As a third-grade teacher at John W. Mack Elementary, Frank Cooper believes his vocation is a catalyst for children to think creatively and critically about the future.
"We are uncertain what jobs will be available at the time my current third-grade students will be graduating college," said Cooper, of Los Angeles.
"One thing that we do know is that workers within companies will need to work together to solve complex issues in manufacturing, science and technology," he said. "Instilling the skills to work together respectfully and develop innovative ideas is a major goal."
On April 9, Cooper was among five educators honored during the 2016 "Read On" Teacher Salute Award ceremony at the L.A. Times Festival of Books at the University of Southern California.
As an advocate of reading, Cooper said the recognition "will help me bring leveled books into my classroom to further put 'just right' books into the hands of developing readers."
"I am certain that no two children learn to read the same way," Cooper said.
Leveled books, he explained, is a system that puts interesting books into the hands of a reader — books that are not too easy, and not too difficult for the student's current reading proficiency.
"Spending time with text is the single best way a child learns to read," said Cooper, noting his method is the opposite of a "one size fits all" approach.
"I understand that all children can read but have different abilities," he continued. "To the struggling reader, my goal is to expose that child to books, with guided instruction to get him or her on grade level, through successive steps of leveled books. For students who read at or above grade level, there are more complicated texts to read and comprehension strategies to improve upon. The Teacher's Salute will help me achieve a more literate class to pass onto fourth grade."
Born in Tacoma, Washington, and raised in Hawaii, Cooper graduated from Punahou High School in Honolulu and attended the University of Southern California.
"Education is a second career for me," said Cooper, who worked previously in marketing and communication.
His last private sector job was aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach as a production manager in the marketing-communications department.
"I was let go from my position and decided to do something different," Cooper remembered. "A retired teacher friend told me about an alternative teacher credential program – the district intern program – through the L.A. Unified School District."
Cooper was given a kindergarten teaching position and attended school one night a week as well as many Saturdays for two years.
"I received my credential and have been teaching ever since," he said. "All of the experiences that I had garnered from my previous work experience have been excellent preparation to work within the field of education."
One defining moment of his career was achieving National Board Certification.
"It ranks up there with the state board tests that doctors and lawyers must pass to practice," said Cooper, who was certified in 2002, and recertified in 2012.
He also takes pride in the fact that when he was hired at John Mack Elementary, he took the position as a dual language speaker.
"As a second-language learner of Spanish, there are times I do not know a word, but the students do," Cooper said. "That's what education is all about for me. We all learn from each other."
Today, he believes his profession is more than a job.
"Just ask my wife," Cooper said. "We'll be on vacation somewhere and I'll get an idea for something and write it down. I am naturally curious about the world in general. This is what I want to share with my students."