Jen Cooper, master’s in family and consumer science education ’20 and Ed.S. ’21 from Tennessee Tech University, thought she knew where she would end up in her career until a part-time opportunity allowed her to fall in love with something new.
From a young age, Cooper was constantly around teachers and students, with her mom being a preschool director, but she never saw herself filling the role of a teacher. While attending college studying psychology, she got a part-time job in the Blount County school system as a reading tutor.
“They needed some extra tutors for their kindergartens who were not entirely reading on level yet, so I was doing that just part-time, and then I fell in love with it,” Cooper explained. “I was working with this awesome kindergarten teacher, and I just saw how much she truly loved her students and how they loved her, and I loved learning, and I fell in love with it. I was like, ‘I want to be that for students one day,’ and so I changed my major almost immediately.”
After graduating with an early childhood degree, Cooper went on to work as an instructional assistant in Maryville City Schools but wanted to find something full-time where she could focus on the goal of making a difference in students’ lives. While looking for this opportunity, she received a call from Anderson County schools for an early childhood education instructor open position.
“I thought I would be teaching preschool, so I applied. It turns out that it was for their early childhood education high school program, so I went through with the interview, and they thought I would be a good fit even though I didn’t even know what the position was,” she said. “I went on a whim and said I would try it out because it was only for a half a year, and maybe this will would get my foot in the door, and I fell in love with teaching high school.”
Because Cooper had a background in early childhood education, she needed to get her high school certification. When she contacted the state asking them for advice on where she should get certified to teach her class and program well, they told her Tennessee Tech.
“Once I started the family consumer science master’s program, I was like ‘I love these people,’ and I regret a little bit not going there for my undergraduate because I loved my time there (to Tech), and I felt so much better prepared for my classroom through (Tech’s) programs,” she said.
Cooper now teaches high school students of all levels at Harriman High School as the teaching as a profession program instructor. This program prepares students for a future studying education in college or a career working with students in some capacity.
“I am grateful that I get the opportunity to make a difference in students’ lives. Especially for students who feel like they don’t have anybody encouraging them or don’t really know what they should do after high school,” she said.