Cooney Takes Over Debate, Model UN


Zayna Chouman

Debate and Model UN teacher Lauren Cooney assists a student during class.

Willa Roberts, Staff Writer

New Debate and Model UN teacher, Lauren Cooney, has lived and worked all around the world, gathering insight and experience bringing her to her current role at Austin High School. Ms. Cooney has taught for the majority of her life and has found her passion for learning and travel.

“I actually started teaching as early as my senior year in high school,”Cooney said. “I was in a program that sent me to work with 1st graders at a local elementary school and they gave me an entire classroom and small groups of students whom I’d help with math and reading.”  

Cooney is new this year to replace the previous Model UN and Debate teacher, John Mast. Though she has only been here for a couple of months, she expressed her appreciation for the warm welcome she received by her colleagues and the many qualities that make Austin High special.

“There are so many little things I love about our school, but the most stand-out feature has been the supportive culture here,” Cooney said. “I see students being supported to express themselves through a variety of creative classes and mediums,”

Cooney has been able to learn valuable life lessons in pursuit of bettering the world and the education system. Her love of new experiences is clearly reflected in her teaching.

“The reasons I love teaching are similar to my colleagues, I love being challenged to learn something new every day, and that every day is different. I will admit I also see a lot of flaws in US education, and I sometimes feel like I’m doing research to help find a better solution,” Cooney said.

Cooney’s experiences around the world are unique among teachers, and she is able to bring her stories into the classroom.

“I moved to Thailand for three years, became a master diver, summited an active volcano in Indonesia, camped along the border of Pakistan, survived an avalanche in Nepal and a fatal bus crash in Cambodia,” Cooney said.

The first time Cooney worked abroad it was to work on an archaeological field site deep in the jungles of Belize over the summer.

“I brought two souvenirs home from that summer: an unstoppable curiosity to see the rest of the world, and a scar on my hand from a parasitic botfly,” Cooney said.

However, according to her, traveling and teaching around the world while working towards her master’s degree was no easy task.

“The scariest feat of all: finishing my MA at University College London while working three jobs to afford the tuition,” Cooney said.

Even though Cooney is settling down and teaching at Austin High, she won’t stop traveling and exploring the world.

“I’ve only been to a little more than 20 countries so far, but I don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon,” Cooney said.

Cooney’s background of volunteering with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has made her more than qualified at teaching foreign affairs and understanding international conflicts in Model UN class.

“Interning with UNESCO in Paris was an opportunity afforded to all Masters candidates as a part of our program,” Cooney said. “I contributed to a project that supports girls’ access to education in rural Afghanistan.”

With her extensive experience traveling around the world, Cooney advises students to get out in the world and truly integrate themselves in another culture to gain what the traditional path of attending college cannot offer.

“I know it’s controversial that here in the US there’s a ton of pressure on our students to go straight to college, but I’m a big fan of traveling, exploring and getting exposed to different cultures and ways of life before committing to one plan of study–especially for anyone who grows as easily restless as I do,” Cooney said.

Cooney seeks out learning in all areas of her life, and always finds a way to try new things, meet new people, and practice new skills.

“I’ve donned many hats: from bagging groceries to helping grow a small start-up in Houston; even in my leisure I’m always taking new classes: learning how to do woodworking, play harmonica, even trapeze,” Cooney said.

Cooney is enjoying working in Austin and living closer to her family for the time being, though she plans to continue to travel and work abroad in the future.

“I just know that I never want to stop learning, so like Jack Kerouac says, ‘live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry,’” Cooney said.