Nina Lynn starred in Once Upon a Mattress and Hello, Dolly as a high school student. She additionally sang with Show Choir, the school's top choral group, along with among many other activities. After high school, she went to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, just north of Chicago, where she earned her bachelor's and master's degrees.
"I was a theatre major in college and thought a teaching certification would be a better fit for me than waiting tables while I was auditioning after I graduated," explained Ms. Lynn. "One of my college professors told me about a part-time job working with the speech team at a local high school. I figured it would be a great way to get the clinical observation hours I needed for my classes and make some extra cash."
After two years, she became a student teacher in the speech and drama department there, and eventually filled the full time role of her supervising teacher. In addition to her work in the classroom, Ms. Lynn also serves in a leadership role at her school. She is a proud member of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the National Communication Association, Illinois Theatre Association and the American Alliance for Theatre and Education. "I enjoy being a part of my students' lives and being able to share my love of theater with them. What started out as a backup turned out to be something that continues to give me great joy."
How has your career unfolded?
I loved working with many of the students. And trying to figure out the best way to reach the students I didn't like working with kept me coming back for a long time. As I became more confident and a better teacher, I began taking on new projects and working more closely with my colleagues. I now serve in a leadership role at my school in addition to continuing my work in the classroom.
What do you enjoy most about your career?
Being a part of my students' lives and being able to share my love of theatre with them.
Who were the biggest inspirations for your career?
My own teachers and my parents helped me love learning, but my colleagues are my daily inspiration.
What have been your personal keys to success?
Reflection and the willingness to fail. About reflection: it's important to reflect upon what has worked in projects and professional relationships and what hasn't worked. Just because something was done on time doesn't mean it was done well. Just because someone attended a meeting doesn't mean they're on board with a project. Reflecting on the logistics, effectiveness and emotional aspects of a project with students, colleagues, and supervisors will help shape how I approach them in the future. In addition, I try to think about how relationships change over time and try to find ways to make sure the people I work with feel valued and secure.
About failure: If I'm afraid to fail, I am less creative and less likely to ask for help. Knowing that failing is on a sliding scale and that each opportunity to try something new may be a chance to fail but it's also always a chance to learn and improve the next time has allowed me to enjoy a certain level of freedom in my work. And, because I work with kids, it's important for me to model that learning to cope with failure, big and small, is a life skill.
What awards and/or successes have you had? How important have they been to you, personally, and to your career?
The successes are great, but the mistakes are what bring me back to the classroom every day.
What was your greatest success and biggest setback?
My greatest success comes when my students remind me of some small exchange we had that made them feel successful during a challenging time. My biggest setback was working with colleagues who questioned my professionalism and leadership during a challenging time.
What are some of your other favorite projects that you've completed in your career and why?
Each year, I am responsible for planning a school-wide celebration of the arts. It's a pleasure to watch all the students try something new that day.
What are some of your personal and/or professional goals for the future?
Our twin sons were born in April 2005. I hope to balance my personal and professional life better.
What exactly do you do? What are your key responsibilities?
I teach three theatre classes a day and coordinate the after-school performing arts program, which includes theatre, dance and music. In addition, I produce or direct two or three shows a year. That means working a lot of evenings and weekends. I select plays, hold auditions, select casts and crews, hire outside professionals, deal with royalties, conduct rehearsals, work closely with scene, costume, sound and lighting designers, make sure the programs are prepared and tickets are sold - and take care of all the things that go into mounting a production.
Describe a typical day of work for you.
I teach my classes, attend meetings, answer e-mail and voice mail, and try to make personal contact with students and colleagues outside of the classroom.
What are the tools of the trade that you use the most? What's your favorite gadget?
I depend on e-mail and work processing. Other than that, I'm a 'live and in-person' kind of gal.
What professional organizations are you a member of?
I'm a proud member of the state and national teacher unions, the National Communication Association, the Illinois Theatre Association and the American Alliance of Theatre Educators.
Is it important to collaborate with your colleagues?
Theater is a collaborative art. I learn from my colleague every day.
What are some common myths about your profession?
That teachers are lazy and only work so they can be off in June, July and August.
What's the most challenging aspect of your job?
There's never enough time.
What makes your profession different or special?
I get to work with young people as they decide who they want to be.
On a basic level, what skills does your job demand?
An excellent command of my discipline's content, excellent communication skills and really good computer skills.
What are the hottest specialties within the teaching profession in the next 10 years?
There's going to be an increased demand for math and science teachers, superintendents and financial officers.
Tell us about your education. What degrees did you get? Where from?
I earned my BS and MA from Northwestern University.
Do you have to be licensed and/or credentialed? If so, what?
Teachers are licensed by the state.
What factors should prospective teachers consider when choosing a school?
Get a really good liberal arts education.
Do you feel that is important for someone to be passionate about your profession to be successful?
I feel that teachers need to be passionate about their particular disciplines and they need to like young people.
Editor's Note: If you would like to follow up with Nina Lynn personally about this interview, click here.