I want to share my personal story about how and why I became a teacher.
First of all, I’m a TK. Pretty much the ultimate teacher’s kid. My grandparents were both teachers – my grandmother in elementary, my grandfather in jr. high and administration. My mother worked in education as a Teacher’s Aid, at the district office in various offices, as a high school choir accompanist, always as a music teacher until I was in high school when she went back to school to become . . . a teacher. I have more cousins in education than any other field. So, yes, we are an education family through and through. I was learning educational philosophy and best practices at my grandma’s knee. Literally. I even married a teacher. We started dating by going out after our credential classes.
When I was 11 years old, I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up: a high school theatre teacher. Ever practical, I knew that the life of an actor was not for me, but I loved teaching and I loved the stage, so my place in the world seemed pretty clear and obvious. Then I spent the next 11 years of my life doing exactly what I needed to do to make that dream a reality (see, practical). Knowing that California did not have a Theatre Credential, I double majored in Drama and English.
Then I hit a road block. Near the end of college, I was suddenly bored by the idea of being a teacher. After all, by this time my mom was a teacher, my grandparents were both now retired teachers. It all seemed so ordinary and boring and if I wasn’t the greatest person since Jesus himself, what was the point of anything. (I’m a millennial, what can I say) I wanted to do something more. More exciting. More impactful. More . . . well just more. So I decided I wanted to be a writer.
“I wanted to do something more. More exciting. More impactful. More . . . well just more.”
The thing about writing is that it takes awhile to make any money from it if you are lucky enough to make money at all. There was no way that I could support my Orange County lifestyle writing right away, so I moved back to my hometown and started looking at my options. In the meantime, I was living with my grandma and she suggested that I substitute teach. It would pay better than my retail job and would be good experience if I decided I wanted to teach after all.
I think it took about 30 minutes of substitute teaching for me to realize that this was what I was born to do. It felt like breathing. I loved teaching, I was good at it, the world made sense again. A couple of interviews, a round of testing and there I was, enrolled in credential classes, hoping to be exactly what I had set out to be at age 11, a high school theatre teacher. Now everyone was warning me that there are not that many theatre jobs and I would probably have to teach English. I also was reassured that if budget cuts came, my job would be the first to go – English would be much safer. That was fine with me, but I knew what I really wanted.
Sure enough, the next year, there were two theatre positions open in our high school district! So at 23, I started teaching high school theatre. I don’t think I was fully prepared for the amount of blood, sweat, and tears (so many tears) that I would pour into my program, but there I was.
A couple of years into teaching, in the middle of the No Child Left Behind era, an administrator placed a flyer in our boxes that made it clear that the only thing that mattered was test scores and that anything that brought joy, creativity and life to the school was considered insignificant. It didn’t say so directly, but if we were embracing the program advertised, it might as well have said, “Forget everything you know to be true about teaching children, drill and kill is here to stay!” I read it while my students were gathering for an after school rehearsal, crumpled it up and threw it across the stage saying, “It’s like nothing I do matters.”
Quietly, one boy, a sophomore at the time looked at me and said, “It matters to me Mrs. Brandon.”
That moment happened 10 years ago, but it is still one of the most important moments of my teaching career. I do what I do because it matters to kids. It impacts their lives and changes them. I have seen kids transform from someone who barely speaks above a whisper to someone who can command the attention a a full auditorium. I have seen kids that were complete opposites and would never become friends outside my doors sit together and laugh together and work together for a common goal. I have seen kids work through some of the emotional trauma in their life through a character. It matters to them, so it matters to me.
“It matters to me Mrs. Brandon.”
Theatre may never be the most important or recognized or respected program on campus, but it changes lives. Students have told me that it has enriched them and that they learned more useful things in my class than any of their core classes. So that is why I push so hard to promote the arts, not just theatre, but the arts in general. I know the power that it has had in my students’ lives and how it can make the connections that last.
Why do you teach?