Courtesy of Leisa Justus' Twitter
Geneva Cook was selected as Teacher of the Year for Blackman High School. She is a dedicated and driven English IV teacher who quickly adapted to both the distance learning and in-person guidelines. This year has been difficult to navigate for students and teachers, but Cook accommodates her students as well as helping other teachers through the Rutherford Education Association (REA).
“I am the vice-president of the Rutherford Education Association. I have been a member of TEA [Tennessee Education Association] and NEA [National Education Association] since 1994 when I first started teaching. I have always appreciated the fact that they fight for teacher rights in all forms of government. I really started to get involved about five years ago. I have since been Association Representative, Membership Chair, Zone 3 Representative, and now vice-president. I love that on the local level I can help teachers in our county with situations they may be uncomfortable with or steer them to experts who can help them. I have become a stronger leader and have a greater understanding of how to talk to our members and potential members,” stated Cook.
Cook’s involvement with the REA has not only further equipped her in her teaching, but she also is able to use her skills to help other teachers feel prepared as well. She has strengthened her leadership through this program, helping her thrive as a teacher.
“Teachers are nothing if not flexible. Adapt is our middle name! This year, however, we have had to adapt like never before. Between learning how to use Kiddom, Zoom, and Teams as well as adapting our lessons to these online platforms, we have spent hours emailing students and parents. I had to learn to set boundaries for myself. In Q1, I would answer an email if it came in at midnight! That was not good for my sleep patterns. In Q2 I stopped answering late emails, and in fact, turned notifications off on my phone after a certain time. I have enjoyed some parts of distance learning. I really enjoy being paperless! The worst part of all of this though has been the worry that is always in the back of my mind about me or someone I love getting COVID-19,” said Cook.
Distance learning is a system unlike anything Rutherford County has done in the past. Through this program, teachers have had to learn to use new online platforms, such as Kiddom and Zoom, as well as helping students to succeed from their homes. Working amidst a pandemic can be intimidating, but Cook rose to the challenge.
“I am a distance learner. Mrs. Cook has bettered my learning by always having a positive attitude and being extremely patient with every one of her students regardless of what’s going on in the world right now,” stated Aidan Arcega, senior.
The pandemic has caused many students, especially the senior class, to feel overwhelmed amidst all of the unknown aspects of this school year. Cook, however, remains a positive light for her seniors.
“Out of all the teachers I have had this year through all the troubles of being a distance learner she has been the most helpful and understanding,” stated Aubrey Johnson, senior.
Cook helps students to navigate this school year full of unknowns. This year can be stressful, but Cook is understanding and helps her seniors finish high school strong.
“I’m an in-person learner and Mrs. Cook has made English fun and easier despite the pandemic. She has no problem answering questions regarding the work or explaining when assignments are due,” stated Ja’Brea Rogers, senior.
Not only does Cook educate distance learners well, she also helps in-person learners adapt to school amidst a pandemic. Students both in-person and distance alike can feel prepared to enter college with the information they need.
“One positive experience I’ve had with Mrs. Cook probably happens every day at the beginning of class. She always has a great attitude about starting class, and it honestly makes the Zoom call less tense/awkward,” said Arcega.
Teaching both online and in-person students require effort and time, but Cook makes this time for her students. She engages distance learners and in-person learners alike with her teaching style.
“From the time I was a little child, I would pretend to teach. I had a chalkboard that I would set up in front of my class of dolls and stuffed animals. I have always loved reading, and that facilitated my love of English class. In high school, I had a wonderful English teacher [who] kept our class engaged and learning new things all the time. I wanted to be like that. I wanted to teach others to enjoy or at least appreciate literature,” explained Cook.
Cook expressed that her love of teaching began at a young age. From teaching in her childhood bedroom to being inspired by her high school teacher, Cook knew her passion for teaching at a young age.
“After teaching for 26 years, I have a lot of wonderful memories. I taught in Nashville at Pearl-Cohn High School my first five years of teaching. Those years were awesome and fun. I feel like those students taught me how to be a teacher. I am still in touch with many of them today, and I am proud of them. When students contact me after many years to say that they enjoyed my class, or that they were inspired by something we talked about I feel like it has been worth it!” stated Cook.
Cook has taught a myriad of students in the past, and she maintains connections with many of her past students today. She continues to positively impact students in her teaching career.
“My favorite memory from her class so far is when I was in school, and she would let us go outside for breaks every day and take off our masks. It was just something I appreciated her letting her us do,” explained Arcega.
Amidst a pandemic, the regulations schools must uphold can be strenuous, but with mask breaks, these rules become more manageable. Cook allowed for her students to safely take breaks from wearing a mask.
“She’s impacted my education by showing me that teachers really do care about their students. She’s constantly pushing us to do better and to have a great year even though some of us can’t be at school,” said Arcega.
Cook makes an impact on each senior she has in class. She pushes her students to succeed while also caring to listen to their thoughts and ideas.
“She has impacted my education because English had never been a strength for me. Mrs. Cook has been the only teacher that has made my weakest subject interesting and easier. I really appreciate her for that,” explained Rogers.
Even if a student prefers or excels other subjects besides English, Cook engages students and helps them to enjoy and succeed in English.
“One positive experience that I really enjoy during her class is just how happy she seems and tries to understand her students instead of look down on them or treat them as is they aren’t as smart as others in the classroom,” said Johnson.
Cook makes sure all students are equipped with the tools they need to achieve in English IV. She ensures all students receive the help they need.
“It’s hard to choose one favorite memory from her class. Everyday you walk into her class the atmosphere is different from any other. There have been days I’ve been upset or stressed about school, but when I go in her class it’s comforting. I don’t have to be afraid of asking a million questions, or being stressed over her work,” stated Rogers.
Cook also has many aspirations for her teaching career. She can now compete for county teacher of the year at the high school level.
“My next goal is deciding when I should retire! I am hoping to retire at the 30-year mark,” explained Cook.
In four years, Cook will be planning for retirement. Her impact will not cease, however, if she decides to retire.
“A positive experience from Mrs. Cook is she’s very understanding. One day I was unable to attend school in person so I joined her zoom from the hospital. Somehow I lost connection and I was afraid of the consequences and missing out on instruction. She emailed me later that day to check on me and make sure everything was alright and also fill me in on the things I missed. Which was greatly appreciated,” explained Rogers.
Cook is emphatic and understanding with her students. She also attributes her success to her students. She can recall many memorable students throughout her teaching career.
“After 26 years of teaching, I have many fond memories and wonderful students. It is too difficult to pick just one!” stated Cook.
Being a teacher requires immense patience and determination. Cook has met and surpassed these qualities, and as she impacts students, she is simultaneously impacted by her students.