Not many children know what they really want to be when they get older. Sometimes, it’s because their dreams are simply so big, or because following your dreams can be difficult. For Deborah Coppola, teacher of Cosmetology at the Ward Technical Center, cutting hair came as natural as playing with dolls.
“It’s just something that I always was interested in. I would cut my friends hair, my doll’s hair,” Deborah said. “I had an aunt who was a hairdresser. She was an influence because she had a salon in her home. I would go to a salon with my mom or my aunt and I would sit there in amazement and I thought it was magic what the girls were doing.”
When she was in seventh grade, Deborah spoke with her guidance counselor about being a hairdresser, and quickly entered the Western Suffolk BOCES Cosmetology Program. When she graduated, she did so with a full cosmetology license, before she was 18. She started working in a salon almost immediately, and continued for 20 years, gaining valuable experience that she would pass onto younger coworkers.
“There was a time when I was the “senior stylist” or “seasoned stylist” and my boss would ask me to take the new girl and show her the ropes,” Deborah said. “That is how I started liking teaching. All of a sudden, I was teaching these young kids what to do.”
With a new-found passion for teaching, she started working evening classes at the Jon Louis School of Beauty in Patchogue. However, she wanted to teach at BOCES. To do that, she’d have to go to school first.
“I went over to NYIT and said that I wanted to work for BOCES,” Deborah said. “They said I needed to get a college degree, a bachelor’s degree. I thought, ‘ I can’t do that, I don’t want to do that.’ It was too overwhelming to me.”
However, her sons, who were also in college at the time, helped her find the courage to enroll. She started by taking just a few classes, and as her support system of teachers grew, so did her confidence. One of her teachers referred her to an opening at the Western Suffolk BOCES Wilson Technical Center, where she started working three days a week. When she graduated from NYIT in 2005, she started student teaching at ESBOCES.
Her path to teaching was long, however, it provided valuable experience that Deborah is able to give to her students. Her students learn to never let fear hold them back.
“I tell them my story,” Deborah said. “How shy I was and how I didn’t know how to talk to customers. It’s a skill you can learn. You can overcome being shy. I didn’t let anxiety stop me because I wanted to be a hairdresser. I didn’t let that get in my way.”
Following your dreams can be difficult, however, through perseverance, Deborah Coppola teachers her students every day what you can accomplish if you believe in yourself.