Coal City teacher wants students to know ‘hard work pays off’

Betsy Cowherd never thought about being anything other than a teacher, even as a child.

COAL CITY – Betsy Cowherd never thought about being anything other than a teacher, even as a child.

“When I was going through school I just knew what I was going to do. I love to be around kids and I knew every day was going to be different. I also used to train and show horses all over the country and it allowed me to have summers off,” she said.

Cowherd has been in education for 34 years, and her teaching philosophy has remained the same: “hard work pays off.”

A lesson that rings true, as Cowherd said she can still see the remnants of COVID-19 in her class, as her students were only in first grade at the time and “never really learned how to read.”

Betsy Cowherd explains a lesson to a student during class.

With the students on different learning levels, Cowherd says she does a lot of group work in her class, so her kids are able to work at their own level.

“It works because then I don’t have kids where it is over their head and I don’t have kids that are bored out of their mind,” she said.

Cowherd said she is “lucky” to have parents and grandparents who come into the class every day to assist her students, as it allows one-on-one time for the kids who really struggle.

“Not all of them are struggling, but a good portion. It’s really my parents and grandparents that allow all of the catch-up to happen,” she said.

Cowherd participates in Coal City Elementary School’s Assistance Program, which is an hour of tutoring after school.

“I love it. It allows me the time to work with students who are struggling a bit more. I also have students from all of the fourth grade, so it allows me to build a relationship with kids that maybe I wouldn’t,” she said.

Superintendent Chris Spencer said Cowherd builds lasting relationships with her students.

“These relationships allow her to set high expectations for all her students and then she works with the students to meet those expectations,” he said

With all of the extra assistance, Cowherd said this year is “probably one of her favorites” because her students came to her so much lower than where they normally are.

“They have grown tremendously and I love to see the growth. I’m jealous. I’m not a first-grade teacher and I get to teach them to read. But, this year I got to see more growth,” she said.

Her students’ growth could be attributed to the 15 to 20 books they have read throughout the year. For Cowherd, fourth grade is the beginning of higher-level thinking and it all begins with reading.

The first few novels, Cowherd students read focus on children that are all different from others to show them the importance of embracing each other’s differences.

The series “Because of Mr. Terupt” by Rob Buyea, tells the story of a fifth-grade teacher and the students in his room. It details the struggles the students go through and how they change because of their teacher.

“I’ve actually borrowed activities he does in the book. The kids can connect because he has six main characters and they are all very different. Every student is able to connect with a character and they all make a change, which of course is coming together,” she said.

Like the novel, Cowherd wants her students to see her as a person and not only a teacher, so she shows her vulnerability and talks about the hard things with her students.

“They know what happens here stays here. But, they see me go through reactions. This year, we’ve had two students lose a parent. We talked when they were gone, you know how to treat them when they come back. So, we are pretty open as long as I check with the parents and they are good with it,” she said.

Cowherd said she has never regretted her decision to go into education and still loves it as much as she did when she first started.

“This is what I do, I would come to work for free.”