Teacher of the Year is an honor that Darla Cooper, who teaches sixth and seventh grade science at Piedmont Middle School, was not expecting.

    “I feel very honored because I work with a great group of teachers and an awesome staff,” she said.

     Darla has worked at Piedmont Middle School for 14 years. After graduating from Piedmont High School, she went on to receive a bachelor’s and master’s from Jacksonville State University. She has also earned her National Board Certification in middle school science.

     She and her husband, Brent, have two children: son, Taylor Cooper, and daughter, Hannah Sessions who is married to Brett Sessions. Darla now has a grandson, Grayson Sessions, who she says is a joy to their family.

     Her children were attending Piedmont Elementary School and she was substitute teaching at Piedmont when her current position became available. It was a great opportunity for Darla since her family is so important to her. “I knew I wanted a career that allowed me to be with my children as they were growing up. Thankfully, teaching has allowed me to help my students and spend time with my own children,” she said.

     Darla has always had a passion for working with and helping children, and her favorite way to do that in the classroom is through small group instruction, a part of her mastery based learning method. This allows her to work closely with each of her students and learn their strengths and weaknesses. She has found that the smaller setting makes the students feel more comfortable answering questions and engaging in the discussions.

     It’s not always easy keeping her students motivated and on task since they generally rotate between groups throughout the day. Some students work in peer groups, some work independently and some work directly with her. It can be challenging, but with the help of Principal Snow she is learning how to be the most successful with mastery based learning. “I have found that rewards and positive reinforcement work best for motivating my students,” she said.

     According to Darla, all of the teachers at Piedmont Middle School are passionate about teaching and helping their students. So when she saw the email announcing that she had been voted Teacher of the Year she was surprised. “I certainly do not feel I deserve this award over another teacher, but I am very humbled,” Darla admitted.

     Teachers are an indispensable part of our society, but like all professions their jobs are a learning process. When asked if she had any advice for those who wish to become educators like herself, Darla had this to say, “As a teacher, I feel I always have something new to learn. I honestly feel like a new teacher at the beginning of each year and am constantly searching for the best ways to reach my students.”