Dexter native Jonathan Cook is selected as as Ann Arbor Public Schools’ “Exceptional Teacher”

By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor

Raised in Dexter, Jonathan Cook is one of five children of Rodger and Linda Cook, a machinist and elementary school teacher, respectively.

Cook graduated with a bachelor’s in business administration from Eastern Michigan University in 2006, where he was actively involved with student government, serving as a senator and member of the Student Judicial Council. After graduating, Jonathan moved to Pittsburgh, where he worked for The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation.

In 2008, Cook returned to Michigan to complete his post-baccalaureate teacher certification in business, management, marketing, and technology education. In 2010, he completed his student teaching experience at Ann Arbor Huron High School and began his teaching career in Midland at H. H. Dow High School. While teaching in Midland, he completed his master’s degree in educational technology at Central Michigan University.

In 2016, Cook returned to Huron High School where he teaches IB Business Management, Web Design, Money Management, and Cybersecurity.

Cook is the advisor for numerous student organizations at Huron, including Business Professionals of America, Cybersecurity Club, and the Economics and Entrepreneurship Club. He also organizes student participation in the ArcGIS Online School Mapping Competition, and the Girls Go CyberStart Cybersecurity Competition Team, which— in its first year—placed 9th in the nation.

In addition to his work in business and education, Cook served as a soldier in the Michigan Army National Guard, achieving the rank of specialist. He spent six years with the 156 Signal Battalion as a network switching systems operator and was a Distinguished Honor Graduate of the Army Signal Corps School.

During his summers, Cook can be found backpacking on Isle Royale, mountain biking the Potawatomi Trail, or fly fishing on the Au Sable River.

What inspired you to become a teacher?

The positive experiences I had with my own high school teachers are really what inspired me to become a high school teacher myself. Growing up, my high school didn’t offer the business and cybersecurity classes we’re able to offer now, so entering the teaching profession was a matter of combining my personal interests and skills, with the desire to teach and make a positive impact on student’s lives.

In which other teacher’s classroom would you like to enroll, if only for a day? Why?

I think that it would be a lot of fun to participate in Mark Valchine’s Homebuilding Program for a day. Students travel to the homebuilding site for part of their school day, and through the course of the school year they build a new home from the ground up. All of the skills they learn through the homebuilding process—both technical and problem-solving—are invaluable life and career skills.

What is your fondest memory of attending Dexter High?

One of my fondest memories at Dexter High School was the experience I had in my advanced biology course. A main unit of the course focused on identifying and studying the local flora and fauna in the woods next to our school. My project group was a lot of fun to work with each day, and we all became friends. That experience prompted me to attend a summer biology camp at Michigan Tech where we learned about wildlife research and field work.

In your four years in AAPS, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned about teaching? About learning?

In my four years at AAPS, I’ve seen the value of providing students with academic and social opportunities for growth through extra-curricular activities. When students are given the opportunity to apply their skills and talents outside of the classroom, you can see a real spark of excitement, determination, and collaboration.

Our BPA (Business Professionals of America) Club has 100 student members on average, competing in events such as Small Business Management, Human Resources, Video Production, Graphic Design, and Web Site Design Team. This March, we’re taking more than 60 students to states in Grand Rapids. Last year, I asked a few of the girls in my web design class if they wanted to participate in the Girls Go CyberStart cybersecurity competition. They brought a few friends that were interested in cybersecurity, programming, and engineering to the first meeting, and by the end of the competition, we were the top team in Michigan, and ninth in the nation. They were so excited to keep it going that we started an official club that tripled in size to participate in competitions year-round.

I’ve really learned that students want opportunities to learn and engage, and if you build those opportunities, they will come.

What can you tell us about the new cybersecurity class you started teaching this year?

I’m very excited to offer the district’s first cybersecurity program. The administration and staff at Huron High School are very supportive of developing STEM programs like computer science, web design, and engineering, and cybersecurity was the next innovative step toward offering students critical and in-demand skills.

To start, we’re offering the program as two semester-long classes; Cybersecurity  I (Intro), and Cybersecurity II (Pro). We’ve partnered with the Cisco Networking Academy and U.S. Cyber Range to support a cutting-edge curriculum that’s been customized to meet our student’s needs and individualized interests.

