When Sarah Cowan was in graduate school, her dream job was teaching history, yearbook, and coaching cheerleading. Twenty years later, that’s exactly where she is.

Sarah’s Journey to North

Sarah was hired to teach at North Salem High School on the first school day in 2004. She showed up, saw North’s beautiful historic exterior, and had a great interview. Two days later, she started and has been at North ever since. She’s taught AP U.S. Government and Politics most of her time at North, as well as economics (and its honors section) and U.S. History.

North Salem High School Sarah Cowan
The front of the historic North Salem High School, where Sarah Cowan is in her 20th year of teaching. Photo credit: Mollie Nouwen

About ten years ago, a mentor suggested she start teaching Women’s Studies courses because there was student interest and no other high schools in the area were teaching it. There wasn’t a curriculum to work with, so Sarah got to create her own. Now, the course is so popular Sarah splits the teaching load with another teacher so that all the students who want to take it can be accommodated.

Teaching the government class, Sarah reflected on how it’s changed since she started. “It’s been very interesting the last five or six years for obvious reasons,” she said. “It’s been an incredible challenge.” She was teaching remotely when the January 6 riot was happening. “I just told the class that I’m going to stream this while you’re all here,” she recalls. “I can’t explain it to you. You have to watch it.”

Sarah had hoped to teach the yearbook class and finally got her chance seven years ago. About 40 students at North take the course, and she likes that you have to demonstrate the relevance, just like in any social studies class. One aspect of it that has been hard for current students is the rule that any yearbook photos can’t go on social media — students really want to be able to instantly post excellent pictures but know that they can’t because it will need to go into the yearbook.

North Salem High School Sarah Cowan
Sarah Cowan, social studies and yearbook teacher and assistant cheerleading coach at North Salem High School. Photo courtesy: Sarah Cowan

With Cheer in Sarah’s Heart

Cheerleading has been important in Sarah’s life since she attended Forest Grove High School. In college at Oregon State, she missed it so much that she signed up to coach a middle school team through the Boys and Girls Club. In graduate school at Pacific University, she was hired to coach the JV team at Southridge High School in Beaverton. Sarah was so committed to coaching that during her first year at North, she drove from Salem to Beaverton daily to continue coaching at Southridge. Then, in her second year at North, the Cheer coach position opened up, and she took it.

Sarah ran the cheer program for ten years in addition to her teaching duties. It was a lot of work, but she loved it. When she had her first child, it became too much work to continue, and she had to step away. This year, she’s had the opportunity to finally return (now that her kids are bigger) as the assistant coach. It allows her to be part of coaching the team but with much less pressure.

North Salem High School Sarah Cowan
Sarah Cowan’s classroom at North Salem High School. Photo credit: Sarah Cowen

20 Years at North Salem High School

In her 20th year at North, Sarah has had time to reflect on what keeps her going as an educator. She’s seen how vital it is to shift and change as students need different kinds of support. Her love of the students is a big part of why she continues doing her job. But it can be incredibly difficult. One of the most important lessons for her has been “being reflective on those bad days. And getting feedback – which can be brutal – from teenagers.”

A high school teacher’s job is all-encompassing, and Sarah often feels like she is constantly on call, whether it’s being asked to fill in for another teacher when there are no subs or juggling the nine million tasks that come with the job. However, Sarah loves her work and finds enormous meaning in it, especially the rewarding moments that stick with you. “It’s really fun to see kids process information and then start to develop critical thinking skills and figure things out on their own,” she says. “I guess you’d call it the lightbulb moment. You helped, but they mostly got there on their own.”

Sarah has come a long way from her first year at North – she’s married to another Salem-Keizer educator and has two boys in elementary school, in addition to her career accomplishments. Even though she didn’t know much about Salem before she got the job, Sarah has become an essential part of the community and educated thousands of North Salem High School students.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email