Mrs. Menzie named Teacher of the Year


Though she heard her name, it didn’t truly register. She went through the rest of the day in a daze, not believing what had just happened. It wasn’t until she got home that her senses came back to her. Out of four nominees, choir director Janet Menzie won “Teacher of the Year.” 

“I never really expected that a Performing Arts teacher would even be nominated because there’s not as many as us compared to the other departments,” Menzie said. “I also teach in a room on the other end of the building with no windows and I don’t really get out much, so you don’t even know that people even know that you are there.”

Menzie didn’t start off a public school teacher. Though she grew up around teachers, with her mom and a couple of her sisters being in the field, she didn’t see herself sharing that profession. 

“When I was younger I was a big performer,” she said. “I also felt like I needed to do something really big. And I hear that all the time here, [students] want to be diplomats, presidents, whatever, and I didn’t have those aspirations but I thought I needed to do something in the adult world.”

She wasn’t sure what exactly this “big” thing was, but she knew she had a passion for music. 

“[Music] speaks to me more than any other human thing probably,” she said. “It’s infectious and I had to share it.” 

This led her to private teaching for 16 years, and once her kids were old enough, her family relocated to Houston.

“That’s when I decided to teach in school and I taught middle school for 12 years” Menzie said. “I never thought I would like teaching middle school because most people most people have a bias against them, but I actually loved teaching them. They are so eager to do things and they are so capable of doing more than people think because they’re really smart so I really enjoyed that. 

Teaching in a school versus private teaching at home was different as expected, but brought positive change. She says she “was ready for something new and creative.” and is “a performer again.” 

“It’s more engaging,” she said. “Teaching privately, you feel like you are saying the same thing over and over again. It’s like okay you left and now I have 30 minutes with you and then somebody else came in.”

After teaching privately and in middle school, her next adventure was teaching high school, and she has embraced this role wholeheartedly. 

“I think it’s given me a really strong purpose in my life,” Menzie said. “It’s given me a sense of eternal youth in a way because I’m forever with kids that are younger, so even though I get older they don’t get older, I just have new ones that are that age so it’s really fun to stay on top of what’s going on in the world and hear that fresh perspective.”

Menzie says there’s an old adage about teaching, “people teach because they can’t do,” but in her eyes, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  

“You can sit in a room and learn something and you learn a lot more when you do it, but then when you have to teach it, that means you really got it and you really know it,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in kindergarten or teaching a senior AP class, you have to find so many different ways to give that information so you have a knowledge level that’s deeper than most people.”

It’s more than misconceptions, it’s the way American society views the profession in general. 

“I’ve been to other countries like China where they really value teachers. but here I realize it’s a market-driven economy and we educate everyone,” Menzie said. “Teachers don’t go into it for the money because the money’s not there and I don’t begrudge that, but I do feel like teachers deserve a little more intellectual respect for what they really know.”

Another thing Menzie feels that people should recognize is not only the respect of the profession, but the respect that those in the profession have for their students. 

“I don’t know that people really know how much teachers care about their kids and how close they get to their kids and how they cry over their kids,” she said. “Whether they physically cry or feel it inside you know we care very deeply about out kids.”

Being a Performing Arts teacher, Menzie is in a “special situation” and has had the ability to forge deeper connections with her students. 

“I get my kids for longer than a year- a lot of them for four years,” she said. “They grow up with me which is kind of cool and I mourn when the leave.” 

Though she admits, her responses vary per departure.

“Some of them I don’t [mourn], I won’t lie, but most of them if they stayed with me for four years, I’m going to miss them and I don’t forget them ever,” Menzie said. 

For those in teaching or looking to pursue a career, the piece of advice she offers is to seek, and to not be ashamed of, help. 

“We all come in with such different toolboxes and emotional ways of dealing with things,” she said. “I think one of the biggest things is ask to collaborate with other teachers.”

She recognizes that the situations vary school to school. Most have an English Department, but not all Performing Arts teachers have that same level of support. 

 “I’m lucky because I have another teacher that I teach with in choir, but most of the schools in Fort Bend don’t have another choir director so you have to reach out to find someone to collaborate with,” she said.

However, no matter if the department is available or not, reaching outside of your comfort zone can also prove to be beneficial. 

 “Even in a big department like math or science, you have a big department but sometimes you need another ear or somebody that you can trust is not in your business everyday and you need to talk to that person and say hey i’m struggling with this,” Menzie said.

She found solace in social media, such as Facebook, but acknowledges that there are pros and cons to this method. 

“Some of those things are really a double-edged sword,” she said. “Sometimes I refer to it as a necessary evil; it has a lot of negative things and people air their dirty stuff, but on the other hand there are ways in professional life that you can share thoughts and get support.”

No matter how many years of experience they have in their belt, she says teachers should “ask for help and collaborate” and it will keep them from getting burnt out. 

While these resources are still effective and the impact that teachers have on students, and visa versa, are undeniable, there’s no denying the beauty of vacation in between it all.   

“Thank goodness for summers, we need them.” Menze said.