Thank you Miss Cooper
It’s World Teacher Appreciation Day and to say that I’ve been shaped by teachers is an understatement. Countless teachers have changed me for the better. There have been those traditional school teachers who have molded my mind, and the non-traditional teachers who have molded my life. Even the teachers I didn’t like have taught me something.
When it comes to teachers though no one has changed me more than my high school biology teacher—Miss Cooper. By the time I truly understood her influence in my life and wanted to thank her for it, she’d stopped teaching and moved away. I guess you can say this is my poor attempt to tell her how grateful I was for what she taught me and how she shaped me.
Miss Cooper was one of those teachers that expected the very best from you and was disappointed when you didn’t give it. She didn’t put up with excuses or reasons why you couldn’t do your best. She just expected you to work harder. Some found her gruff and a little stern. I found her to be warm and helpful and someone who was always there for her students. Especially those who wanted to learn: those students gained an ally and a second mother in her.
Not everybody loved her. In fact, many students hated her. They complained she was too hard, too old, too mean, too out of touch, too ______. You get the idea. I feel bad because those students never were able to truly learn from one who had so much to share.
I found those very reasons why others hated her inspiring. Her high standards found me want to set those standards for myself. I wasn’t ok with just turing in packets. Those packets needed to be the best I could do. Often that meant hours spent rewriting/reworking/relabeling those pages so they were perfect-legible and without spelling errors or mistakes. Those packets are still in my possession and prized ones at that.
There were times when I didn’t live up to her expectations and her disappointment in me was heartbreaking. A comment like, “I expected more from you,” or, “I know you’re better than this” redoubled my efforts because I never wanted to disappoint her on purpose.
Because of her faith in me, I learned that there really was nothing I couldn’t accomplish if I put my heart and head into it. I even tackled Calculus because of her. Granted, those calculus grades were some of my worst. Yet, I knew she was proud of me for attempting something so out of my comfort zone and something that didn’t come naturally to me.
I still think of Miss Cooper when I see dead snakes on the side of the road. Many times on our advance science summer school classes, she’d stop the van to let snakes, lizards, and other animals cross the road teaching all of us the importance of caring for the world around us.
“Stay off the lichen. Don’t damage something just because you can” still echoes in my mind whenever I come across lichen in my world adventures. It also reminds me that not just lichen is fragile. So are people and that just because I can hurt or damage someone doesn’t mean that I should.
She loved the world she taught about and that world became a part of her. That enthusiasm and whole-soul love radiated joy and lead me to find things that brought that same happiness into my life.
My love and admiration for this incredible woman hasn’t diminished over the years. I didn’t follow her to the world of science, but I hope I’ve followed her example of high standards, encouragement and curiosity.