The Cooper School Daily

Why I Teach… Courtney Leonard

As a child, I grew up thinking I would work an office job from 9-5 like my mother. Worrying about important meetings while wearing business suits and carrying a briefcase. At the College of Charleston, I started as a communication major and switched last minute to special education with the thought of going straight to graduate school. Instead of going straight to graduate school or continuing working my countless odd jobs, I became a full-time teacher my first year after college. 

Six years later, it is safe to say I love my job, and teaching has become my purpose in the world. I love watching emergent readers begin to blend sounds, or how simple science experiments can spark new ideas in young minds. I took my career abroad to experience more of the world. Asia was the move, and Bangkok is where I found a job. As they say in Asia, teaching abroad was the “same, same but different.” My First Grade students greeted me each morning as Teacher Courtney with a slight bow, and my educational philosophy became more grounded as I saw my students’ phonemic awareness grow as I created a nurturing education environment with structure and a love for learning. 

Then life happened. I was caught outside the Thai border during Covid. Not being able to go back to Thailand brought me home to South Carolina with the thought I would go back to my life teaching abroad once Covid was over. 

With so many unknowns, the thought of going back to Thailand became impossible and started my journey to finding The Cooper School. I have always had an interest in TCS because of its vision of progressive education that balances project-based learning and hands on curriculum while also incorporating values for students to make the world a better place. Since being part of the school community only a few months, I see TCS’s mission and mindset in each classroom. From Kindergarten to the Middle School students, students take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to their conversations on the playground and long term translating that into the local community and world. 

For example, I was teaching a 4th grade vocabulary lesson, and the assignment was to write a complex sentence with each vocabulary word from the current unit. Several students wrote creative short stories, but one creative mind wrote a letter to President Biden about her concerns on climate change affecting rising sea levels in Charleston using her vocabulary words throughout each paragraph. It was inspiring to read and reminded me as a teacher and person to think outside the box and manifest the change I want to see in the world. 

Life doesn’t always work out as planned. What I have learned is it works out for the better. One of my favorite quotes is from Maya Angelou. She said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” As a teacher, it is my goal to create an environment that promotes learning and mindfulness to leave each student in their own greatness. It is so special to work somewhere with like-minded people from teachers, staff, parents, and students. Everyday I get to see the curriculum translate and grow with each grade level while creating a community of people passionate about the world as a whole, and I’m grateful to know I’m right where I’m supposed to be – teaching.