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Reflections of a Teacher Retiring After a 44 year Career

Great is thy faithfulness...Lord, all I have needed, your hands have provided. After 44 years, 8,360 school days, 9 schools (East Bay and Jefferson twice), 12 principals, and a lot of students, today is my last day as a HCPS teacher.

Bittersweet, but so necessary. Education and school have changed so much since I started my career at East Bay High School, my Alma Mater. I wish I could say all changes benefited children, but I digress for another time.

I have experienced so much through principals; Lyle Flagg (East Bay); Jack Menendez, Ed Ballas, Bobby Quinn (Jefferson High); Charlie Harris (East Bay & Bloomingdale); Juanita Underwood (Sligh); Lynn Lavallee (MacFarlane Park Teen Parent Program); Dave Best, Lewis Brinson, Jacqueline Kennedy Haynes (Blake); Veronica Morgan (DW Waters); Kim Moore (MHS). During my career, there were offers and opportunities that I passed up to remain a classroom teacher. I remained in the classroom because I felt that’s where my greatest impact was. Anything else where I felt my voice was limited or suppressed, I might not have made it to 44 years. **it might have been prison** or removal for speaking out.

There are too many people to name who have loved and supported me....or talked about me and criticized me (but inspired me in a different way). If I start naming, I fear I would leave someone out. However, if you’re special, I hope I’ve communicated that.

To the Tampa Alumnae Chapter of Delta SigmaTheta Sorority, Inc. who invested in my education with your scholarship as a 16-year old East Bay graduate, I hope the return on your investment was worth the risk. Thank you again and again. As a 44 year Delta, the Scholarship Committee is near and dear to my heart.

To Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy Haynes, Blake APC and Principal, where I spent most of my career, thank you for allowing me to be me and supporting me, even if we didn’t agree. I really appreciated that. To Lynn Lavallee and Nadine Johnson at the Teen Parent Program at MacFarlane Park, thank you for supporting me and a program that was, and still is, needed.

Finally, Jefferson, where I started my second year teaching, and where I’ve spent the last years of my career--this was heaven-sent. Gwendolyn Henderson was MY student back then; for the past five years she’s been my Department Head. She is absolutely amazing, not because she’s the President and CEO of my fan club (don’t mess with me), but because she’s SERIOUS about all things education (HBCUs top the list). She’s an inspiration. Once you realize that her bark is far worse than her bite, there isn't another person that you’d rather have in your corner. I love her. When my students become great teachers, it’s a testimony that I’ve done some things well.

Every school where I’ve taught I’ve made some amazing friends. Many of my students have gone on to become teachers, my daughter Alexis Cooke included. She’s an amazing, passionate teacher that I regularly have to talk off a ledge. Her efforts were recognized this year with her earning Ida S. Baker Educator of the Year; I earned that same award in 2005 and was nominated many times. I was also voted Dragon Teacher of the Month for August. Recognition is not a goal or the reason teachers teach; it is, once again, that something we’re doing in the classroom is making an impact on students--and in many cases, other teachers.

To deepen my knowledge of students and teaching, in 2001 I earned National Board Certification. This process documents that teachers have met the profession’s highest standards. I renewed my Certification in 2011. Throughout the past twenty years, and prior to becoming certified, I mentored teachers who were new or who sought to become better teachers. Teaching is an art that I didn’t always get right; my sincere “pressing towards the mark” kept me always looking for ways to improve and to help others do the same.

I hope that these 44 years have left an impression of love, hope, and academic success for those I’ve encountered. Thanks to my family because you are behind the scenes but know it all. Sorors, sisters, friends--thank you for the love throughout the years. Don’t go finding stuff for me to do because I’ll be traveling with Yolanda Jones Cole .

I am so grateful that God has blessed me, and after 44 years I don’t look like what I’ve been through. And, if I helped somebody as I passed along the way, then my living would not have been in vain.

I look forward to the next chapter of my life and the blessings God has in store for me.

Sandra’s daughter, Alexis Cooke, was recently awarded the Ida S. Baker Diversity Educator of the Year Award. Sandra is the better half to the dark, tall and handsome Reggie Dixon and this Power Couple and can be seen annually on the dance floor at the Power Couples’ Ball.

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