Passion for science, love for teaching at heart of Cobb’s 45-year career
By SHELLY WILKISON
Every person who has attended junior high or high school in Liberty Hill in the past three decades knows Carolyn Cobb.
In fact, the shared experience of Mrs. Cobb’s science class is frequently a conversation starter among those who have passed through Liberty Hill schools over the years.
“Former students and people I work with have been asking me for years when I’m going to retire,” she said.
Cobb has been pondering her retirement since November, but made it official after Spring Break.
In June, she will retire after teaching 45 years in Texas public schools.
Now, with three weeks remaining in the school year, Cobb admits she is a little apprehensive about what lies ahead.
However, at age 68, she is ready to see what it feels like not to wake up at 5:30 a.m. every day and has promised herself she will never again go the grocery store at 5 p.m., or on weekends.
“I just felt like it was the right time,” she said. “I will be 69 in August, and I’m just tired — tired of the routine.”
Head of the Science Department at Liberty Hill High School and one of the most tenured employees in the school district, Cobb teaches Pre-AP and AP Biology this school year. Students in her classes are either freshmen or seniors and classes vary in size from 22-25 students.
She spends a lot of time at school beyond the regular class day, including a portion of most Sundays when she breaks down or sets up labs, grades papers and prepares lessons.
“Frankly, I’m a little apprehensive about this,” she admits. “I’ve been doing this (teaching school) for 45 years.”
But, she has been working since she was 12 years old. Mowing lawns and working in food service were the jobs of her youth. She put herself through college working as a waitress.
She grew up in New Braunfels and after high school, entered what was then Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos (now Texas State University). She said she chose to major in physical education and biology and prepared for a teaching career. In the 1960s, there weren’t as many career options for women, she said.
Her first job out of college in 1968 was in Arlington where she taught elementary physical education. She stayed six years and earned a Master’s Degree in education from nearby North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas).
“I always loved science,” she said. “But I was also an outdoors person and enjoyed sports.”
After teaching PE six years, she moved to Friendship where she taught seventh grade life science four years. She and her husband then moved to Central Texas.
One of the first people she met in her neighborhood was Louine Noble, who would later become Liberty Hill superintendent. Cobb said that’s how she first learned of Liberty Hill schools.
In 1980, she was hired by then-Superintendent Bill Burden. She said she came into the system at a time when student discipline was an issue.
“I met the principal and when school started, there was a new principal,” she said.
Times have certainly changed, and Cobb said Liberty Hill students are consistently well behaved.
“Of course, there are always one or two classes that you wish another teacher had, but for the most part Liberty Hill kids are great,” she said. “And if you don’t believe that, just go to the mall.”
Biology is often a difficult course, but Cobb works hard to keep it interesting.
“I try to keep students interested in science by showing my excitement for it,” she said. “Labs and hands-on instruction is important.”
But it’s Cobb’s own love for learning that has kept her engaged in the classroom for so long. During the past three decades, a lot of things have changed in her teaching field and she has enjoyed learning about new discoveries and advances in science, as well as new teaching techniques.
“I’ve had to study and learn right along with my students,” she said, “in order to keep up with what they need to be exposed to.”
Staying up with new technology has also been part of Cobb’s teaching and learning experience.
“I try to bring in real life situations, and I throw out the old people card from time to time,” she said.
Her interest in science began at an early age.
Growing up, Cobb’s parents exposed her to salt water fishing. Her love for the coast and its plant and animal life managed to find a way into her high school science classroom.
Years ago, in the days before standardized testing and Advanced Placement courses, Cobb organized an annual field trip to Port Aransas where her advanced biology students studied plant and marine life in conjunction with the University of Texas Marine Science Center. Students raised money for the trip where they researched grassfields, jetties and shorelines. They collected specimens and brought them back to Liberty Hill for projects in animal studies.
Cobb said teaching has been a rewarding career for her, but noted that things did change and the job became more stressful with the state’s emphasis on standardized testing.
“We used to be more free to find ways to keep students interested (in the subject matter),” she said. “I think standardized testing has been the biggest change I’ve seen in my career. It takes a lot of time to teach what’s on that test; and in biology, there is a lot of material to cover.”
Cobb said she has to move through the curriculum at a certain pace even though some topics are of greater interest than others to students.
During her 45-year teaching career, Cobb said she doesn’t know how many students she has taught.
“I guess it’s been thousands,” she said. “But now I’m teaching kids of kids.”
She said she has noticed a change in young people through the years, and describes today’s high school students as “the now generation. It’s all about me.”
The use of cell phones and texting has made things “more intense,” she said.
But in the end, it will be the students who she misses most.
“I think I will miss the kids the most,” she said. “I expect it will be an emotional time (the last days of school).”
While she can still recognize the faces of students she has had in science class through the years, she says she doesn’t recall the names as quickly as she used to.
“I hope that I never did anything to make them not like learning. I feel good when I have students that remind me of things that happened in class. And several have gone on to study and teach biology,” she said.
“I don’t know what it will be like not to know what to do every day,” she said. “I guess I’ll take retirement as it comes. I think I will like the freedom of being able to do things.”
Cobb said retirement is the third major life change for her in recent years. The first came in 2011 when her father passed away at age 75. Her mother died a year later. In their final years as their health declined, she traveled to New Braunfels every other weekend to care for them.
Cobb’s love for family and learning has taken her on a personal journey to explore the roots of her family. Her interest in geneology has helped her find relatives in Germany and find out more about ancestors in Texas.
She said the interest in her family’s history started years ago when a cousin asked who her great-grandfather was. Cobb’s mother, the youngest of nine children, didn’t know. That started the quest to learn more.
“It’s kind of like a murder mystery, which I love to read, trying to solve a puzzle, finding people where they’re from and learning more about the time periods and the culture,” she said.
Shortly after her last day on the job, Cobb will travel to Ireland, Switzerland and Germany with her brother and his wife. It’s a trip she has been planning for some time, and yes, there will be some family research involved.
Nearing the end of her career, Cobb said she made the right choice.
She recalls having the opportunity to change career paths after the Vietnam War. Because of the overwhelming need for physical therapists to help returning injured soldiers, the military recruited teachers who studied physical education and biology.
“Sometimes I look back and think if I hadn’t married, that would have been something I might have been interested in,” she said. “But there’s been no regrets. Education is just me and this has been a great career.”
Three weeks from the end of school, Cobb said she is still teaching, and hasn’t thought about packing her things.
She said even as the school year winds down, she has always “given it my all, right to the end. “The students say ‘you’re retiring, why do you care?,” she said. “We’re doing it right to the end.”