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In 1989, Sarah Cooper placed seventeenth in the Scripps National Spelling Bee after winning the San Diego County Spelling Bee. Although her spelling career ended there, she did go on to receive a bachelor's degree in American history and literature from Harvard College and has taught middle and high school history and English for almost two decades in Los Angeles, Boulder (Colorado), and La Jolla (California). She is currently teaching eighth-grade US history and serves as Dean of Studies at Flintridge Preparatory School in La Canada, California.
"I am not sure I could avoid the profession," she says, adding that both of her parents were career public high school teachers before they retired. Sarah says that she wanted to become a teacher to be with kids every day. "I also wanted to give back to the next generation what I learned from my many knowledgeable and kind teachers in elementary, middle, and high school. I wanted to teach skills and cultural literacy concepts that can help students be productive, thoughtful citizens of the world."
In her classrooms, she likes to watch kids focus their energy into productive thinking as they start the day's activities. "I love connecting what we are learning in history to current events outside the classroom. I love watching students grow from year to year in my classrooms or in the hallways of our school. I love one-on-one conferencing with students when we can discuss their writing and their thinking," Sarah says.
When she sat down to write her book, Making History Mine, she looked through all of her lesson plans and handouts from the previous ten years to see patterns, themes, and strategies. "Once I had taken notes on all of these ideas, I began putting the elements together into chapters based on goals and themes," Sarah explains. Sarah is currently working on a book with Routledge about teaching middle school civics and current events, Creating Citizens, due out in early 2018.
For her own professional development, Sarah likes to find inspiration by reading widely and collaborating with colleagues. "I look for the idea that I can't get out of my head, the one that at first sounds too difficult or outside my typical style. If it sounds challenging and I can't forget it, it's probably an idea that will transform one area of my teaching." Recently she has also found it interesting to read about how schools change. "For pedagogical books, I look for works that will help me see the big picture of schools," she says.
Sarah lives near Los Angeles with her husband and two sons.