June 29, 2016

Peter Cocheo – 1991

As a child, I was always interested in science. I had a series of field TorresDelPaine-0022books on insects, trees, mammals, and rocks & minerals. Neighbors would call me over whenever they found a strange bug in their backyard. Growing up on Long Island, I remember wondering if all of the rocks and minerals in my guidebook really existed since I never saw any bedrock! At my high school, if one was an advanced science student (as I was), he/she skipped earth science (the usual ninth grade course) and took biology, chemistry, and physics and in senior year took an AP science class. Since I was very interested in earth science (as well as the other sciences), I took geology, space science, oceanography, and environmental science as electives. It was in these classes that I found my interest in the earth sciences. I also loved chemistry, so when I arrived at Lafayette, I also was considering majoring in chemistry.

I am an earth science teacher at Richard R. Green High School of Teaching, a New York City public high school in in the Financial District of Manhattan. As the name suggests, it is a school for students interested in becoming teachers. I have been teaching there for the past 15 years. Before that, I taught five years at another high school in the Bronx and one year at a private school in New Jersey.

After graduating from Lafayette in 1991, I attended Arizona State University where I earned my MS in geology. I entered graduate school thinking that I would get a masters or PhD studying some form of mineralogy or petrology. During my first semester, I had a graduate scholarship, but in my second semester I was made a teaching assistant for the introductory geology lab. It was my first experience as a teacher and I immediately loved it. I remember being really excited to grade labs and quizzes, and although some of my students were older than me, I knew that education was a career I wanted to pursue. For my master’s thesis, I worked with John Holloway, a professor who did experimental igneous petrology. As much as I loved learning about geology and geochemistry, I knew that working in a lab wasn’t for me—I knew I wanted to teach.

Atacama-0120As a future teacher with a bachelor’s and master’s in geology, and no education credits, I was uncertified and therefore unable to teach in public schools. After graduating from ASU, I looked for teaching positions in independent schools all over the country and finally got two offers at schools in New Jersey. When I showed up at Newark Academy in Livingston, NJ, for my first teaching job (eighth grade earth science and physical science), I was given a textbook and told, “good luck.” For not really knowing what I was doing, I think I did a pretty good job. However, living in suburban New Jersey wasn’t really what I wanted. I found out that New York City public schools had a shortage of certified earth science teachers and that I could be hired as a “preparatory provisional teacher,” an uncertified teacher who would need to get all of the requirements for certification within three years. I took a job at a struggling high school in the Bronx and got an apartment in Greenwich Village in Manhattan. I worked there for five years, and then transferred to the school at which I currently teach.

While a student at Lafayette, I was a member of Kirby House, which at the time was a co-ed alternative to the Greek system. It was here that I made life-long friends.I was able to use my love of music as a DJ at WJRH, the campus radio station, although I’m not sure too many people listened to my late-night show!

As a geology major, I took every course that I could in the geology department, even a class taught by Dru Germanoski, in which there were only two students! I was a TA for the introductory “Rocks for Jocks” class and of course was a member of the geology club. During my junior year I was awarded the James L. Dyson Geology award and attended a very challenging field camp affiliated with Indiana University. The field course was the most difficult one I took at an undergraduate. In my senior year, I was fortunate to attend the inaugural interim session course in Hawaii where we got to meet the Farinons, who had just recently donated the funds to build the student center.  One unique experience I had was traveling to the Soviet Union in January 1990 on an interim session course. To be one of only a few Americans to have the opportunity to visit the Soviet Union was something that I really valued. What made the trip even better was that while there we got to visit my friend, Igor, who was a Soviet exchange student at Lafayette during my sophomore year.Indonesia-0155

 

There isn’t one experience that I can say was the most transformative for me. Simply going away to college and learning to take care of myself was very transformative. Also being in an intellectual community in which there were constant opportunities to discuss ideas and issues (especially during the 1988 presidential election campaign) was an amazing experience.

For those considering teaching at the secondary level:

  • Get your master’s degree before beginning your teaching career. Teaching is such an exhausting job, and you are going to need to focus your energy on it, so taking graduate classes in the evenings is not a great idea!
  • Be passionate about the subject you teach. There’s no better feeling we get as a teacher than when we ignite interest in students in the subjects we love. I’ve had so many students tell me how much they love rocks!
  • To really be successful as a teacher, you need to make personal connections with students and make sure they know that you care about their wellbeing and success. Teaching is a very interpersonal profession and we can only really make a difference when the students buy into what we are doing.
  • You must really like working with teenagers. You are going to spend a lot of time around adolescents who can be very difficult at times, but are also interesting, funny, and remarkably witty.
  • Expect long days and expect to be constantly busy. There is no “down time” in the life of a teacher, and it doesn’t get easy after teaching for many years. It’s also never boring!

 

Enjoy your time at Lafayette and take advantage of all the college has to offer! It’s amazing how nostalgic we get for our college and our college days later in life.

Links to programs that I find useful