Teacher Tuesday: WSESD’s Rachel Cohoon, teaching life skills.

July 7, 2020

Cohoon helps her students check out at a store.

Teacher Tuesday: WSESD’s Rachel Cohoon, teaching life skills.

Teacher Tuesday is a presentation of Metalworks, a small, family-run company with facilities located in Ludington and Manistee, manufacturing metal office filing systems. Be sure to show your support by liking the Metalworks Facebook page.

By Kate Krieger, MCP Staff Writer.

LUDINGTON – While pursuing a nursing degree at University of Toledo, West Shore Educational Service District teacher Rachel Cohoon quickly realized that the field wasn’t for her and she switched her major to special education.

“I did some volunteering during college and really enjoyed working with children with disabilities,” she said. “I changed my major to special education my sophomore year of college and it was the best decision I made. While in college, my goal was to work with adults with disabilities and help teach them life skills. I am doing exactly that now and I love it.”

With 10 years of teaching under her belt, Cohoon landed on her dream job right after finishing college in 2010. She then received a master’s degree in educational administration in 2014 from Grand Valley State University.

“I have worked all 10 years at West Shore ESD as a teacher for students with cognitive impairments,” she said. I’ve worked with students ages 12-26 in two different classrooms. My first five years were at the ESD center and my current classroom is at Ludington High School, the Horizons classroom for students ages 20-26. I’ll be starting year six in that classroom this fall. I actually completed part of my student teaching in the same classroom I’m working in now.”

Cohoon said some people don’t really understand why she works for the ESD but is housed at Ludington High School.

“Typically, a district might not have enough students to have their own ESD classroom,” she said. “Students in my room are from both Mason and Lake counties and are from a variety of school districts.”

From left, Julie Lenzo, Rachel Cohoon and Beth Kolaski.

There are a lot of misconceptions about what the ESD really does and what their classrooms look like, Cohoon said.

“I think the best way to explain my classroom is this: in the WSESD Horizons Classroom we are constantly working to make our students as independent as they can possibly be,” she said. “We work on life skills (cooking, laundry, cleaning, etc.), vocational skills, which includes both soft skills and on-the-job skills (interviewing, applying for jobs, interacting in the workplace, how to bag groceries, how to wash windows, sorting and organizing items, stocking shelves and so much more) social skills, community skills (ordering and paying at a restaurant, using the U-Scan machine, etc.) as well functional academics (telling time, counting money, making change, reading safety signs, reading recipes, reading for information) and so much more. My classroom is typically the program where students graduate from, so I want them to have all the skills they might need to use in the community and to be employed.”

Teaching life skills and many other skills to her students is one of Cohoon’s favorite things. She said she really enjoys seeing her students meet goals and strive in and out of her classroom.

“One of my favorite things about working in education is the ‘light bulb moment,’ when you’ve been working with a student on a skill for a while and it suddenly clicks,” she said. “I love seeing the growth that students make throughout their years in my classroom and watching them gain independence. I also love seeing my students working in the community during the summer or after they graduate. It is one of my goals as an educator, to have my students be employed when they exit my program.”

During the time away from the classroom due to COVID-19, Cohoon said  she still managed to have great interactions with her students via the Internet.

“Working with students during the closure was challenging, but also fun,” she said. “We had weekly Zoom calls with my classroom and Ms. Boerema’s (another WSESD teacher) and they were great. We had a theme and a fun activity each week. I think the staff and students both enjoyed them. It was also a challenge finding a way to meet the individual needs of each student in my classroom. I enjoyed exploring new technology during this time and am excited to use some of it in the future.”

Cohoon credits her other ESD co-workers for a lot of support and ideas and she said she wouldn’t be able to offer as much to her students if she didn’t have a great team working with and around here every day.

“I love my job, but it would be impossible to do without a supportive team surrounding me,’ she said. “I work with wonderful para-professionals who are rock stars at their job too. I also work regularly with other ESD teachers and without them, I wouldn’t be the teacher I am, several of those teachers helped me my first year. The ancillary providers I work with are great at their jobs and can make a huge difference in student’s education. I also am lucky to have many amazing families that I’ve been privileged to work with throughout my years as a teacher. The saying ‘It takes a village’ is very true.”

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