Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Crazy Koop and her German Troop

Even though I lived in the middle of California, I did not want to take Spanish in high school. I didn't care  how "practical' it was; I was set on taking German. My friend Haley had told me good things about the teacher, and I was curious.

That choice changed my life. It truly did.

Dorena Koopman was not your average teacher. She was the ideal teacher - the one that all of my college professors tell me that I need to be. Those golden teachers DO exist, and I was fortunate enough to discover one in room S42 at Bullard High School.

She was so intelligent. She was passionate about German and knew how to teach it. But she also cared for each and every one of her students in a way that not very many teachers do. She had a talent for talking about anything (and I mean anything) and relating it back to German and what we were learning in our classroom. My classmates and I have always fondly said that she taught life.

I learned so many life lessons from Frau Koopman.

She also fought a twelve-year battle with cancer. Liver, lung, breast, and brain cancer.

I was a junior in high school during her twelfth and final year of the battle. April 17th 2009 - four years ago today - was the day when the principal, school psychologist, and other random school officials came into my Advanced German class with the announcement that our beloved teacher had slipped from this life. It was hard. Our class had grown extremely close, and we were like a family on campus. One big, happy German family. And now our comforter and support was gone. So we had to learn to comfort and support each other.

We learned so much from her death. Crazy Koop. Even in death, she was still teaching us things.

I have many memories that I hold close to my heart, particularly of that last year.

Koop was so cool - she actually put the time and effort into having the advanced classes do two plays each year. They were completely in German and everyone had a role. Our very last play before she died was Aschenputtel (Cinderella) and it was so much fun.

This is a picture of Cinderella, the four step-sisters (yes, four, and I'm the blonde one in the middle up top), the step-mother, and Frau Koopman. She's on the far left in the grey. This was a time when she wasn't doing chemotherapy, so she actually had hair.

Ah, I loved being a step-sister. I may or may not have gotten to dance with Prince Jared... (before he drops me on the ground when he sees Cinderella) and it was the most fun I had in the whole play. And Koopman was always surprised that quiet, shy little Ashley had such a loud stage voice. What can I say, Koop? I'm an actress. You should see me now... I just can't shut up in any of my classes. High school was an awkward stage for me. I hope you're watching me and how much I'm growing. All that I'm succeeding in. I owe a lot of it to you, Koop.

And I'm sure my German family agrees.

Seniors, hanging in S42 before it got remodeled.

In my advanced written and oral communications class this semester, we had to write a "This I Believe" essay. For those of you who have not heard of "This I Believe" essays, there is a whole website devoted to showing inspirational essays that people write about things that they believe in. I chose to base my belief on something that Koopman taught me: the power of fighting for something.

It was difficult to write the essay for more than one reason.

  1. It has to be around 500 words, if not shorter.
  2. I had SO many things that I wanted to say about Koopman and all she taught me.
  3. It's a "This I Believe" essay, not a "This Koopman Believes" essay. So I had to try (in only 500 words) to introduce Koopman, the topic of fighting for something, and then relating that to me and my life. I had to keep remembering that this was an essay about me, not an essay about Koopman.
  4. I could keep editing and re-writing it forever. And it's still far from perfect.
I wanted to turn it in today though. It seemed the most fitting, since it's April 17th. It seems like it's been longer than four years... and yet it seems like yesterday.

In any case, I figured that I would share the essay on this blog. Maybe it will give you a little glimpse of who Frau Koopman was. Who she IS. If they end up publishing my essay on the This I Believe website, then I will let you guys know. Because that would be cool.

I Will Fight
She was bald. That was the first thing I noticed about my German teacher, followed by her cheesy smile and the clinking sound made by the rings on her fingers when she clapped her hands together. Dorena Koopman quickly became my favorite teacher. She was intelligent. She was humorous. And she was in the middle of a battle with liver, lung, and breast cancer.
As I spent time around Frau Koopman, I noticed that she never complained about her trials. She did not focus on her pain, or on the difficulty of balancing chemotherapy and classes. Instead, she focused on her students; she chose to spend her time and energy fighting for us. Fighting for me. Eventually I realized why she did this: she gained strength and courage by latching onto the good in life. To her, I was something worth fighting for. Her love for her students gave her the power to keep going.
I remember the day when Frau Koopman came to us with the news that the cancer had spread to her brain. Rather than complain about the pain, she used her remaining energy to reassure us. “You’re German students!” she said. Those three words were everything I needed to hear. They were her way of reminding me of what I had learned from being her German student. She wanted me to find the good in my life, latch on to it, and stand up for it – just as she had.
I believe that having something to fight for gives me strength. Turning my focus towards a goal allows me to put my life into perspective and see the good in it. I do not have cancer to battle or students to support, but there are other things I can fight for, such as my family. My family is a foothold I can grasp onto in this busy, stressful world. I find solace and peace when I spend time in the arms of my husband. I receive reassurance and confidence from the love of those closest to me. I will fight for the success and well-being of my family and my future children until the day I die because family keeps me grounded. Family comforts me in a chaotic world. Fighting for family helps me get through the moments of self-doubt, insecurity, and the times when life overwhelms me. And they fight for me too. We support and uplift each other. I love my family, and I will fight for them and everything else that is good in my life. If I cannot fight for those good things, then life is meaningless.
            I celebrate the life of Dorena Koopman because she was the perfect example of how to fight and remain optimistic through the hardest of times. She showed me the importance of grasping the blessings I have and holding onto them until the end. It is the greatest lesson she taught me, and one I will always cherish. I will fight; I will never give up.

So much to say. Only 500 words.

And I still have this. Wearing it now.

I love you Koop, you crazy lady.
Thanks for everything.

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  2. Miss her today and always. I wore the shirt and bracelet today after my interview.