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USI alumna named 2023 Indiana Teacher of the Year

Tara Cocanower recognized for her work at Bluffton High School

October 12, 2022

Tara Cocanower ’07, a U.S. history and Advanced Placement (AP) World History teacher at Bluffton High School, has been named the 2023 Indiana Teacher of the Year by the Indiana Department of Education. She earned her bachelor’s degree in history and secondary education from the University of Southern Indiana.

In addition to her teaching roles, Cocanower leads the Bluffton High School’s history club and serves as the History Department leader. She is known for developing fun, engaging and inclusive lessons in her classroom, giving students an opportunity to learn history and develop their own worldviews simultaneously.

Cocanower also earned the 2021 Bluffton-Harrison Metropolitan School District Teacher of the Year honor. In 2022, her students achieved an 83.5% pass rate on the AP World History exam—the state average is 48.1%.

“For many educators, becoming a teacher is a calling to serve others and make a positive impact on the world, one student at a time, and Mrs. Tara Cocanower is the embodiment of someone who was truly meant to be a teacher,” said Dr. Katie Jenner, Indiana Secretary of Education, in a press release announcing the award. “When you see the way she connects with her students, it is clear to those around her that in addition to maximizing student learning, she is positively impacting lives and preparing her students to do the same. By believing in her students and being a trusted mentor, she is empowering the next generation of leaders and, as she calls them, world changers.”

Photo courtesy of the Indiana Department of Education

At Bluffton High, Cocanower also serves as the school’s high ability coordinator and co-technology coordinator where she works to introduce and support fellow teachers in using technology to build more engaging and accessible lessons. She is a leader in the school, working to mentor first-year educators and hosting cadet teachers, while also encouraging Bluffton students to consider careers in history and education. This school year, Cocanower has partnered with a fellow Bluffton High teacher to offer a new principles of teaching course, introducing high school students to the education profession.

Outside of the classroom, Cocanower is the head coach for the girl’s golf and girl’s track and field teams at Bluffton. She also organizes a junior golf league and youth track meets to make sports accessible to all children in the community. Cocanower leads a youth ministry in Bluffton with her husband, Geoff, and serves on the board of Hope Missionary Pre-School.

Now in her 12th year as an educator, she previously taught middle school social students before her role at Bluffton High School. Cocanower has also served two years in the Peace Corps.

About Teacher Education at USI

Teaching is a profession of practice, and the USI Teacher Education Department prepares practitioners to know and understand the communities in which they work, their students, their subject-area content and teaching methods. Throughout the coursework, teacher candidates gain professional knowledge, skills and experiences to become highly effective practitioners. Students learn research-based pedagogical practices that promote well-being in diverse and global settings and learn to identify ways to support their own students.

About the Indiana Teacher of the Year program

For more than 60 years, the Indiana Teacher of the Year Program has worked to inspire, rejuvenate and celebrate the teaching profession by recognizing outstanding teachers from across the state. The program encourages schools to nominate their local Teachers of the Year for this statewide honor. Finalists are selected from these applicants by a committee made up of former Teachers of the Year, IDOE staff, educational organization leaders, business and community leaders and representatives from higher education.

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