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Life Lessons: Educator’s Edition…Jill Cooper


Life Lessons: Educator’s Edition…
Jill Cooper

Welcome to a special edition of Good Enough Mother Life Lessons! With school right around the corner, we thought it would be great to devote some time and space to the people who are so good to our kids.. educators! Hope you enjoy these special Life Lessons and happy school year to teacher, students AND their parents!

Are you happy at the moment?

You bet! Have you heard Katie Herzig’s recent album, The Waking Sleep? There’s a song on that album that pretty much epitomizes how I approach each day. When I wake up I honestly think that this may in fact be the “Best Day of Your Life.” That kind of hopefulness breeds happiness.

If you could go back and say anything to your 16-year-old self now – what would it be?

Don’t be so timid! If there’s a new challenge that’s calling your name, pursue it with reckless abandon. Don’t let others dissuade you and don’t doubt yourself so much. (That’s a hard mantra to sell to self-conscious teenagers, I know.) Even when we fail at something new, we learn important lessons. Too many teens are paralyzed by the fear of failure. Set some worthy goals for yourself and start chasing them!

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned this year?

If there’s one thing I’ve figured out in the past year it’s that there are opportunities to learn all around me. I am blessed to work in a school entering its 248th academic year. To quote one of my colleagues, “working at Rutgers Preparatory School is like living inside Google.” I am surrounded by fascinating people who have so much to offer. If I need help translating a document, I wander off to find my friends in the World Language department. If I want to know more about child development, I pop down to observe our kindergarten students or to chat with our Lower School teachers. Need advice regarding the best digital SLR camera? I track down the chair of our art department. New teachers (and our students!) keep me up-to-speed with emerging technologies while more experienced teachers share their well-seasoned perspectives on complicated student-family dynamics. Even though I’m an educator, I need to remind myself that I do my job best if I continue to learn each day.

What do you most want to achieve in the next 12 months?

I’ve been working intently to understand the apps that are available to educators and I hope to improve my proficiency with the instructional capabilities of the iPad in the coming school year. Additionally, I’ve grown increasingly enthusiastic about the curriculum-based learning opportunities at Walt Disney World over the past three years I’ve been leading small groups of students there as part of our Senior Explorations program. My goal is to educate fellow teachers and administrators, through professional conferences and social media, about the phenomenal Youth Education Series programs Disney has to offer. There’s no better place to offer a truly immersive life lesson than the Disney theme parks.

What’s your secret to happiness?

I always have some exciting adventure on the horizon! For my family, that usually means there’s a special vacation planned for the future. It’s much easier to get through a rough day when you know that you’ll be climbing the spiral staircases at Neuschwanstein Castle, listening to western music in the lobby of our favorite Disney resort, or riding a gondola through the canals of Venice in a certain number of days. Countdowns to adventure allow my imagination to take me beyond everyday stresses or frustration, and that makes me happy.

What one ritual or practice keeps you grounded?

Silly as it sounds, walking the dog keeps me grounded. A year ago, my family rescued a retired racetrack dog. “Elsie” was three-years-old at the time and on the mend from a broken leg suffered at the track. When we brought her home, neither my husband or I had been a dog owner for thirty years. We thought we were adopting Elsie for our tween son. What we didn’t know is how much Elsie would add to our daily lives too. Walking her is similar in many ways to taking a toddler out for a stroll. Don’t plan to reach your destination in an efficient manner. She stops to smell the flowers, zig-zags across the neighborhood, and generally, forces me to slow down and take in my environment in a way that my normal, deadline-driven life doesn’t allow. Those morning walks help me to reflect upon the many ways I’m blessed. Thanks Elsie!

What’s your biggest regret?

If there’s one thing I would go back and change, I would not drop my study of a foreign language after a few short years in high school. The world is getting smaller and we need to be able to communicate with an ever-increasing number of people around the globe. Many of those folks don’t speak English. Nor should we expect them to. I regret not being bilingual. On a related note, I also regret not studying abroad in college. What a missed opportunity that was!

What’s the most important lesson you’ve taught your kid(s)?

I try very hard to teach my students and my teenage son that everyone you meet has something valuable to teach you. For instance, I require my AP psychology students to interview three people over the age of seventy for our human development unit. Every year when I introduce the assignment I get an interesting mix of panicked expressions and disinterested stares. It’s troubling how many of our teens have never had a substantive conversation with a senior citizen, including their own grandparents. Once they have completed the assignment, it’s really gratifying to hear what they’ve learned from the exchange. My hope is that the assignment will open doors to future conversations with people who don’t necessarily share the same age, gender, religion, or ethnic grouping with my students.

What bad habit would you most like to change about yourself?

If someone has an idea how to break this middle-aged gal of her tendency to procrastinate, I’m all ears. I have this strange habit of calculating how much time I need to complete a task and then leaving only that much time to get the job done. I know this is not a good strategy and yet I haven’t been able to change.

Aside from motherhood/fatherhood and marriage what are you most proud of in your life?

If you’ve already read my previous responses, you know that I value education. So it should come as no surprise that I am very proud to be the first person on either side of my family to earn a terminal degree. My maternal grandmother, who wasn’t afforded the luxury of finishing high school, would be so happy to know of the educational opportunities I’ve had. Knowing that she would be proud of my doctorate tickles me beyond measure.

When were you happiest?

2:13 pm, November 10, 2010. (How’s that for specific?) If I had to pinpoint one time, that was the happiest moment of my life. That’s when the phone in my office at school rang and I was invited to join the Disney Parks Moms Panel. So, why does it mean so much to an educator to be a part of this group? First and foremost, I simply love to help people plan trips that will form the foundation of fond family memories. What a privilege that is! Secondly, my fellow panelists have become a second family (although I had no idea that would be the case at the time that call came). Finally, what that moment really signifies to me is a shift in my life strategy. Prior to that day, I was almost entirely risk-averse. I didn’t like to set myself up for failure. (Who does?) Why should I invest time in an endeavor that will most likely result in disappointment? The odds that I’d be selected to serve on the Moms Panel were so stacked against me that it was almost ridiculous to apply. Yet, the tiniest glimmer of hope existed within me and for one of only a few times in my life I said, “why not?” I’m so glad I did. Not only did that application permit me to serve alongside the most enthusiastic, engaging, and compassionate folks I’ve ever met, it taught me that it’s definitely worth chasing dreams and taking risks.

What ten words best describe you?

Studious. Diplomatic. Persistent. Loyal. Curious. Optimistic. Supportive. Introverted. Patient. Mischievous.

What is the best way parents can help you in the coming year?

Stay connected! I want to work together with you as a team in support of your son or daughter. While it is important for adolescents to grow increasingly self-reliant as problem-solvers, they still need our help and guidance at times. If you see your child spinning in anxiety-ridden, self-destructive circles over an assignment I have given or a concept they are learning, reach out to me and share what you are seeing at home. Chances are, there’s something I can do to help.

Dr. Jill E. Cooper is Associate Director of College Counseling at Rutgers Preparatory School. She joined the science faculty at RPS in 2000 after completing a postdoctoral fellowship in the history of psychology at the Institute of Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research. In addition to her responsibilities in college counseling, she currently teaches AP psychology and a sophomore history elective in the history of American science and medicine. She’s an AP psychology grader for the College Board, a freelance writer, and a former Assistant Director of Admission for Bucknell University, her alma mater. She is the proud mother of a teenage son and an incurable Disney fan.



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