Love of music inspires 31-year educator
During his 31 years in education, Don Brown of Oregon Trail Academy (OTA) has served in administrative as well as specialist roles, but says teaching always calls him back.
Last year, Brown heeded that call and now teaches fourth grade at the academy, a position he became aware of from his long-time friend and colleague, OTA Director Ginger Redlinger.
Redlinger and Brown worked together in Oregon City and were both associated with the Oregon Science Teachers Association.
With his move to the academy, he hoped to return to teaching to refresh his perspective after working as a manager for a software company that designed online curriculum.
Brown got his start in education as a music teacher after studying music education at the University of Oregon. He received a master's degree in teaching from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, along with a school administration certificate from Portland State University and his doctorate from the University of Oregon.
"I loved music," Brown explains. "I was very active in high school band and choir. It was pretty obvious (though) that I didn't want to be a professional musician, so teaching was really the only other option. I just really connected with getting people to express themselves with music."
After a while, Brown generalized his career more with the shift in governmental funding priorities.
"Music positions were drying up, so I got a classroom (teaching) credential," he explains.
This hasn't stopped creativity from creeping into his lesson plans.
"Even though I'm not a music teacher, I want to incorporate the arts," he said.
He does this by teaching topics such as how to read music in his class.
Another creative avenue Brown has taken is to individualize instruction as much as possible. For him, this is possibly one of the most challenging, yet positive aspects of his job.
"I'm always asking kids about their personal interests and trying to get that into the classroom," he says. "I believe it becomes a very personal experience with learning."
When he's not teaching, Brown's personal interests include hiking the Pacific Crest Trail every summer.
The difficult part comes when he has to really sit down and assess how best to implement this instruction.
"Taking that info from assessment and planning teaching from it is a very dynamic process," Brown explains. "That's my goal, and because that's my goal … individualized instruction is the hardest thing, but it's so worthwhile."
The fact that the school already encouraged such out-of-the-box thinking and its International Baccalaureate programs are structured to educate students to be well-rounded, appealed greatly to Brown.
He says he has a deep appreciation for the people who came before him at OTA and built it into a dynamic place of learning.
Brown says he is big on "helping (students) find their interest and tap into it," he explains. "I want kids to know what they're good at when they leave my class."