookson feared that inexperience would lessen her success in the the classroom, despite the hard work that led her to this wonderful opportunity. Regarding the first day of teaching in her own classroom, Cookson said, “I remember being really nervous, and unsure of what was going to happen, or how I was going to connect with [the students]. There was just a lot of uncertainty.”
Cookson’s apprehension lasted the entirety of the first day, and was not self-alleviated. In fact, Cookson credits much of the confidence that she now holds to her coworkers at Glenburn Elementary. Another UMF Alumni, Alexandra Crocker, comforted Cookson on her first day at Glenburn. “When I first walked in, [Crocker] was like ‘We went to Farmington, we’ve got this,’ and that really helped,” said Cookson, “I just needed to prove to myself that I could do it, and embrace that this was my moment.”
Cookson’s uncertainty of her worth in the classroom persisted due to parents. UMF is well known for preparing aspiring teachers to work with students everyday, but it can’t provide thorough direction regarding their parents. “There was a parent who found out that I wasn’t certified because I hadn’t finished the program yet,” said Cookson. “She told me that she didn’t think I was qualified to teach her child, and that I shouldn’t be teaching there.”
However, at the end of the year, the same parent thanked Cookson for how well she had taught the children in her classroom. “She was so proud of how her child’s report card looked,” said Cookson.
Though Glenburn Elementary provided Cookson with remarkable and irreplaceable teaching experiences, Cookson moved to Carmel Elementary the following school year where she taught second grade.
Soon after settling in at Carmel Elementary, Cookson became the Glenburn Middle School cheerleading coach. Through this position, Cookson noticed both profound similarities and many differences between coaching and teaching. “I noticed that with coaching there was a lot less structure,” said Cookson, “I didn’t feel as much pressure to meet ‘the standard’ – although there is a standard of what you expect – but it was really just me setting the standard for the girls.”
Because of her experience with a wide range of grade levels, Cookson feels confident that she could handle any teaching position thrown her way: “To go from teaching fourth grade, and teaching second grade, and coaching middle school it feels like I have a whole realm of possibilities for my career of coaching and teaching.”
UMF provided Cookson with the opportunities that allowed her to pursue her dreams very early on, before she had even graduated, and for that she will always be grateful