EagleCorps: DJ Cook and Jackson Hall

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Atmika Iyer/Host: Hello, and welcome to EagleCorps, a podcast inspired by NPR’s StoryCorps. I’m Atmika Iyer, and today we’re listening to good friends and colleagues, Jackson Hall and DJ Cook. Many people can recount that moment that lead them to pursue their passion in life. For Cook and Hall, that moment was on the beaches of Normandy. 

Jackson Hall: So, I got one for you

DJ Cook: OK, I’m listening

Jackson Hall: And I was thinking about this the other day. So, I know quite a bit about your story before you came to teaching, and the kinds of work you were doing before hand. 

DJ Cook: Sure, sure

Jackson Hall: I wanted to know, was there a specific moment or a specific instance  of something that happened while you were doing one of your other jobs where it just clicked to you that, not necessarily I know that I am now going to be a teacher. 

DJ Cook: Yeah

Jackson Hall: But, I’m absolutely not going to do this kind of work anymore.

DJ Cook: So for me it was a slow burn rather than a click. My mom was a teacher so I experienced what the elementary school system looked like my whole life because I was always in her classroom helping her prepare, putting up bulletin boards, I kind of got a taste of what teaching was. But in my house, I grew up in the 80s, and in the 80s, it was greed is good, you got to make as much money as possible and that was certainly something my dad was hammering home to me, so I felt like teaching didn’t pay enough, I gotta go do something that’s gonna make me more money. 

And my motivations were wrong when I went to college, because it was not what I wanted to do or what I found interesting. It was what was the most lucrative career path for me. And I was miserable as an engineering major. I was struggling in physics. I liked being tactile, but I’m more as you can attest because we built stuff together. 

Jackson Hall: Yeah 

DJ Cook: I’m more of a hands on let’s build a kind of thing, rather than let’s prove through physics that this is a structurally sound, you know, thing we’ve created.

Jackson hall: Right. 

DJ Cook: We’ll just figure that out through trial and error. 

So for me, I always had on the back of my mind that I wanted to be a teacher, and even when I was in between film shoots, because my first job outside of colleges I was a production assistant on two movies, and when the movies are being filmed you’re working 16 hour days every single day of the year. And when there’s no movies going you’re not getting paid. 

Jackson Hall: Right 

DJ Cook: So, to supplement my income I was substitute teaching, and I was doing every grade, I took a kindergarten class for two and a half weeks because there was a lice outbreak in the class. I took some Junior High classes, I took fifth grade, I took 12th grade, I took, you know, wood shop classes and taught those, I took math classes and taught those. Taught is loosely in quotations because I was substituting.

Jackson Hall: Of course 

DJ Cook: And then I really started to develop my repertoire which I was gravitating towards the social sciences. And that was a lot of fun for me, but I couldn’t bite the bullet and make the number one the time sacrifice, or the financial sacrifice to go back to school. 

Jackson Hall: Right 

DJ Cook: So, I kicked around that idea for a while, and where it really, if I’m going to have an ‘oh, aha moment,’ it’s two of them. 

When I quit ESPN which was after my film career. I went to Europe for two and a half months. And this kind of comes full circle with us, as well. When I was standing at the beaches of Normandy for the first time.

Jackson Hall: Which we’ve done together 

DJ Cook: Which we’ve done together. My grandfather was quite literally the second wave of the Omaha Beach invasion which was the bloodiest and the goriest and the worst of the worst and standing on that beach, probably 55 years after my grandfather did, something clicked in me where the story of history came alive in me and I wanted to convey that same feeling I had in that brief moment to my students in one way, shape or form. So then you were a student in my third world history class, and we built our lifelong relationship based on that class year, and then upon your graduation, I joined the Oak Park trip and chaperoned your trip.

Jackson Hall: Right 

DJ Cook: Where we found ourselves once again standing at the beaches of Normandy, and still two of my most prized photos I have are of you and I, at those beaches in Normandy, almost full circle. 

My grandfather’s generation which was three before me. And then our generation kind of picking up and carrying the story to our students so it doesn’t lose its, its impact or its effect.

Jackson Hall:  Yeah, I think that, you know, I, you know, for my social media profile picture, I don’t really use social media anymore, but from that trip, until I stopped using it, my profile picture was me and you stand in the crater.

DJ Cook: I remember. We’re kind of like standing there pointing out your dad taking the picture right yeah, that’s, yeah. Cool.

Atmika Iyer/Host: Thanks for listening and stay tuned for more episodes of the eagle core podcast. If you’re interested in being a part of our program, feel free to sign up for an interview session by clicking the link below. Be sure to tune back in next week. 

Our thanks go to NPR’s StoryCorps for the inspiration, to Tony Pelucci and Jason Nguyen for help with the sound booth, and Jackson Hall and DJ Cook for being our podcast guinea pigs.

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