Former Colorado Teacher of the Year wants to recognize university’s best teachers
Craig Cogswell grew up in eastern Kansas and started his college career at the University of Kansas. But after his parents moved to Colorado during his freshman year, he decided to pursue his education about 10 meridians to the west.
He’d vacationed in Colorado many times with his family, and from the moment he arrived at the University of Colorado Boulder, he knew he’d made the right decision.
“I don’t have a good explanation for this, but the very first day I was at CU somehow it felt like home,” says Cogswell, 69. “It just always felt right.”
It must have. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in history in 1970, followed by master’s degrees in education in 1979 and 1984.
And now that he’s retired from a long career as a high school social studies teacher, corporate educator and young-teacher mentor, he’s giving back through the establishment of the Cogswell Award for Inspirational Instruction at CU Boulder.
The award will be available to anyone who teaches at the university, whether a full professor, a student teacher, a graduate assistant or an adjunct professor.
Cogswell believes that having inspirational teachers in the classroom is critical to an excellent education.
“I think university instructors always have the dilemma that their primary focus is research or writing, things like that,” he says. “To me, at the university level, when someone really works hard on being a dynamic, interesting or challenging teacher, that is something that should be acknowledged and rewarded.”
Cogswell’s own experience at CU informed his decision to create the award.
“One thing I remember as an undergraduate, I had a lot of professors who were excellent teachers. That’s part of what motivated me to want to encourage that now,” he says.
Cogswell didn’t take long to realize that he was interested in education, though he confesses his choice of undergraduate majors was not necessarily a matter of deep consideration.
When someone really works hard on being a dynamic, interesting or challenging teacher, that is something that should be acknowledged and rewarded.”
“When the time came to declare a major, I wrote on one side of a piece of paper, ‘English,’ and on the other, ‘history,’ and put it on a dartboard,” he says. “I let fate take control. The dart hit history, but it turned out to be a good choice.”
It wasn’t until very late in his senior year, in 1970, that Cogswell decided to get certified to become a teacher — “See a pattern here?” he asks, laughing.
For the next year and a half, he took part-time classes, plunged into an intensive eight weeks with a full load, then spent eight weeks as a student teacher at Westminster High School, just down U.S. 36 from CU Boulder. The school was sufficiently impressed that it offered him a job when he graduated in December 1971.
Cogswell earned his first master’s degree, in education, from CU in 1979. In 1984, he returned to earn another MA in educational technology.
“At the end of that, I got a job at a tech company in corporate education,” he says. “I did a year and a half there, then it sort of came down to, ‘OK, I know I can do other things now, but what do I really want to do?’ And what I really wanted was to teach.”
So he returned to the classroom, first for a year at a junior-high school in Westminster. After that he went back to Westminster High. In 2000, the Colorado Department of Education named him the state’s Teacher of the Year. That prestigious award is given to an outstanding teacher, who then spends the next year as a kind of spokesperson for public education on behalf of the department, Cogswell says.
He spent the last two years of his career working for the Westminster School District as a full-time mentor to new teachers, and retired in 2003. He hopes the award, which will be overseen by the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, will reward those who put students first at CU.
“For many of my teachers, that was not their primary job,” he says. “Yet they were willing to put their time and energy into classroom teaching.”
At the top of the page, Steven Pollock, professor of physics has won several awards for his teaching, including the Carnegie/CASE US Professor of the Year in 2013.