By ZOË WATKINS
Allyse and Jesse Cooper are similar to each other. They both teach elementary physical education. They both coach Community High soccer. They both graduated from Bryan College. And they both grew up in Bedford County.
But as similar as they are, they still complement each other. It’s worked well for them, especially as they have been together since 2009 and are now in their sixth year of marriage.
“Our communication is really good, and the way that we work with each other,” said Allyse.
“With us being together for such a long time, we know how to handle each other,” said Jesse. “She knows when I need to step back and take a break, and I know when she’s stressed and needs a break.”
“I think it has been good seeing each other through different phases of our lives. We went to Community High School together. And then we went to college together. And now we’re married with a kid,” said Allyse.
Being similar has its perks. They both understand the challenges, victories, and creativity that goes into teaching elementary school P.E. The only difference is that Allyse teaches at Learning Way Elementary and Jesse teaches at Community Elementary.
Allyse and Jesse have both been athletic for as long as they can remember. Allyse played soccer starting in the first grade, and Jesse played football before he got into soccer during his high school years.
So when it came time to deciding what they wanted to do career-wise, physical education just made sense.
“I had always enjoyed playing sports and enjoyed being around kids. So I put the two together,” said Allyse.
“I remember being in high school and wanting to do something that I knew I would enjoy doing for the rest of my life,” Jesse recalled. “I enjoyed working with kids and I enjoyed sports, like Allyse.”
Allyse added, “I was very lucky to get a P.E. teaching job. When he graduate the following year, we weren’t sure if he was going to be able to find one in the same county. But it ended up working out. It was very fortunate we both got one.”
“It was perfect timing. It was a blessing,” Jesse said.
For a couple that’s as sporty as the Coopers, athletics comes naturally. But for the kids who don’t enjoy P.E. class, the Coopers emphasize the recognition doesn’t always go to the best athlete, or the best thrower, or the best runner.
“It’s the kid who gives the best effort no matter what. And that’s all I ask. Just try and give your best effort,” said Jesse.
Jesse and Allyse say that’s their goal: to let kids try new things and have as much fun as possible all while learning new motor skills.
“It seems like the push towards good quality physical education has really started,” said Allyse. “We really didn’t want to be a P.E. teacher that just rolled the ball out… We’re really trying to teach them motor skills and give them opportunities for sports they might not get to play.”
That’s the attitude that most likely allowed Allyse to be recognized at teacher of the year at Learning Way last year.
“I was very, very grateful. There are so many good teachers at my school, so I was not expecting it at all. At the same, time I was very thankful that they appreciated a P.E. teacher so much that they nominated me for that in the first place,” she said.
For the Coopers, they want P.E. to be just as an important class for kids to take as reading or math. Higher-quality physical education has been a goal of theirs since college.
“We need good P.E. teachers, just like we need good reading teachers and science teachers and math teachers. We need those good-quality teachers in the physical education classroom to help kids grow in that way too,” said Allyse.
Through the different games played in class — whether it be basketball, sharks and minnows, capture the flag, or tag — they try to incorporate different skills into the game, doling out responsibilities to match the different skillsets of each kid in the team.
Jesse recalls how growing up he didn’t like basketball. Today, he tells his students to encourage one another when they’re playing something they may not necessarily like or be good at.
“We’ll do a shooting baskets game…and when those kids who are not necessarily good, when they make a basket and their whole team cheers for them, the light on their face — it’s so exciting to see.
“My job at the end of the day is, are the kids leaving the gym with a smile on their face and sweat. If those two things are happening then I know I’ve done my job,” said Jesse. “Because when these kids come to us, they’ve been sitting all day and doing work, and they need a break and need to let loose all their energy.”
Hey, Coach Cooper!
In addition to being a P.E. teacher, being a coach presents a unique avenue for communication with students. In the active atmosphere of a gym or field, kids are often more relaxed, taking a break from regular classroom work.
As soccer coaches for the high school boys’ and girls’ teams, the Coopers know helping kids stay balanced in their lives is just as important as staying balanced on the field.
Working with teens at an age when they’re trying to figure out life and where they fit, hitting goals on the field is a major win for both the player and the coach.
“Just making sure they’re responsible, making sure their grades are up, seeing what’s distracting them…That’s the most challenging part,” said Jesse.
“I want the girls to enjoy being there,” said Allyse. “Of course, we want to win and be successful, but it’s not all about building them as soccer players. It’s building them as young women on the team.”
And just like working with the different levels in P.E. class, coaches have to find a fit for each player’s needs and strengths.
In her first year coaching high school — previously having coach the middle school girls for seven years — Allyse says, “One thing that is also challenging is having a variety of skill level.”
And when they do, Jesse said, “It’s just like teaching. When they finally understand it, when they finally do something you have been working on and saying over and over again, and they finally do it in a game, it’s like, yes, we can do it. For me, that’s the most rewarding part on the field.”
But it’s also rewarding to see students continue on the path of playing soccer in college, or to be there with the students as they apply for jobs and move on to the next big chapter.
“My favorite thing about coaching is forming relationships…I just remember how influential my football coach and my soccer coach were,” said Jesse.
At the end of the day, when the soccer fields are empty and all the students have gone home, Allyse and Jesse are there for each other, complementing each other, and building a life together.
“There’s so much we enjoy together. We enjoy coaching. We enjoy teaching P.E. But then there’s a lot we enjoy on our own. I think it’s a really good balance,” said Allyse.