Teacher Sisters: The Cotters MacKenzie Riley Young | December 17, 2019

Amanda and Al Cotter

Sisters Amanda ’16 and Alexandra ’17 Cotter teach fifth grade in classrooms down the hall from each other at Williams Elementary School in Oakland.  

Their students refer to them as Miss Cotter 1 and Miss Cotter 2 to avoid confusion. 

Although Amanda and Alexandra (“Al”) have different classrooms, teaching philosophies, and personalities, they say it is a dream come true to teach and collaborate – from Fitness Fridays to sending students to each other’s rooms when they need a change of pace and sharing lesson plan ideas and stories.  

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As kids, Amanda and Al often “played school” in their free time – so much so that their family began buying them teaching materials for all holidays.  

Amanda was lucky enough to find her passion for children early on and gain experience from helping with her mom’s daycare to teaching preschool at the tech school during high school. But it wasn’t until her mentor teacher experience while at Thomas College that it really sank in. She thought often about one of the students who was struggling to understand multi-digit multiplication. She found herself consumed in finding new strategies, writing notes, and testing different ideas to help the young student. 

“That’s when it clicked,” she says. “Teaching wasn’t a decision or choice that I had to make. It was my purpose. My purpose was to guide young people to success.” 

While at Thomas College, Amanda learned valuable skills in planning lessons and building teaching strategies for a diverse group of students. She cites both her education and psychology classes as being vital to her success.  

“What helped me the most was collaborating with other education majors and professors, as well as the field experiences and student teaching. Thomas did an awesome job at placing me with a mentor who was always there to support me and additionally assigning me to a variety of classrooms,” she says.  

“I made amazing friendships and great connections with Thomas faculty and staff. Thomas staff members are really there for their students, which is all I can hope and expect of myself as an educator.” 

Now at Williams, she is happy to work with Al and another Thomas alumna teaching fifth grade: Kinsey Hilton ’15. They spend time collaborating and supporting each other throughout the school year. 

“Each year I get anxious for my new, incoming kiddos,” Amanda admits. “Yes, teachers get nervous too! I wonder what the students will be like in comparison to my previous classes; yet each year I feel just as blessed by the bonds I make with my students. They are absolutely amazing. As a fifth-grade teacher, I meet these young people at critical times in their lives, and I am fortunate enough to become part of their lives. I see my students on average 35 hours a week. I get to know their minds and, moreover, their hearts,” she says.  

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 Alexandra’s experience at Thomas College included numerous opportunities, such as volunteering in elementary school classrooms; attending the National Council of Teachers of English conference in Georgia, where she received 50 brand new, free books; obtaining actionable feedback from professors while student teaching; and, the chance to earn her degree in three years. 

“I am still thankful that I chose Thomas because of the path it helped me create,” Al says. 

At Williams Elementary, Alexandra and Amanda are finding success. They recently heard from a middle school teacher in their district who noted when incoming students filled out a questionnaire that included who their favorite teacher of all time is, Amanda’s and Al’s names were on many of the sheets. “It is very evident that they felt valued, welcome, and loved. Keep up the good work!” 
 

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Alexandra says she loves working with Amanda every day.  

“It’s pretty cool to have your sister just down the hall if you’re having a bad day or just need a snack,” she reflects. “Amanda has always been my role model and best friend. There’s nothing like working with your best friend and sharing the same passion.” 

Amanda adds that they love planning together and doing similar activities with their students – or even battling each other’s classes in a tug-of-war battle or kickball game.  

Alexandra is happy she decided to attend Thomas and proud of where she is today. “Thomas College gets you ready to meet the needs of today’s students.”  

*This article was originally published in the Fall 2019 Thomas Magazine.