Even when Tracey Cook wasn’t a teacher, she was teaching. As a systems analyst, she trained customers on programs; as owner of a custom apparel business, she taught sewing techniques.
Teaching is her passion. And since 1999, she has been sharing it with Neuqua Valley High School as a social studies teacher.
“I am lucky to come to school and hang out with teenagers, and try to help them figure out that they really have something to offer,” said Cook, of Lisle. “Each one of them has something to offer.”
In 2004, she earned her master’s degree in education from Northern Illinois University, and in 2013, she added a doctorate degree in curriculum leadership. She enthusiastically leads high school students through courses in world history, American studies, U.S. history and military history.
“I figure the more they know about what goes on in the world, the better citizen they will be someday when they are given that right to vote,” said the 57-year-old. “The right to vote is your biggest power.”
Last month, Cook was recognized as Outstanding Citizenship Educator of the Year by Naperville’s Judd Kendall Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3873. The award highlights a teacher “who promotes patriotism, civic responsibilities, and Americanism in the classroom.”
“Tracey makes the world of military history come alive with frequent visits of veterans and current military members of all branches, who come to the school to talk to the students regarding their experiences,” Post 3873 Commander Nina Petru said. “She is a dedicated teacher and an asset to both Neuqua Valley and to the community.”
Cook will now compete at the state level. The Illinois winner will be announced in Springfield on Feb. 8 at the annual Voice of Democracy banquet.
“To be honored by people for whom I have so much respect, who have sacrificed and put their lives on the line, is really humbling,” said Cook.
Cook lives in Lisle with her husband, Donald, and is the mother of two grown children.
1. What impresses you about today’s students?
“They are good. They have good hearts, they are compassionate, and they care. They are interested in making a difference, in getting engaged and getting involved. Our challenge is to figure out ways to help them put together their goodness with action. I think we are getting better with that.”
2. Why is it important to bring members of the military into your classroom?
“They can talk to the students about what it is really like. They can talk about how a lot of the job is not ‘Call of Duty.’ They learn these are regular people, people who are giving back to their country. It’s also good for kids to hear there are other options besides college. In all reality, not everyone will go to college or they go and they don’t do well because it’s not the right environment for them.”
3. What would surprise someone to learn about you?
“I accidentally walked through a land mine field in Israel when I was studying there in the ‘70s. We jumped a fence (to take a shortcut), ran down a hill and jumped the fence, and turned around and there was a sign that said, ‘Do Not Enter. Not Cleared.’”
4. What do you like to do in your spare time?
“Spend time with my husband. I love to travel. I would love to go to Antarctica. I want to see those little penguins. That fascinates me.”
5. What are three words that describe you?
“I would say passionate, diverse and probably intense.”