Parkview High School choir director Nathan Cook was named the Springfield Public Schools 2022-2023 Teacher of the Year on April 18. (Photo: Springfield Public Schools)

Parkview High School choir director Nathan Cook is the Springfield Public Schools 2022-2023 Teacher of the Year.

Cook, a Kickapoo High School graduate, was one of five teachers nominated for the honor, which he received Monday night at the annual Celebrate SPS banquet hosted by the Foundation for Springfield Public Schools. 

The four finalists — Tiffany Coughenour (Jeffries Elementary School), Tiffany Lynch (Pipkin Middle School), Jami Schulte (Study Alternative School), and Mary Tilton (Cowden Elementary School) — were celebrated at the event as well. 

Cook was inspired by teachers throughout his time in the Springfield school system, which started at Horace Mann Elementary and continued to Carver Middle School before concluding at Kickapoo, according to an SPS news release. A good day in his classroom is when his students feel challenged and affirmed, Cook said in an earlier release about the finalists. To do that, he makes sure all his students feel included. 

“A teacher must be an innovative includer; diligently and creatively working to build unity within a classroom,” Cook said. “By loving one another and by pursuing excellence in our classrooms, we allow our students the opportunity to learn to do the same.”

Cook’s pursuit of a career in music education took him from Springfield to Arkansas and back, but not before stops in Thailand and Canada. He earned his bachelor’s degree in music education at the University of Arkansas and student taught back home at Parkview High School. Cook then went on a journey, traveling to Chiang Mai, Thailand, to teach music at Grace International School, where he founded and conducted both the Grace Children’s Choir and the Grace Community Choir. He continued to study choral conducting first in Vancouver, Canada at the University of British Columbia before returning to Springfield, where he received his master’s in choral conducting from Missouri State University.

Cook has taught at Parkview since 2016. He directs five choirs at the school, teaches AP-level music theory and co-developed Parkview’s musical theater course. 

Cook now advances to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s regional competition, the winners of which will advance to the Missouri State Teacher of the Year contest. 

Springfield’s five 2022-2023 Teacher of the Year nominees share their philosophies

In a news release announcing the five finalists for Springfield Public Schools 2022-2023 Teacher of the Year, the nominees offered some insight into their respective teaching philosophies. Here is what they said:

Nathan Cook, Parkview High School, choir director: “A good day in my classroom is when my students feel challenged and affirmed. I want them to walk out of the classroom better than they were when they came in.”

Tiffany Coughenour, Jeffries Elementary first grade teacher: “We often hear the phrase ‘what’s best for students.’ I think we need to go deeper. I believe we need to focus more on what’s best for THIS student in THIS moment.”

Tiffany Lynch, Pipkin Middle School, special education teacher: “I build a rapport with my students by believing in their abilities and fostering their desire to learn because I have found that many of my students can surpass expectations when they have a meaningful connection.”

Jami Schulte, Study Alternative Center, middle school teacher: “Positive relationships, problem-solving, decision making, and emotional regulation make up so much of what we call life. Isn’t that what we are trying to prepare students for? If they can master those things, their whole world opens up to them.”

Mary Tilton, Cowden Elementary, second grade teacher: “In my classroom, there is a vibe, a feeling, a passion, and it is electric! My classroom is filled with children dancing, chanting, standing on chairs, and unparalleled engagement.”