National Arts in Education Week: Spotlight on our Teachers


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It’s National Arts in Education Week, and we wanted to shine a spotlight on some of the many teachers that spend their evenings creating art with Brelby.

Jessica Holt, Tim McCandless, Anabel Olguin, Bertha Cortes, & Kim See sat down with the Brelby Buzz to discuss their current roles as arts teachers within the Valley community.

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What lead you to teaching?

Jessica Holt: I finished my BFA in acting and was planning to move to LA and do that whole thing. As I was working and saving money, I was asked to write and direct a short one act for kids 12-18. I had NO interest in teaching, even though my mom had told me for years I should become one. I agreed to the project. I had the best time creating this piece and working with these teens. I started to realize that I could make a difference through teaching, while still getting to be creative. I signed up for classes to become a certified teacher shortly thereafter.
Tim McCandless: Several events in my life led me to my teaching career, but I will focus on just one. The first hint of it was during a graduation ceremony for my younger brother. I was a sophomore in college and was home for the summer. During the ceremony, several teachers were asked to help send the seniors off with some words of wisdom and a heartfelt hug. The seniors were to split up evenly among the teachers. One drama teacher had the longest line of anyone, and despite the shorter lines among the other teachers, the students wanted to be sent off by Mr. Cilley (pronounced like “silly” and yes, that was his real name). I remember seeing him wipe away tears as he looked down the long line of students that wanted to say goodbye to him. I knew instantly at that moment that I wanted to have that same impact someday on my students. So I began the process of becoming a teacher.
Anabel Olguin: The first thing remember ever wanting to be was a teacher. In grade school, I was always that kid that all the other kids would go to for help, and I remember really enjoying it. Although teaching is a very demanding and oftentimes exhausting career, I believe it can also be one of the most rewarding, when done right. Obviously I don’t mean rewarding in a monetary way, because it is so much more than that. Kids have a reputation of being scary, little creatures, but once you get work with them and get to know them, you’ll see that they aren’t so bad. I honestly don’t think I can dedicate my life to something other than teaching.
Bertha Cortes: I know it sounds cliche but I was always attracted to teaching. As a child I would sit my younger friends down and read to them and have discussions. Once I found my love for theatre I realized that teaching and directing go hand in hand and I love every second of it. I love being able to guide students to create and trust their imaginations.
Kim See: I’ve always liked art, and knew I wanted to be some type of artist professionally. When my sister was born, however, I got a different taste for teaching art. We are 15 years apart in age, so we essentially grew up together, just in very different ways (try being in a house with a teenager and a 2 year old. It’s fun). During college, the graphics design program just wasn’t inspiring me anymore, and under guidance of a long time friend, I changed my degree to art education. It made sense, considering I’ve always loved to teach and had experience already with my sister. Plus my passion for all types of art really put the final nail in the track.  

What exactly do you teach?
JH: I teach beginning theatre (theatre history, Greeks, voice, movement, acting, script analysis, improv, etc.), Advanced theatre (performance skills, dialects, stage combat, Shakespeare, etc.), Production Design (set, costume, lighting, sound, props design and practical skills). This year I’m also teaching creative writing (poetry, narrative, playwriting)
TM: I teach Introduction to Theatre and Introduction to Stagecraft. The theatre class is a year-long course designed to teach freshwomen (I teach at an all-girls school) the basics of acting. We explore improvisation, pantomime, scene study with partners, monologues, playwriting, musical theatre, radio shows and a plethora of other topics. Their culminating project is to perform children’s theatre for the local grade schools. The stagecraft class is comprised of sophomores through seniors and explores technical theatre and production design. We study basic theatre terms, set, lighting and costume design based on a script we read in class, explore the mechanics of making a film into a stage production and how to transfer a small painting into a large scale set piece by way of grid use.
AO: I work as a full time middle school Art and Drama teacher for both 7th and 8th grade, and I am also the Yearbook teacher (advisor) at my school. Although I earned a degree in Theatre Education and I planned to become a high school drama teacher, I love my current job. Down the line, I would love to work at a high school, and maybe even at a college or university, (when I’m much older and wiser) but I am enjoying what I’m doing now.
KS: This is my second year teaching elementary art and started a Theatre club for after school to offer my students an opportunity to learn how to use their voices.
BC: I teach all aspects of theatre to grades K through 6.  It is my hope that my students learn to not just create theatre but appreciate it and be able to apply it to their every day lives.

