Show of appreciation

Math, PALs teacher Richard Cowles

recognized as Teacher of the Year

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Mr. Cowles shakes hands with Mr. Fuentes and other teachers in the library Monday as he is pronounced Teacher of the Year. Teachers and staff voted for the nominees to be recognized in this annual celebration. Photos by Haley Hegefeld.

Teacher of the Year pullquote

 Listen to Mr. Cowles’s Teacher of the Year acceptance speech

 A positive outcome

This is Cowles’ 18th year teaching at McCallum. Previously, he spent three years teaching in Chad, Africa, for the Peace Corp.

“I went to Guanajuato, Mexico, and spent six weeks studying Spanish and had an amazing time,” Cowles said. “I loved learning a new language, loved learning a new culture. People were so receptive and so interested in me learning Spanish that it just rocked my world. That’s when I realized that if I could get that experience and get teaching experience at the same time, that’s what I wanted to do. I did a little research, and by far the Peace Corp was the best opportunity to do that. It was my time in Guanajuato and then through student teaching, I knew I wanted to teach through all that sort of stuff, so that led me to Peace Corp.”

When in Africa, Cowles said he realized how important education is and how some Americans take advantage of it.

“It certainly solidified my dedication to education,” Cowles said. “In the United States, if you don’t get your education, there are opportunities to bypass that. There are more opportunities to be self-made. Over in Chad, without an education, you are a subsistence farmer. You grow what you eat and that is your entire life, your entire income and therefore you are at the mercy of your crops and the rains and all that sort of stuff. The only way to escape that was through education. It’s even more essential over there, so it renewed my dedication that education is the most important thing that we do, and we’ve got to have good teachers.”

Cowles said being named Teacher of the Year is a reassuring sign that he’s doing something right.

“I’m the only stats teacher. I work with other geometry teachers as well, so I’m a little isolated sometimes,” Cowles said. “It’s nice to get any appreciation, especially from your colleagues. All the other candidates were certainly very worthy. I spend a lot of time and effort teaching, so it’s a nice recognition of one’s efforts.”

Not only is it nice to get appreciation from colleagues, it’s also nice to get appreciation from students, both past and present, Cowles said.

“It’s also wonderful when students come back and are like, ‘Oh thanks. You taught me stats and it was great when I did this or when I did that,’” Cowles said. “It’s great when students come back and tell me, ‘Stats was great when I took ecology class, or when I was in business, or when I was in psychology’ or different things like that, so that’s kind of one of the big perks of education; it kind of reassures you, ‘cause obviously I don’t do it for the money. I do it to be helpful and to be supportive and all that sort of stuff. It’s great to get that feedback, and so I’m lucky students come back and I get that.”

Cowles said his recognition may have come from a number of factors including his friendliness, association with the PALs program and his test scores.

“I’m constantly talking to people about, ‘Hey send your nominations in’ and that kind of thing,” Cowles said. “I’ve also been here a while. I founded the statistics program here at McCallum [and] I’m the most senior math teacher, so as a result at some point in time I think everyone’s kind of met me. Also through the blood drive, I had to talk to some of the Fine Arts folks and some of the athletic folks. I think longevity, that I’m friendly with everyone and you know, we often talk about AP scores and my AP scores are good, so I think that’s also recognized.”

His kindness to others helps him both at McCallum and outside of school, he said. He contributes “kind acts” to opening a lot of doors for him. This past summer, he wrote Statistics curriculum for the Dana Center at the University of Texas.

“I had no connections over there, but it turns out someone got hired over there that was a first year stats teacher about five years ago over at Travis, and she goes, ‘I remember how nice you were to me and you gave me all your stuff and all that sort of stuff and so I looked you up,’” Cowles said.

Cowles said he makes an effort with his students and tries to be accessible. He said he is for them and will treat them with respect.

“I think that a lot of adults underestimate teenagers,” Cowles said. “I think teenagers are very intuitive and they can quickly sense if a teacher is for them or not. I think my students pick up that I’m for them [and] I’m there to help. If they drop something on the ground, I’m gonna pick it up. I’m gonna say, ‘Yes sir, yes ma’am.’ I go out of my way when you come back. ‘Oh, you know, whenever you want to come back. I’m flexible.’ I think all that creates a bond with those around me that people tend to appreciate, and it works well, I guess.”

Cowles said McCallum is unique due to the diverse population and creativity in the school.

“I think some people don’t recognize how special a place McCallum is and how well-rounded an education we provide,” Cowles said. “I think there’s some schools that do some things well, but I think especially with the Fine Arts, it fosters creativity and because of our smaller, diverse campus, it creates understanding that a lot of places miss out. One of the things I point out to people is, other schools may produce people that do very well on tests and stuff like that, but I think we produce students that do well in a lot of things.”

McCallum’s inclusiveness and creativity leads to students being well-rounded and successful, Cowles said.

“I also think McCallum does an awesome job of offering so many different opportunities, especially for creativity,” Cowles said. “I really think that the Fine Arts program supplements well the academics and the athletics. I think McCallum students are the most well-rounded educationally of anywhere in the district because of the opportunities we offer. There is no barrier. It’s also very inclusive. There is more to education that just within the walls. My favorite quote is Helen Keller: ‘The highest result of education is tolerance.’ I think that it something a lot of us get out of McCallum that may be missed in other schools.”

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