What do you get when you combine a history teacher and a theater teacher? A house full of historical drama! -Dr. Cassandra Darst
I am the child of public school educators. My father, Keith McBrayer, retired after 44 years. 42 of those years were spent teaching in the same school district. My mother, Sylvia McBrayer, retired after 32 years with 30 of those years in the same district. They are the role models for what an educator should be. They were relationship-centered educators, and I mean relationship with a capital “R”.
My brother and I grew up in a house filled with students. You never knew who would be dropping in to visit or staying for dinner. Students from EVERY race, color, gender, and ethnicity sat at our table or helped out with babysitting duties when our parents had after-school events. Even the most reluctant, A.K.A. troubled students, wanted to be around Mr. and/or Mrs. McBrayer. Let me tell you why!
Mr. McBrayer, or Dad, taught everything from Social Studies to AP Economics. He drove a bus, sponsored Jr. Historians, and implemented the Quiz Bowl. He wore costumes to school so students would be engaged, helped them build elaborate historical dioramas, was a source of random trivia, and was always willing to help. He was historically calm in the face of my mother’s dramatic flair and he had high expectations for EVERYONE! To disappoint Mr. McBrayer was something no student wanted to experience. He dedicated time, intellect, and sweat equity to help students achieve their potential. The town where I grew up had two junior high schools which consisted of grades 7-9, and your attendance was based on your address. My dad did not teach at the junior high I attended; he taught at the campus with a larger minority population. When I was entering the 9th grade the district decided to restructure and create a 9th-grade campus for one year with a plan for the 9th grade to move to the high school the following year. The combined campus would be housed at the campus with a greater minority population. This restructuring created upheaval and concern amongst the adults. They were worried about racial issues and were constantly asking my father if he was concerned that I would be going to the “other” junior high. My father would ask them if they knew where he taught. He would further let it be known that he taught students and it didn’t matter where they lived; as long as they showed up to school he was going to teach them. What I am sure they did not know about my father was that he grew up traveling across the country in a tiny trailer while his father worked on the pipeline. He attended over fifty schools before he entered high school and learned at an early age that differences exist but education is key. Therefore, combining students was a non-issue. The lesson he conveyed to my brother and I was that even if we do not all look the same, act the same, or live in the same neighborhood we are all people and if we look past our differences and build relationships based on our shared interests, we can get along. This was one of many lessons learned from my father.
Mrs. McBrayer, or Mom, taught theater with gusto and flair. She was and continues to be, the life of the party – she’s not just the life of the party, she is the party! For thirty years Mom involved students in her drama “parties.” She recruited students from every aspect of high school life. If she needed someone to play an instrument she recruited from the band. Need a set built – go get a student from the woodshop. Want someone who speaks a language other than English – find a foreign exchange student. Need someone to do hair and makeup- go recruit from the cosmetology class. Want to make sure people come to the performances – find the most and least “popular” kids in school and recruit them. It was a never-ending process of recruiting. I am positive if the military had Mom as a recruiter everyone would have lined up to join the armed forces. There was never a job too small or too big in her productions and tasks were given based on skills and interest. It did not matter who your parents were, what color your skin was, or even if you were a “male” that wanted to wear nail polish and makeup and be called by a girl’s name (yes she experienced this in the early 80’s and honestly didn’t even blink). Everyone was included and expected to pull their weight. Through shared interests and common goals, different students built relationships, learned to get along and value what others had to offer. We often talk about education being in a box, well I don’t think Mom even knew a box existed. If it did I am certain she recruited some students to build it and paint it with bright colors, add glitter, and disco lights. This was a point of pride for her and frustration for numerous administrators. She valued and encouraged differences and taught my brother and me to value people for what they brought to the table and what we could learn from them. Mom based her teaching style on showing others how to come together to build relationships so you could learn from each other to create a shared product or production. This is Relationship Centered Learning and a life-lesson many people never have the good fortune to experience.
My parents are 76 years old and remain vastly different from each other. Their differences resulted in our house being full of “historical drama” and life lessons. They taught us many things, but one of the most important was to value the relationships you build with others.
Mr. and Mrs. McBrayer are still connected with former students. They receive daily calls, text messages, and Facebook posts from those students. They are invited to class reunions, weddings, births, and funerals. A few years ago they were selected by former students to be the Alumni Association Educators of the Year and ride in the town’s homecoming parade.
Recently my father was diagnosed with Lymphoma and the outpouring of support from former students has been phenomenal. This, my friends, is a testament to lives spent building relationships. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all experience Relationship Centered Learning like that provided by the McBrayers!
For more information on how to build and sustain relationships check out the great tools and professional development offered by National Educators for Restorative Practices at NEDRP.com