Students will be developing skills in networking, cryptography, Linux, cyber defense and attacks, penetration testing, digital forensics, cyber law and ethics, and much more. Using virtual machines hosted by Amazon Web Services, students gain hands-on experience with compromised machines for testing within a controlled environment that they can access in the classroom and at home. In the future, I would love to see the program continue to grow to offer more hands-on networking labs and testing environments.

What’s your favorite class to teach?

IB Business Management is usually my favorite class to teach, but Cybersecurity is tied with it this year. The excitement from the students in the new Cybersecurity class is energizing, they’re just having such a great time learning these skills. That feeling of excitement is also why IB Business Management is a favorite class of mine. Half of the students enrolled are part of the IB Diploma Programme, and the other half just have a genuine interest in learning more about business. We’re able to have amazing discussions in class about current events and case studies, and many of the students end up entering business programs at schools like the University of Michigan, Indiana University, Eastern Michigan, and Michigan State.

Describe an average workday.  

I arrive at school around 7:10 a.m. and make a cup of coffee. I teach Web Design I & II 1st Hour, IB Business Management 2nd and 3rd Hours, PASS Class 4th Hour, and Cybersecurity 7th Hour. I’m usually at school for another hour or two working with students from the clubs I advise, or grading and lesson planning for the next day. It can be challenging having so many different classes each day, but I enjoy the content, and the kids are great.

If you have a bad day at school—or a bad hour—how do you recover?

Personally, I’ve found that having a frustrating hour at school is like the weather in Michigan: Just wait a moment and it’ll change. I’m surrounded by such caring and wonderful colleagues and students at school, that a bad moment is often followed by many positive moments and interactions. After a long day at school, I like to unwind by working out, reading, or going for a walk.

What advice would you give to a first-year teacher?

Classroom management and ensuring that students understand your expectations  can be as important as the quality and delivery of your content, especially at the beginning of a year or semester. Students want to be part of an organized and efficient classroom, and it’s important to set that up and teach it to them in a deliberate way.

What’s the happiest part of your day?

The happiest part of my school is having lunch with my colleagues. When you’re in your own classroom for nearly the entire day, it’s nice having the opportunity to catch-up with all of my work friends and decompress a little.

Apps you can’t live without:

Adobe Scan and Skitch. I use Adobe Scan to quickly create PDF’s of paper documents that I need to share, and I used Skitch to mark-up photos and graphics for school or to send to friends.

Do you listen to podcasts? If so, any favorites?

I love listening to podcasts, especially when I’m working out, cooking, or on a long drive. My favorites are The Daily from the New York Times, Hidden BrainOn PointHow I Built This with Guy Raz, and the Orvis Fly Fishing Podcast with Tom Rosenbauer.

How do you keep students engaged?

I think that one of the keys to keeping students engaged is being able to connect with them somehow. It might be through an interesting story, identifying a shared experience, or simply asking them “What do you think? or What’s your opinion?” We discuss a lot of current events and experiences in my Cybersecurity class. In Business Management, I share a lot of stories from past jobs in high school or after college, and students often want to share their own, and how they relate to what we’re currently learning.

How do you show school spirit?

One of the most impactful ways in which I show school spirit is certainly through the clubs that I advise and the promotion of my students’ achievements in those academic activities. We had a national champion Web Design Team last year in Business Professionals of America, and those kids should be supported, cheered-on, and recognized for their achievement, and I work hard to make that happen.

What is the most rewarding part of teaching?

There are two especially rewarding moments in teaching that I’m thinking of right now. The first is the satisfaction of seeing a lesson or activity perfectly executed, with the students having fun and engaged. In the words of Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith: “I love it when a plan comes together.” The second is when students come back to visit or you run into them somewhere around town, and they’re so excited to share what they’ve been up to, where they’re working, and about their family. Teachers want their students to be successful, and that desire and pride don’t end at graduation.

How do you recharge?

I love a good nap, but also by spending time with friends and family, being outside and in nature, and taking the time to disconnect from technology each day. I have a second job that I work most weekends, so I make sure that I still budget time for myself each day.

How do you spend your summers?

I spend a lot of my summer travelling and relaxing with family and friends. I usually try to plan a backpacking or fly fishing trip with friends to totally disconnect for awhile. In fact, when I first interviewed for my position at Huron it was from the top of a mountain in Vermont. A friend and I were backpacking the Vermont section of the Appalachian Trail for two weeks.

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