Baylor Magazine Article

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Amy Cohen: Sixth Grade Standard
Rachel Schulson

Sixth grade English instructor Amy Cohen began her teaching career in the eighth grade when she noticed different learning styles among her Chattanooga public school peers, particularly students with disabilities.

Cohen’s responsive middle school guidance counselor took action when Cohen told her she had been researching the topic and felt that these kids were not slow but, rather, in need of a different approach. The counselor connected Cohen with the neighborhood elementary school and drove her there a couple of times a week. “They partnered me with elementary kids who had learning disabilities, and I started working with them based on what I was learning and reading. That’s how I got interested in kids and tutoring and education. I tutored all through high school and in college on the side, and really, this passion has lasted forever. Sixth grade was the age that seemed to work for me; it was the age I loved.”

So, the perfect opportunity arose when Cohen learned 19 years ago that Baylor School was establishing a sixth grade program and seeking teachers. Cohen had majored in political science at Michigan and earned her Master’s in Health Policy and Administration at the University of North Carolina. For four years Cohen was the director of wellness courses at a hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, and for the next eight was President of Violet Camera, a family business in Chattanooga.

I tutored all through high school and in college on the side, and really, this passion has lasted forever. Sixth grade was the age that seemed to work for me; it was the age I loved.

But she realized that two of her biggest life priorities were not only delivering memorable teaching but also inspiring others to public service. Cohen’s success at Baylor has come in large part from her skill at developing programs and curriculum that reflect those priorities.

When, in its early years, the sixth grade was a stand-alone program, Cohen taught English, History, and Latin, which she knew because she had taken Latin in high school. She also speaks Hebrew and a little Spanish and French. After the sixth grade program was incorporated into the Middle School, Cohen became an English Instructor, a title that translates in her case to a Maniacal Ambassador for the English Language.  

Cohen was instrumental in the creation of the reading-writing workshop teaching philosophy for the Middle School, a reading program in which students are always reading a book of their choosing outside of what is assigned through the classroom; and a writing program with mini-lessons on skills, craft, and conventions of writing to which students must adhere. She also introduces high-level vocabulary words, many with Latin or Greek roots, to instill a love of words, and teaches about 100 poems a year.

I have run numerous sixth grade parent-student book clubs over the years in which other sixth grade teachers graciously donate evening time to participate by overseeing small group activities. I have mentored, both formally and informally, many Baylor teachers, and I have loved every moment of that great collaboration and collegiality.

In her 19 years at Baylor, Cohen has made her mark on many fronts.  “I have run numerous sixth grade parent-student book clubs over the years in which other sixth grade teachers graciously donate evening time to participate by overseeing small group activities. I have mentored, both formally and informally, many Baylor teachers, and I have loved every moment of that great collaboration and collegiality,” said Cohen.

She also started a Baylor Middle School Literary Magazine using student editors. With the help of a Baylor parent in the graphics business, a beautiful document of student writing was published for several years. In 2012 Cohen established the Eighth Grade Literary Society, modeled on Round Table.  She is also proud of having started in 2001 the annual Turkey Train benefitting the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, and she has started or been involved with Middle School MLK Day activities, organic gardening, and the Jump Start freshman orientation program. It is no wonder that Cohen was chosen to chair the English department from 2011 to 2018, and that in 2016 she was named an Ireland Chair, a recognition from her peers for exemplary teaching and other significant contributions in support of the mission of the school.

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