In North Branford Patch's first installment of 'A Day in the Life', Patch's Jim Gangi spent some time with Michael Berry, a teacher of 10 years at North Branford High School.
North Branford Patch: What were you like as a high school student?
Michael Berry: I was a total disaster. I wasn’t in a disciplined environment with my parents. I had no clue what was going on in high school. I didn’t do a lot of homework. I thought that I wanted to be a cook or a disc jockey, so I didn’t place a high value on actual education. I feel like I was behind from 7th grade all the way to college. It had a lot to do with my level of seriousness or lack of maturity.
If you were to go back to my high school and look up any of my old teachers and ask them, ‘Do you think Michael Berry is going to be a teacher someday?,’ they would probably think the likelihood of that would be the same as if I would be an astronaut.
North Branford Patch: When did you discover that you loved English?
Berry: I’ve read my whole life. I watched my father read. My father read two or three books a week. I grew up reading comic books, Danny Dunn and The Hardy Boys. Reading was always easy for me. I was always good at my creative writing class because I could generate ideas. The writing stunk. My ability to organize, use the correct homophones, semicolons or even complete sentences—that was all junk. But, the ideas were there.
North Branford Patch: How did you decide to become a teacher?
Berry: I wanted to be an actor. I went to school for acting. I left college and did some traveling and wanted to do the whole ‘on the road’ thing. That was short-lived. When I came back to Middletown, I met a woman who was looking for an assistant to help her teach theater at Middlesex Community College. I had a degree in theater and at that point, I still wanted to be an actor so I signed on to be her assistant and taught with her for a semester. That’s when I knew what I should do with my life.
North Branford Patch: What is your teaching philosophy?
Berry: My advantage is that I was a lousy student. I had to look at what would have made me learn and what I would have needed for someone to get through to me and help me realize my potential. Also, I had to ask myself, ‘How do I make sure my students don’t go to college as completely and totally unprepared as I was?’
North Branford Patch: How do you communicate with your students?
Berry: A good teacher needs to make sure that the explanation is clear. I think what was hard for me as a student is that I didn’t know what was being asked of me. I try to explain things, not only just literature, through common, regular, every day, personal examples. When a kid goes home with my assignment in hand, I don’t him to be confused about it.
North Branford Patch: What kind of classroom environment do you try to create?
Berry: I want my class to be a destination. I want it to be something they look forward to. I want the students to feel relaxed in my room and not in an environment that’s stressful, bland, phony or sterile. I also want them to be on their toes from the moment they come in until the end. There also has to be a sense of ‘anything can happen’ in the room.
North Branford Patch: What do you like about teaching theater arts?
Berry: For me, theater arts is what I went to college for, it’s what my first real love was, acting in plays and productions. One of the best things about being a theater teacher is the ensemble, the idea that we’re all in this together. We are all either going to look really good or really bad.
North Branford Patch: For students, what is the value of theater arts education?
Berry: On an obvious level, it helps them become comfortable speaking in front of people, develop confidence, express themselves artistically and learn to memorize things. However, one thing that’s really great about theater is that you have a finished product. The students have a final performance where they can say ‘job done.’ What theater gives students is that conclusion, that final resolution, so they can see where it all led to.
The other thing that’s great about theater is it requires so much after-school time. It requires a commitment and requires students to go above and beyond. They have to go beyond the grade, the class or the homework in order to be successful. They have to care about it.
North Branford Patch: What do you like about North Branford High School?
Berry: The community has been really appreciative of my efforts. The parents have been really good to me. They’ve supported me and been there for when I needed them to help me out or give me some patience. I think the students themselves have been really supportive and patient with me.
To be featured in ‘A Day in the Life’ or to suggest someone who should be profiled, send an email to Jim Gangi.