For recent Middle Tennessee State University graduates Zaheerah Smith-Cooper and her daughter, Aminah Smith, sharing interests and passions extended beyond the home to the classroom.
The mother-daughter duo not only graduated together from MTSU’s College of Education this spring but did so with top marks — a 4.0 GPA for Zaheerah and 3.9 GPA for Aminah.
“It was great graduating with my mom!” Smith said. “We were sitting close together during the ceremony, only one person between us, so we could still share encouraging words. It was nice to accomplish this with her, and, hopefully, we can do it again in the future.”
Smith was the first to pursue an education degree because she loves reading and wanted to teach elementary school children.
Smith-Cooper was excited by her daughter’s acceptance to MTSU and inspired to pursue higher education by her own mother’s work as a Bible instructor and the other academics and Bible educators in her life.
“Their love for teaching, patience and loving kindness influenced me to want to pursue teaching,” Smith-Cooper said.
Originally from New York City, the pair completed the online Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction program directed by Dr. Ashlee Hover, an assistant professor in the Womack Department of Educational Leadership.
Smith-Cooper is an office supervisor at Tennessee State University, and Smith is a social media associate for Lyft. Neither is the more traditional type of student in a program for a working K-12 classroom teacher.
Smith said she was really grateful she had Hover’s classes in the program. Smith-Cooper echoed her daughter’s sentiments, saying she always left Hover’s courses with knowledge and confidence.
“Many of my peers were traditional academic teachers who had been teaching for many years,” Smith-Cooper said. “I wasn’t a traditional student or educator, and Dr. Hover helped me see that being ‘traditionally trained’ in education doesn’t always matter.
“We all have great ideas, and there are different ways to accomplish our goal: to teach the student. Completing a class with Dr. Hover leaves you excited and looking forward to what is next.”
Support during struggle
Dr. Joshua Tipton, an adjunct professor in the educational leadership department, also helped Smith-Cooper when she initially struggled in the program after being out of the world of school and classes for years.
“After my first assignment, I wanted to give up,” she said. “Dr. Tipton took the time to personally meet with me via Zoom to explain assignments, go over my work and help me achieve the best result possible.
“The effort and support he puts into his students are commendable, and he gave me the desire not to give up but push forward.”
Going forward, Smith said she’d like to publish novels, open a bookstore and teach English to elementary or middle school students.
Smith-Cooper would like to open a school in a low-income area where she could focus not only on the students but the entire family.
“I feel it would offer the students a better chance to succeed when we provide their parents the opportunity and resources to help themselves,” she said.
Reaching traditional, nontraditional students
Hover said she works hard to develop and maintain a social presence in the online learning environment of her program.
“The relationships with my students, current and alumni, are very important to me,” she said. “It is exciting to hear from Aminah and Zaheerah that the content and assignments that Dr. Terry Goodin and I are designing are effectively reaching both our traditional and nontraditional students. …
“Aminah and Zaheerah both excelled in my courses, and each put a different spin on their reflections and course assignments due to the differences in their professions.”
To learn more about the opportunities available for traditional and nontraditional students in the College of Education, visit the college’s website, www.mtsu.edu/education.
— Stephanie Barrette (Stephanie.Barrette@mtsu.edu)
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