“I was just in that zone. I was sitting back and listening to the kids introduce their teachers and was so touched listening to my student [that] I just sort of thought, ‘These are all incredible teachers. I don’t have to worry — they are not going to call my name,’ and then they did and when I realized it, it was overwhelming,” Ms. Cooper said later Monday.
She was in Hershey as one of 15 finalists for the 2015 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year competition, which the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Pennsylvania Chapter of National State Teacher of the Year sponsor.
She will be Pennsylvania’s nominee for National Teacher of the Year.
Ms. Cooper, 46, of Highland Park, has taught for 14 years at Fox Chapel. Her courses include advanced placement music theory, orchestra, piano and world music, and she is chairwoman of the high school music department.
The National Association of Music Merchants, a nonprofit organization focused on advancing participation in music, honored the district’s music program in 2012 as one of the best in the nation.
Ms. Cooper acknowledged that the department has grown under her leadership, but she was quick to give credit to the “amazing team of teachers” who work under her guidance.
A student introduced each of the finalists at the ceremony. Eli Ziff, a senior at Fox Chapel Area High School and an orchestra member, introduced Ms. Cooper.
“Ms. Cooper is not my Teacher of the Year; she is my teacher of a lifetime,” Eli said.
Ms. Cooper said she is able to develop a special bond with her students because she has most of them for all four years of high school, unlike teachers who teach subjects that students pass through in one year.
“I can impact them not simply as musicians but also as thinkers and human beings, and that changes the nature of how I am able to interact with them,” she said.
Fox Chapel Area superintendent Gene Freeman described Ms. Cooper as a “teacher who defies gravity.”
“When you think she has lifted her students to the highest degree, she inspires them to go even higher,” he said.
A native of the state of Indiana, Ms. Cooper moved to the area to take a part-time teaching job at Seton Hill University.
While working on her doctorate, she started teaching in the K-12 grades “and fell in love with the students.”
She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from the University of Rochester.
Besides Ms. Cooper, there were three other finalists from Allegheny County: CeCe Kapron of Mt. Lebanon School District, James Nagorksi of Carlynton School District and James Lucot of Seneca Valley School District.
Mary Niederberger; firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-1590. First Published December 8, 2014 11:49 AM