Five Years Out: H.S. English Teacher Will Cogswell ’11 Heads to Salt Lake City

The series “Five Years Out” catches up with Bowdoin alumni to learn what they’re up to and where they’ve been since earning their diplomas in 2011.

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After teaching English to high school students in the small, rural Maine towns of Topsham and Lisbon for the past three years, Will Cogswell ’11 decided he wanted to try something different.

He searched for a job that would put him in a classroom with diverse students, in a wholly new setting for him, and found the perfect assignment in Salt Lake City, Utah. “It’s very different from Maine,” he said, with a smile.

This fall, Cogswell will start work as an English teacher at West High School, which has 2,400 students. By comparison, Lisbon High School has 350 students, and Mt. Ararat High School around 900. Besides enrolling many hispanic students, West High also educates a fair number of East African immigrants. To get to Utah, Cogswell and his girlfriend, Sam Collins ’11, took the slow route, making a road trip through Philadelphia, North Carolina (where Cogswell is from), Indiana, and to some of the great national parks out West.

Besides working with a more diverse student body, Cogswell said he’s excited to use his Spanish when he starts teaching in Salt Lake City. He only began studying Spanish at Bowdoin his sophomore year, but was proficient enough at it to study abroad in Chile when he was a junior, and to teach English in Colombia as a Fulbright scholar after graduation. He credits his decision to take Spanish to the “culture at Bowdoin of encouraging experimentation.”

Cogswell tries to cultivate a similar environment in his own classes. “The general Bowdoin academic culture has influenced me a lot,” he said. “Academically Bowdoin is rigorous, but it’s also collaborative, which aligns with my values and is a central part of my classroom and classroom culture.” When collaboration edges out competition, students’ curiosity drives their desire to learn, according to Cogswell.

Cogswell was an English major at Bowdoin, and began thinking he might want to be a teacher after he worked for Upward Bound at Bowdoin in the summer of 2009. Upward Bound prepares low-income or first-generation high school students to apply to and succeed at college. His Fulbright year teaching in Colombia solidified his desire, and in 2013, after he had returned to the United States, Cogswell enrolled in Bowdoin’s Teacher Scholars program. This competitive semester-long program trains Bowdoin undergraduates and recent grads to become public school teachers.

“I was drawn to teaching,” Cogswell explained. “It’s challenging. It requires constant reflection and thought on my part. It’s a puzzle and a problem every day—how are you going to get people to learn or appreciate something?”

Cogswell added that he also loves the age group he teaches. “High school is this nice middle point [between middle school and college] where you’re helping students develop a sense of self as well as delve into a subject matter you care about,” he said.

English, he continued, incorporates “everything”—science, social science, history, math, politics, art. “English is so all-encompassing. It allows me to go about exploring and understanding the world, and it’s interesting to do this with students of high school age.”

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