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Wells Middle School’s Jan Cohen Nominated Alameda County Teacher of the Year

October 11, 2011

Jan Cohen - Wells Middle School

“Celebrating Real Life Heroes” was the theme of the recent Alameda County Teacher of the Year awards ceremony held at San Leandro High School. According to the Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary a hero is “a man admired for his achievements and qualities”. We all know that this definition is shared equally with both genders. This is one of several anecdotes shared at the ceremony, held on Thursday, October 6.

Annually, the Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE) provides a forum to recognize educators throughout the County that have demonstrated excellence in their daily work. There were candidates from 16 school districts and 3 Regional Occupational Programs. This year, the nominee from the Dublin Unified School District (DUSD) was Jan Cohen, Mathematics Instructor at Wells Middle School. Jan is following the footsteps of recent Wells nominees John Cardinalli (retired Physical Education Instructor) and Erik Bertelson (current Instrumental Music Teacher).

Jan followed a non-traditional path into the teaching profession. After gaining her B.S. degree in Computer Science from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, she initiated her career as an Application Programmer at IBM in San Jose. As her career progressed, her family also began to grow. Faced with this dilemma, she primed her focus on raising her family and making a material impact at her children’s schools. She served in multiple capacities on the Parent Faculty Club (PFC) and the School Site Council (SSC). With her three children quickly progressing through school, Ms. Cohen decided to cement her commitment to education by pursuing and completing her Multiple-Subject Teaching Credential at California State University, Hayward in 1998. She has served this district since that time at both Frederiksen Elementary and Wells Middle School – employed as a Mathematics teacher since 2002.

To appreciate the scope of this award, we must take a moment to digest the number of possible candidates. There are hundreds of educators that are eligible for this recognition. To attain a nomination on behalf of your own district is a tremendous accomplishment on its own. met recently with DUSD nominee, Jan Cohen, Wells Middle School. How were you notified about this honor?

Jan Cohen: “I believe that it was back in mid-May of this year and I was conducting my Graphics Design class in room H-9. Just prior to the end of class, staff members from the District Office and former Principal, Kathy Rosselle burst into the room with a huge bouquet of flowers. They went on to announce to the class, and to me, that I had been nominated for the Teacher of the Year honor. Then, at release, an announcement was made school-wide of this momentous event.” What happened next?

Cohen: “It simply wasn’t over then. I received an application from the California Department of Education. In addition to providing personal/professional information, I was tasked with writing essays on seven separate subjects. These topics included my thoughts on Student Progress, Community Involvement, my Philosophy of Teaching, Educational Trends, among others. This was probably the most arduous part of the process. I have never been one to seek out the limelight. so it was a challenge to write about myself.”

To help the readers understand some elements from the application, we are lifting selected pieces from Jan’s essay submission.

Student Progress: “Differentiating instruction for students is difficult in most classrooms. I like to vary my lesson delivery in content and to appeal to different styles of learners. I use specific outlines and note-taking formats for visual learners, I try to press my auditory learners with discussion, and whenever possible I try to have some sort of hands-on activity for kinesthetic learners.”

Education Issues and Trends: “No longer can we teach traditional lessons and expect to produce super-thinkers. We must focus our teaching on group/team projects, letting the students drive what interests them. It seems to me that it is important that we start paring down the curriculum and giving more comprehensive, in depth, authentic instruction – something the student will enjoy or will be good at, or both.”

As a footnote, there were brief video presentations for each candidate. Under the evening’s theme of “Celebrating Real Life Heroes”, each nominee was asked for their definition of a hero. In the preparation for her statement, Jan simply looked up the word in a dictionary. The term was associated with a male. In retrospect, it was easy for Jan – she noted her brother, Jeff Ramsey. Jeff is a retired Battalion Chief of the Alameda County Fire Department. In addition to his regular responsibilities, he has also served as a first responder to national catastrophes including Hurricane Katrina and 9-11. When Jan researched the definition of “hero” she didn’t feel quite worthy of the description. However, that was until she read the passage of “one who is worthy of being a role model.” At that moment, she was willing to embrace this recent honor and what it all meant to her as a recipient. Go ahead, Jan. Write in the word “female” into your dictionary under the word “hero”.

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