Retiring teachers reflect on decades of time at ETHS: Caroline Cooper

Photo courtesy of Caroline Cooper

Photo courtesy of Caroline Cooper

Mack Jones, Staff Writer

After 30-plus years of work at ETHS, Math and AVID teacher Caroline Cooper has decided to retire at the end of an impactful career. She started her tenure intimidated by the scale of the school, but over the years found meaningful connections with the people she taught and shared a classroom with.

Cooper worked at Citibank in Downtown Evanston when she began thinking about alternative employment. Several ETHS staff came into the bank and helped convince her to apply for an opening in the Special Education Department as a support staff.

Cooper got the job and began working with students soon after. She quickly formed relationships with some of her students and used her classroom as a place they could come for support during lunch blocks. Although her work as a teacher could sometimes be extremely demanding, Cooper also found it extremely rewarding. 

“I got to work with a lot of different students, and I got to do a lot of different things,” Cooper said. “At the end of the day or the end of the week, what came to my mind were thoughts of things kids would say or how much they appreciate it. I can’t describe how that feeling is, but I still have it today. I don’t think it ever gets old.”

One of Cooper’s favorite memories of her time at ETHS involves the students she has helped over the years. The school used to have a program called The Academy, an opportunity created to help address the needs of students coming into the building that may have had academic and emotional struggles. 

“The last year in that program, you saw kids taking advanced algebra, taking all these AP classes, and that meant that it was working,” said Cooper. “Sometimes I hesitate to use the word teaching because I feel like [the knowledge] is inside of you. I’m just activating it, but seeing them graduate was like being the parent of 19 kids and seeing all of your kids be successful.”

The COVID-19 pandemic was something that Cooper struggled with, but it made her appreciate her students that much more. The year of online learning was frustrating for her, but there was also an overwhelming joy for Cooper when students returned to the classroom. 

“Even though people had masks on, that was, for me, like an indication. Even though we’re still going through this, we’ve gone through this together. You can feel sorry for yourself and the next person, [but] we all need to try to help each other. And that was a signature moment,” Cooper said.

It was one signature moment of many, from sorting things out for staff appreciation to helping organize Black Student Summits. While Cooper’s time at ETHS may be up at the end of the school year, her impact will be felt for many years to come.