As Joan Cooper prepared to enter the Tehachapi Association of Teachers office for her final meeting as its president, she had no idea what awaited her.
Thursday afternoon, a line of cars carrying fellow teachers and well-wishers formed in the parking lot of Kmart in anticipation of driving by the retiring president in front of the Mill Street office and giving her a secret caravan sendoff.
Cooper, who has served as the TAT president for the past 24 years, said she was taken completely by surprise when she heard the blasting horns coming from the approaching line of cars.
"This has been a learning experience during my whole entire career of teaching here, from the different leaderships to the many adjustments," said Cooper, who taught algebra at Tehachapi High School.
Cooper said she had a little difficulty making the transition to online classes in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, she credits the training she received from her colleagues who helped her smooth out the wrinkles.
"The one thing I really missed was seeing my kids. I missed them a lot," Cooper said following the caravan.
According to the outgoing president, whether children return to traditional school in the fall will be up to the state to decide. However, she speculates it could be a mixture of classroom and online instruction.
Cooper said the most enjoyable part of being a teacher for the past 30 years was just being with her students.
"I loved going there (to school) because the students made me laugh. Seeing the difference that you made when they would come up to you after they graduated was so rewarding," Cooper said.
The outgoing president will be missed by those she served for nearly two and a half decades.
"Joan has sacrificed so much time and energy over the years for the well-being of our teachers. She is such a fun and warm person and has left a positive mark on Tehachapi teachers and our students that will last forever," said Emily D. Van Andel.
Teacher Anna Hoffmann called Cooper "a steadfast leader" for teachers of the Tehachapi Unified School District.
"Her commitment to her students, the community, and the teaching profession are respected by all who have come into contact with her. Her leadership and friendship will be missed, but now she finally gets to rest and enjoy retirement," said Hoffmann.
Amber Dickinson said she has been lucky enough to work with Cooper for the past 12 years.
"She has been an amazing mentor and friend. She has taken me under her wing and showed me so much about teaching, unions, and friendship. She will be greatly missed in our district. She is an asset that cannot be replaced," said Dickinson.
Cooper plans to move to Kansas so she can be near her son and grandchildren.
She said the election of a new president has been put on hold due to the pandemic; however, a new one will be voted in at the beginning of the next school year.
Asked if she had any advice to give the incoming president, Cooper said, "Just to protect the teachers so that they could do their jobs and teach their students."
Since she was not allowed to say farewell to her students in person due to the quarantine, Cooper had a special message to the children she loved so much.
"Thank you for all the memories," Cooper said with a flood of emotion. "And to all my colleagues, I will truly miss you."