Top teacher for undergraduates never doubted her destiny
Something about COE clinical associate professor Penny Cox’s destiny “clicked” four decades ago when the college’s recently named Undergraduate Teacher of the Year overheard a conversation between her mother and a stranger in Jacksonville, Fla.
“We just moved into a new house and our washing machine wasn’t set up, so my mother and I went to a laundromat,” said Cox, a special education faculty member. “My mother and a special education teacher got to talking, and something the teacher said just clicked for me. I was only 12 years old, but I knew what I wanted to do with my life.”
True to her word, and to herself, Cox went on to earn her undergraduate and master’s degrees in special education at the University of North Florida before spending the next 17 years teaching special education in Jacksonville’s public schools system.
Feeling the need for a change but wanting to remain in her field, Cox went on to earn her Ph.D. in special education at UF in 2001. She has been a COE faculty member ever since, and was instrumental in developing the COE’s Teach Well online degree program, which prepares teachers and aspiring teachers of all backgrounds to work with students with disabilities.
Cox also stays busy by serving as the COE’s special education program coordinator and playing an advisory role to students in the Unified Elementary ProTeach program, as well as graduate students pursuing dual certification.
Cox also has touched the lives of non-education majors, including Cassidy Langford, an occupational therapy student who completed one of Cox’s courses in teaching children with disabilities.
“Thanks to her influence, I want to work as an occupational therapist in a school district,” said Langford, who went on to serve as one of Cox’s teaching assistants and will begin her senior year this fall. “Dr. Cox’s teaching is unique. I felt her passion for special education and that passion shines through in her teaching.
“I can still remember and reference the guest speakers we had in my class and how they impacted me during their lecture — and that was almost four years ago.”
Jean Crockett, director of the college’s School of Special Education, School Psychology and Early Childhood Studies, referred to Cox as a “fearless instructor who readily rises to the challenge of teaching new courses and large numbers of students” in one of five letters of recommendation submitted to the Teacher-of-the-Year selection committee.
Also, according to Crockett, Cox was among the first special education faculty members to become proficient in distance education course delivery.
“She has generously shared her knowledge and enthusiasm for distance learning, and has helped many of her colleagues … achieve a better sense of efficacy in online teaching,” Crockett wrote.
Cox says her award serves as an incentive to continue being innovative.
“The more you learn, the more you don’t know,” she said with a laugh. “I’ve had some really good students, and our ProTeach program really whips them into shape for their careers as teachers. Principals at many different schools throughout Florida speak highly of our graduates.”