Why do you think it’s important to teach the arts?
JH: I think it is so important to teach the arts, for so many reasons. One is that the arts give people valuable life skills that they can use in other aspects of their lives. I’m not naïve enough to imagine that very many of my students will go on to have careers in theatre, but they should leave my class with greater confidence in public speaking, the ability to think on their feet, spatial awareness, an ability to creatively and analytically study a written work, a deeper understanding of themselves and the ability to look at things from another person’s perspective. Aside from that, I believe that every person has some artistic ability within them, and being exposed to the arts in school helps us to find it. When we do, we will be better at whatever career we end up in, by having access to another strength. Most of all, I know that the arts save lives. Art can give a voice to the voiceless, power to the powerless and hope to the hopeless. Art inspires through experiencing it, and creating it. Art allows us to view, explore, criticize and celebrate our humanity, and what could possibly be more valuable than that?
TM: I think it is important to teach the arts for two main reasons. Firstly, the arts teach life skills that other subjects cannot. For example, I conducted a research study in graduate school that tested the effectiveness of acting classes in helping to relieve stage fright and a fear of public speaking. The study concluded that it is effective in this area. Acting classes help students become more confident in presenting material to an audience of listeners, which is a real life skill that they will use. It helps students become more confident in themselves, which can translate to superior interview skills. These classes help them socialize and interact with all kinds of different personalities, which is a skill that will be necessary in the so called “real world”. Secondly, the arts help make the student more well-rounded in the world of academia. Sure you can read about how to effectively paint a picture of flowers, but until you actually get your hands dirty in the rainbow of paint colors you will not truly learn the concept of painting. The arts have a strong hands-on learning component that helps keep us well-rounded, and quite frankly, should be part of the core classes in my opinion.
AO: “The earth without ‘ART’ is ‘EH”. I don’t know who said this first, but I agree with them 110% percent. I’ve been lucky enough to always have some form of art in my life, and I think I turned out just fine. To put it simply, art is a way for people to express themselves and self- expression is a very important part of life. Whether is is through drawing, dancing, or film-making, it is all worth something and it is all necessary. Nothing aggravates me more than when people look down on art and the people who dedicate their lives to the arts. Art helps people in so many countless ways, it’s just sad that many people fail to notice that. At least we are lucky enough to live in a country where many kids have the opportunity to be exposed to some of the arts.
BC: My kids are the best artists I have ever met. This is because they are born artists and expressing themselves should be simple for them. As we grow up we sometimes lose that artistic side which is a shame. Having kids take theatre, music, dance or any other form of expression, helps them keep their inner child alive. The arts are crucial in a  world where they have to take so many test and are constently asked to fit into a box. In the arts, they can finally get rid of the box and be themselves.
KS: Art is an anonymous thing, giving a voice to any one who has some thing to say. Any one can create, whether or not the same language is spoken or ideas are agreed upon. This applies to all forms of the arts, music, theatre, and traditional. They move people, speaking to the very essence of who they are. I’ve seen so many students of mine bloom and open up in my classroom because of the way they recklessly created. Students who can’t communicate freely because of a language barrier or impediment have gleefully shown me their drawings with so much joy, it transfers to every other person in the classroom. Older students who are starting to become their own individual with thoughts and ideas to stand behind have begun to explore the meaning of public art that demands attention. These students of mine that create so freely surprise me every day. They know their voice, and by creating art, they are getting their voice out for everyone to see.  

What has been your most rewarding moment as an arts teacher?
JH: There have been several – I think the best is really more a series of events. My very first year of teaching I was privileged to have a student in their senior year who really loved theatre and wanted to pursue it in college and as a career. I was able to work with him to prepare him for scholarship auditions. Seeing his level of commitment and his talent grow was awesome. He secured a scholarship to a University through his audition and his happiness at this event was only slightly more than mine at seeing his success. He has since gone on to finish his degree and is pursuing theatre. We’ve stayed in contact and I have since had the opportunity to work on productions with him, and to take a class where he was the instructor. Seeing a student really love the subject as much as I do and then go on to have great success with it is absolutely amazing.
TM: The most rewarding experience I have had teaching in the arts happened fairly early in my Intro to Theatre class last year. I require the students to fill out a brief survey about their theatre experience prior to high school. One of the questions asks them to tell me about anything else they feel is important for me to know. One student wrote that she does not like theatre and will not want to participate first for any activity that we do. Two weeks later this same student was raising her hand to volunteer first for every activity we did in class. I saw the light bulb click, as it were, and she fell in love with theatre. She is now taking my stagecraft class this year and I am happy that she is continuing her theatre studies. It was very rewarding to see the transformation of a student who was vehemently opposed to theatre to a student who now loves it.
AO: The most rewarding moment I’ve had as an arts teacher was when I directed the play Still Life with Iris this past Spring. It was the first main stage production I’ve directed, and I honestly couldn’t be more proud of what my cast and I were able to accomplish. I worked with a cast made primarily of first- time thespians and being able to see how much they grew as performers from auditions to closing night was astonishing. Plus, I succeeded in infecting all of them with the theatre bug! My principal came to see the show on closing night and he told me that Still Life was the best production he has seen on that stage in the 14 years he has worked there (that made me cry tears of joy on the inside!).
KS: Even if it’s a kindergartener, they all have a viewpoint. This little kindergartener, for example,finally mastered drawing a flower because she thinks they’re beautiful and wants to see the world with more beautiful things. She knows exactly what she wants to see in her life. And art is going to help with that. This is why I teach. This is why I create.
BC: I have had a couple of rewarding moments so far. For example, one of my kiddos just landed a national commercial ( not that I had much to do with that, the child is brilliant!). My 6th graders from last year love theatre so much now that they come and visit me to tell me all the shows they have seen and a couple of them have auditioned for theatres around the valley. It warms my heart to know that my students have learned to appreciate theatre even if they do not plan on being actors when they grow up. During my drama club elections last week I had a student say that drama is the only reason he likes to come to school during his speech. That is something I am very proud of.

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