Rebecca McCowanOhio Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) New Career-Technical Teacher of the Year Rebecca McCowan didn’t plan to be a teacher.  “I earned a degree in communication, and my first job out of college was as a newspaper reporter.”  Other jobs in human resources and social services followed.  “My cousin suggested I try substitute teaching,” she said.  “I really enjoyed it.  I enjoyed interacting with kids.  I saw this as an opportunity to restart my path.”

Substitute teaching led to full-time teaching in a local middle school, and then Great Oaks Career Campuses called.  McCowan was hired to start the High School of Business program for Great Oaks at Princeton High School, teaching marketing, management, finance, and economics.

“Coming here was ideal,” she said.  “From day one, it was a good fit between Great Oaks, me, and Princeton. My fellow teachers, the staff, everyone all the way to the School Board embraced me and supported the business management program.”

In fact, before McCowan even stepped into the classroom, Princeton Superintendent Tom Burton got in touch.  “He talked about community breakfasts he wanted to hold, and felt that the business students should be involved.”

McCowan has made the most of that involvement, too.  Her students act as greeters and assist guests who attend the breakfast and have even been part of the morning’s program.  Their role is to make visitors more comfortable, but she sees it as a learning opportunity, as well.  “I teach my students the importance of shaking hands, looking people in the eye, and learning to mingle and meet people.  They aren’t always comfortable, especially in meeting people, but when they do they find they enjoy it.”  She said that has led to unexpected results.  “They’ve become experts in professional relationships.  I’ve had students get internship, interview, or even job offers on the spot because of their poise and professionalism.  And where else will high school students have the chance to meet executives, CEOs, and elected officials?”

That same philosophy of growing through experience guides McCowan and her students in running the school’s spirit shop.  “The students stock shelves, interact with customers, and handle every aspect of retail business operations,” she said.  “They even design and choose the merchandise.  One of our most popular items recently has been a camo hoodie in school colors.  I didn’t think it would sell, but we only have two left.  They know their customers.”

Even socks are an opportunity for learning.  McCowan started a closet of professional dress attire for students to use in attending conferences, job interviews, and student competitions.  “They learn that clothes make an impression.  I’ve seen students looking sharp and then notice they’re wearing white socks with dress clothes.  I explain that details matter, and tell them ‘Go get a pair of dress socks from the closet.’”

“For me, teaching is all about relationships.  I center my classroom around getting to know my students.  I include them in my planning; they often help choose what topics we’ll study and discuss.  I trust them, and they trust me.”

The students learn to trust each other, as well.  “In DECA student business competitions, they refer to themselves as family.  They’re very supportive of each other and want each other to succeed.  That kind of team is really exciting to watch.”

At the beginning of the year, the students met and set goals for the year.  One goal was to double the number of students who qualified for state-level DECA competition from last year’s seven qualifiers.  They blew past their goal; 20 of her students will compete at state this year.

And Rebecca McCowan’s students are seeing success away from school, as well.  “I want them to know that along with business and management knowledge, they’re learning communication and professional skills for life.  One student came up to me recently and said ‘Ms. McCowan, at the job interview I shook their hands, I looked them in the eye—and I got the job!”