Lessons in Learning - Cooley

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By Rachel Mergen

“I just love kids. I love watching them learn,” remarked Susan Cooley, Wauzeka-Steuben Middle School science teacher. These are the reasons she has dedicated herself to teaching in the rural community for the past 33 years.

Cooley was the youngest member of a large family. She became used to taking care of her siblings’ children, which inspired her to pursue teaching and helping the youth. 

To follow her dreams of educating the next generations, Cooley originally found herself attending the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. She transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater midway through her post-secondary education, believing that Whitewater was the best option for her because she could complete a dual major with special education. 

Following her graduation, she completed a master’s degree in middle school science at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. In addition, she became licensed to teach agriculture.

 Cooley, a native of Seneca and graduate of Wauzeka-Steuben High School, always planned on returning to the area to find a position.

Originally, she taught fifth grade, which later combined with the district’s sixth grade class. The three teachers in charge of these grades decided they would all teach language arts curriculum, but then each one chose an additional subject to teach the two grades. 

Science was Cooley’s choice, because she had “always been inquisitive.” While living on a farm, she always wondered how things worked.

Her experience with animals is very evident within her classroom, as she houses many pets including two guinea pigs, three birds and fish.

She also enjoys teaching science, because it is “easy to tie back to the student.” She said she is able to make the material valuable to almost every student’s life. The information learned can be applied regularly in the student’s lifetime.  

Currently, she teaches fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade science, along with high school biology. Her favorite topic to teach is physics, because it’s normally the first time the students are introduced to the subject. She enjoys lessons on motion and force. 

“I have several of my first students’ children,” she said about what brings great memories to mind. She likes looking back at how families have grown over the years. In addition, she is delighted by running into former students and remembering the positive relationships and moments she had with them. Being able to make connections and seepeople often is the fulfilling part of living in a small community, according to Cooley.

One of her favorite parts of teaching is watching students grow from fifth grade through the start of high school. Occasionally, like this year, she is even able to teach them once again in high school. “To watch them progress in their science studies is neat,” Cooley said.

One of the most challenging moments of teaching for Cooley is “when I can’t reach a student and have to see them struggle. Sometimes you just can’t get them to do well.”

In addition, she said it is hard “to watch them not make wise choices.”

Cooley hope teachers realize, “Children’s behavior is not a reflection of the teachers, but it is more based on the choices they make. [Teachers shouldn’t] take their anger personally.”

Through her many years of teaching, Cooley has learned the importance of patience and that there is always “more than one way to solve a problem.”

An important lesson all teachers must learn, according to Cooley, is to “have a balance between what you do at work and what you do at home. It is really easy to live your work.” She hopes all teachers heed the importance of this advice. 

In the future, Cooley’s dream after retirement is to “put my horse and dog in my horse camper and just travel.”

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