For those select Highland students who are sophomores, juniors, and seniors, teacher turnover is hardly an anomaly. But this year, things are a little bit different. Because this year, teacher turnover has hit the one subject widely considered ‘untouchable’: Physical Education and Health.
Up until this year, teacher turnover in the P.E department has been mysteriously absent, and the teachers who’ve held those positions have gone down in Highland history not only as P.E teachers, but as school staples. That changed, however, when longtime coach, Health, and Physical Education teacher, Paul Tate, retired.
Tate’s retirement would pave the way for a newcomer to enter the halls of Highland this year. His name is Lance Cooper, and, unsurprisingly given the notoriety of Highland’s P.E department, he has some stories to tell.
From commuting all the way from Heber City every day to teaching a completely different subject — in Vegas, no less! — Cooper’s story has more twists and turns than are required to actually find Highland’s health classroom.
Deep in the bowels of Highland, there’s a part of the school that isn’t its’ infamous tunnels. In order to reach it, one must take a set of stairs that most students forget exist save for one semester of their high school careers –
The Health class that the district says students need to take to graduate.
This is where, on the first cold Monday of the year, I sat down to interview Lance Cooper, who greeted me with a warm smile and handshake that belied both the changing weather and the stress that oftentimes accompanies the end of term. If Cooper was stressed, he didn’t show it. Nervousness also didn’t factor into the equation.
Cooper answered the questions I posed to him as calmly as if he had been waiting to answer them for years. On the rare occasion when he did have to take a second moment’s thought, he did even this as if it were natural — But then, Cooper’s done so much, it’s hard to imagine any situation would phase him.
For one thing, Cooper’s last position before coming back to teach was in, in his words, ‘hospital administration.’ It’s a far cry from a post teaching physical education. Like most things, however, Cooper was passionate about hospital administration, and the duty and responsibility that he felt it imbued him with.
“It’s all about your resident,” Said Cooper, elaborating, “Everyone, yourself included, everyone’s standing in line, and we’re all going to get to that point, and you hope that quality of life is a higher level. So we work for it.”
It’s the kind of approach that Cooper carried with him through his multiple teaching positions, including teaching Chemistry and Biology in Vegas before moving out to Heber City, where he currently resides.
“I used to teach Biology and Chemistry, but it’s kind of hard to do a really thorough job when you’ve got to be on the field right away.” Said Cooper, “But my favorite class to teach? I really enjoyed teaching Chemistry, when I was on my A-Game.”
Chemistry, too, was somewhat of a passion project of Cooper’s, which came about in the same calm, self-assured way in which he seemed to do everything.
He decided to do it one day.
“I chose to do that after I had my degree and my masters, so I took those classes later on,” Cooper said. “I just wanted to learn about Chemistry. I don’t do that anymore.”
While this might technically be true — Cooper is no longer a Chemistry teacher — the attitude that he has as a person carries over into his teaching to this day.
Perhaps part of this is due to his unique perspective as a P.E teacher with no history of sports in his family and a daughter whose arena was the arts, not a gymnasium, but Cooper’s way of teaching P.E is doubtless the way that many, many Highland upperclassmen wish P.E would’ve been taught.
“How would I teach a class? Well, I think I would teach it like my own child was there. You want to give them as much as they can and make sure they have a safe environment. That’s the most important part.” Said Cooper. “I never do separate the kids into ability. I try to pick skills and activities that everybody can compete with, other than basketball, baseball, football.”
In Cooper’s opinion, it rests firmly on the shoulders of the instructor to make sure that students in physical education classes have a good experience. It’s a welcome approach to teaching, and not just of physical education.
It’s unsurprising, considering the fact that Cooper’s life experiences have led him to appreciate and take into consideration a lot of different viewpoints. In his, strict fairness – not meanness or cruel encouragement – are vital in teaching a class like P.E. A supportive environment that gives every team and student an equal chance to succeed.
And though Cooper classifies himself as somewhat of an introvert – someone who doesn’t like the limelight — he certainly makes sure to put the Highland student body in it. According to Cooper, the students at Highland are “second to none”.
“When I walk through the stands and things like that at games, they seem very respectful to me,” Said Cooper. “There’s a lot of school spirit, which is kind of a lost art. And when I see kids at the assemblies, it’s amazing. The principal gets up to speak and the kids kind of quiet down. It’s difficult to have that kind of respect from students.”
Highland’s student body is one of the reasons that Cooper loves what he does, even if ita long way off from the things that he was doing. In the end, Cooper views teaching P.E and Health here at Highland the same way he viewed hospital administration, previous teaching posts, and even interviewing for a Rambler teacher feature.
“I’m just doing this for you guys,” Says Cooper.
This, and more besides.