The namesake of Cooper Elementary spoke softly but made a big impact
The Velvet Hammer. That’s how teacher Patricia Webb Cooper’s colleagues referred to the woman who “never raised her voice when she was upset; instead, she would get calmer and quieter and talk very directly, but she always got her point across,” remembers one of those colleagues, Judy Marshall.
Judy recalls an example of the Velvet Hammer in action. When a new student entered her classroom with muddy shoes and Mrs. Cooper calmly asked him to go back outside and clean the mud off, the student barked back to her that it wasn’t his fault. The rest of the class let out a collective gasp because they knew students didn’t disrespect others, especially a teacher. Mrs. Cooper simply gave the student “the look” and patiently explained that she didn’t think it was his fault, but “we don’t track mud in the school.” She also explained that in the future, if he had something to tell her, he needed to use a respectful tone, or they would have problems. He quickly complied, and she never heard a disrespectful tone from him again.
“Pat never raised her voice, and in fact she would talk even more quietly when the kids would start getting louder,” remembers fellow teacher Marcie Lindsay. “They would have to strain to hear her, which made everyone automatically quiet down. She didn’t shush the kids or lecture about behavior . . . she expected the students to respect her, and each other, so they did. She continuously modeled respectful behavior with students and other staff members. That is how she ran her classroom, with mutual respect.”
Mrs. Cooper “was given the ‘hard to handle’ students year after year and was able to get the best from them as well as get them to behave,” recalls Judy. “She transformed my own small, shy fourth-grade son into a boy who came home excited about school every day. That hadn’t happened before.”
Mrs. Cooper received her Bachelor’s degree from Southwestern University and taught at Carver Elementary, Williams Elementary, and Pickett Elementary, where she received honors and accolades. Her life was cut short on a stormy night in 1997, when she was traveling back to Georgetown after visiting her mother in Brenham and saw a wrecked car on the side of the road. Pat stopped to help but was struck and killed by a hydroplaning vehicle. Pat left behind her husband, young daughter, family, friends, colleagues, and students who were devastated by the loss of the soft-spoken but tough teacher.
Cooper Elementary School is named for Pat Cooper. Judy says, “Her former students and colleagues admired and adored her. When the school board was talking about naming the new school, it was her former students at the high school who presented the petition to name the school after Pat Cooper. I think this speaks volumes on the impact she had on these students.”
“Pat was so soft-spoken that she was almost inaudible at times, but whether she entered into a classroom full of students or a staff meeting full of colleagues, her confidence and demeanor instantly commanded everyone’s full attention and respect while they awaited her valuable input, leadership, and wisdom.”
–Sherry Pennington, one of Pat Cooper’s many colleagues