by Shannon Rigsby, Mustang Public School Communications Officer
One of Mustang High School’s two Teachers of the Year, Chad Harper, has two classrooms. One is filled with desks and computers and the other, separated by a wall that is half glass, is full of machines from drill presses to a 3D printer. He sometimes has both class rooms running at once, which is appropriate. Harper is a study in movement, boundless energy, and volume.
“There is no doubt I have ADHD,” he said. “If I went and got tested it would be a waste of money. I tried for years to outgrow it or suppress it, but now I embrace it. If the kids get bored and I get bored, we’re doing something different.”
Harper had no desire to teach when he graduated from Mustang High School in 1991. He tried college and athletics, but quit after he got there, intent on a blue-collar life.
“When I was in high school I couldn’t imagine being anything but a mechanic, a welder or a truck driver because I loved working with my hands,” he said. “But when I was doing those jobs, I wanted to do something more meaningful. There was nothing wrong with those jobs, but it wasn’t meaningful for me.”
He was driving down Cornwell Drive in Yukon in 1994 when the tire popped off his ’68 GTO right in front of an elementary school. In the pre-cell phone era, Harper made his way to the front office and called his wife. He took a seat while he waited, chatted with office staff, watched the teachers interact with the kids and took in the scene of morning arrival. The epiphany that hit him was sudden and complete.
“Lo and behold, while I was sitting there waiting on my wife, I thought, ‘That is really a meaningful life,’” Harper said. “I knew that was what I needed to be doing. I thought, ‘I am going back to college.’ I told my wife this was absolutely meant to be. I never missed a day going to college – never skipped a class. I knew exactly what I wanted.”
Harper loved working with his hands, but he was also good at English and athletics. He saw an English degree as a route to a secondary teaching job that included coaching duties.
When he was student teaching at a middle school, the Mustang High School principal at the time, Paul Cloar, called Harper about a job. He would be taking over for a teacher with health issues and the temporary position for construction communication would likely turn into a full-time job.
The class had a lot of “those” kids in it, rough kids with reputations.
“I had two kids with ankle monitors in class,” he said. “When you’re in college, that’s the stuff they don’t teach you.”
He wasn’t phased. Harper said when he was in high school, he didn’t have a lot of direction. He had athletics and understood success because he experienced it on the field. He knew many of the kids didn’t understand the concept of success or winning. School was someplace the law required them to be. Harper decided to help those students see that they could turn their situations and their assignments into something they could conquer. He refused to treat a student differently just because they might have the reputation of being “that kid.”
“I went in with the approach that ‘I’m okay; you’re okay. You’re going to get a clean slate with me and you’re probably going to get a clean slate every day. Yeah, I had to get on to you yesterday, but hey man, it’s all good and give me a high-five today.’”
His life before teaching had uniquely equipped him for the classroom.
“I was used to dealing with rowdy mechanics and people in the oil field who are as ornery as the day is long,” he said. “I have a unique set of skills. I’m able to work with the kids but I also know the machines.”
His class has evolved over the years. Cloar wanted a class that was more hands-on, so an auto mechanics class was added, then small engine repair. Now Harper teaches engineering design. His students plan bridges and test them to failure. They design their projects on the computer with CAD, build the blueprints and then build their project to match the blueprints exactly. Another class is building a radio controlled airplane that they will race in a competition at OSU.
Harper enjoys coaching football as much as the classroom, and has enjoyed being part of the high school careers of NFL greats like Josh Cooper and David Glidden.
“I’m not on the field with them, but I do get to live part of that with them,” he said.
He can name many more students who have gone through his classes and onto engineering degrees.
“Teaching is absolutely better than I expected,” he said. “One of my professors said, “You’ll have a good life and you’re going to really enjoy your job if you’re meant to do it, but you’re never going to get rich, so don’t even try. Don’t let money worry you. You’ll have a lot of rewards along the way you can’t put a price on.’ I completely agree with that. I have never looked back – not one