Thursday, September 2, 2021

Teacher reaches four-decade milestone as a Windham educator

By Ed Pierce

If the purpose of life is finding your gift to give to others, Nancy Cash-Cobb has certainly found her calling.  After more than 40 years as a teacher in Windham, she’s eager to get started for yet another school year, inspiring students through music at Windham Primary School.

Growing up in Portland, Cash-Cobb developed an appreciation for music at an early age thanks to her parents.

Nancy Cash-Cobb has been teaching RSU 14 students for more
than 40 years and is currently the music teacher at Windham
Primary School. She has taught music there since the school 
first opened about two decades ago. SUBMITTED PHOTO 

“We sang in the car a lot,” Cash-Cobb said. “My dad played piano and violin by ear and my mom played piano and sang in choirs all of her life. I spent my childhood attending concerts and musicals. We loved it.”

Her interest in music grew when she sang in the chorus and played in the orchestras at Longfellow Elementary School, Lincoln Junior High School and Deering High School. She made the decision to attend college and wanted to follow in the footsteps of her teachers by becoming one herself.

She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in music education and a master’s degree from the University of Southern Maine.

Her first teaching job was for two years in Sacopee Valley in Western Maine, but in 1981 she landed a job as an elementary school teacher in Windham, and she’s been here ever since.

“When I first came to Windham I taught K-4 at Manchester School, then Arlington School, Field Allen School, John Andrew School and the Kindergarten Center,” Cash-Cobb said. “I helped design the music rooms at Windham Primary School and have taught there since it opened.”

Through the years, Cash-Cobb has been a champion for music education in the school district.

“Music enhances our lives and has the power to fill our hearts with joy as no other medium can,” she said. “Music improves connections in the developing brain and helps our problem-solving skills. Music is truly the heart in education.”

She’s Orff music education certified from Long Island University, Hamline University and the University of Illinois, and helped found the Maine Chapter of The American Orff-Schulwerk Association in 1987. That’s an organization of American music educators dedicated to using, advancing, and preserving Orff-Schulwerk, a developmental learning approach to music education created by composer Carl Orff and German music educator Gunild Keetman.

Cash-Cobb has been an active member of the Maine Music Educators Association Executive Board for 35 years and in 1999 was honored as Maine Music Educator of the Year. She’s currently serving as the Co-Conference Chair of the Maine Music Educators Association and is a longtime member of the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 148 in Windham. In fact, the Maine American Legion honored her at their annual convention in 2017 as “Maine American Legion Educator of the Year for 2017.”

According to Cash-Cobb, professional development offered by the school district has helped her sustain her career as an educator.

“In my opinion, the secret to my teaching so long in one place is professional development and keeping current and up to date with the best teaching practices,” she said.

In a lengthy career filled with memorable moments, Cash-Cobb says that she’s extremely proud of her work with younger students and opening their eyes to a lifetime of music.

“I still get teary eyed when I hear my students singing,” she said. “My favorite concerts have been the exchange concerts that we do within the district, especially the third-grade chorus with the Windham Chamber Singers. We have been doing that one for probably 30-plus years.”

Under her direction, student concerts at Windham Primary School are the stuff of legends, with three nights of Christmas concerts performed each year. WPS students at each grade level also perform annual concerts of their own with first, second and third grade concerts taking place in March and the annual kindergarten concert performed each May. 

As for her own musical ability, Cash-Cobb will admit to preferring vocals above all else.

“I am first and foremost a singer,” she said. “I play guitar and piano. I grew up playing the violin.”

In case anyone is wondering, her current favorite song to teach to her students is "Elephants have Wrinkles.”

She said there are too many school administrators to choose from to thank for helping her during her career, but she’s grateful for all of their assistance and understanding.

As far as her own favorite musicians, Cash-Cobb said one immediately comes to mind.

“John Denver is my all-time favorite composer and performer,” she said. “I have performed many of his songs at weddings and other events. I also enjoy performing Christian music.”

Family and faith in God have also been instrumental in her long and distinguished musical career. She and her husband, Jerry Cobb, enjoy being actively involved in music for their church and their daughter Sara is a pediatric registered nurse.

The family supports her work as a teacher and when school is out for the summer they enjoy traveling together, especially to Disney World in Florida and to visit relatives out of state.

Besides music, Cash-Cobb also likes swimming or kayaking on the lake and spending time with her 2 ½-year-old grandson, Jacob.

“His father is 6-foot-4 and Jacob is nearly as tall right now as I am,” she said.

Her current principal at Windham Primary School, Dr. Kyle Rhoads, said that Cash-Cobb has left an indelible impression upon her students over the past four decades teaching in Windham.

“Even after 40 years, Mrs. Cash-Cobb’s energy and enthusiasm for learners loving music remains at an unbelievable level,” Rhoads said. “Her passion and care for them shines brightly. A mark of a wonderful educator. What a legacy our learners have had by her teaching.”

RSU 14 Superintendent of Schools Christopher Howell said that Cash-Cobb can take pride in what she has accomplished as a teacher and playing a part in their educational development while leading them to  an appreciation of music.

“We are proud of the work that Nancy has done over her 40 years in our district. I am truly in awe of the number of students that she has taught and inspired over her career as an elementary music teacher,” Howell said. “She has worked throughout her career to develop and foster a strong musical foundation in her students. Her dedication has set the groundwork that ultimately develops into the talented musicians that RSU 14 is known for.” <

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