Q&A: New Wildcat theatre teacher talks perfectionism, plays and ‘Pride and Prejudice’

By KENDRA BURDICK

Starting in the 2022-23 school year, Ashley Visco is teaching at Redlands East Valley High School for her first year. She will be teaching Theatre Arts I and II. (Photo courtesy of  Ashley Visco)

Ashley Visco is a new teacher to Redlands East Valley High School staff. Visco teaches Theater Arts I and Theater Arts II and tries to make a colorful and inspiring learning environment for her students. Visco answers some questions about herself and her career below. 

Why did you choose this course to teach?

I loved theater forever. For as long as I can remember I was raised on it, a bit because when my dad was in high school he was heavily involved in theater. My sisters all loved musicals and things like that so I kinda grew up with a lot of plays and musical performances. Stories in general, I loved. I volunteered at my former high school Pomona Catholic High School, I volunteered for their theater program, helping out with their productions. I was working with the kids and I was like, I could teach this, it’d be fun and I’d enjoy doing it. But I didn’t know if I’d have the opportunity to teach a drama class, I’d always thought I’d go for English, so when this came up “Hey do you want to be our drama teacher?” I said “Yeah! I do.” I love this and it’s been really fun.

Did you teach at any other schools before REV?

This is my first teaching position and I did student teach at Upland High School and that is about it. Only Redlands so far.

 Why did you choose to teach at REV?

For sure I am really happy with REV and Redlands in general, Redlands Unified. I’ve had the opportunity to teach before this. I finished my program two years ago to work at charter schools and different things but I felt “It just doesn’t feel like a good fit.” Other schools just didn’t feel organized and it didn’t seem like they were prioritizing the kids. I almost worked at an arts high school which had a lot of theater kids coming in, but it still wasn’t the right fit for me. I got hired to do summer school for Redlands and I just really liked the district. Everyone was so nice and professional. Then this school interviewed me and was very nice and I hoped that I got the job. Everyone I’ve met has been so nice and lovely and the campus is big and beautiful and has this big, beautiful theater. My high school’s theater was like one-twentieth [the size of] of REV’s. 

 Why did you choose to become a teacher?

I talked to my English teacher saying “Hey, I want to be a writer.” Things changed with college. I was majoring in English and it didn’t feel purposeful enough, it didn’t feel like I was doing anything. It was like “what’s the point, what am I here for.” When I volunteered with those kids I thought it felt important. So I tried teaching because I liked working with young people and doing something that could matter. 

What would you be if you could have been anything other than a teacher?

I wanted to be a writer for a long time. I was very book obsessed and still am but my brain gets tired so unfortunately I haven’t sat down and read a good book in a while. I thought I’d be a writer because I love historical romance, Pride and Prejudice, and things like that. I wrote Pride and Prejudice fan-fiction back in the day. 

What’s important to you?

Respect is huge for me. Confidence is also very important because I like working with younger people and helping them find who they want to be. Especially because we all can remember what it’s like being at this time in your life (high school) its really difficult and you need those people who support you and build you up and being that person to students is important to me. Respect and love are all around for everybody. That’s something that I love about this theater department. “I can do anything and I’ve got people from different parts of theater that can come in here and try something new.” It’s an exciting position and I’d say that the most important thing is respect and love for everybody.

What’s something that you would like to tell students?

Focus on yourself. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately cause it’s easy to get stuck in the day and your schedule and you try to get through it with your friends but it can get frustrating and it’s good to remember to focus on yourself and your needs. Especially with school, get done what you need to get done and you might not know where you’re going necessarily but that’s okay as long as in the moment, they are happy, healthy, and surrounded by people that are good for you.

What college did you go to?

I started at the University of La Verne right after I graduated from high school but my mental health started to slip a little bit to where I was struggling and I just wasn’t happy and finally I was struggling too. So I decided “Let’s take a break.” I worked and matured and tried to figure out what I wanted to do, that’s when I volunteered. I was like “Teaching sounds good. I worked with kids at the theater program and loved it.” So I went online and went to Grand Canyon University which is a cool program and I highly recommend that people decide if they want to go to college in person or not in person. I was struggling with the anxiety of being in college and being with all of those people and I realized that online works better for me. I got a Bachelor of Arts in English for secondary education, specifically for teaching English. 

What’s the biggest thing that you welcome into your classroom?

The bravery to try new things is huge and even if it’s the smallest thing. You don’t have to be “look at me” but if normally you’re kinda shy and you step out of your shell and do some of the exercises and games we play. The courage to do something silly is really important. Another thing I’ve been thinking about is that there’s so much shyness I think and the awkwardness of standing out in high school which I understand. Something that I value and appreciate is seeing someone willing to just do something as opposed to having the fear of standing out.

Who got you to where you are now?

My parents in the sense that they helped me get through a lot of school just by being very accepting and supportive. There was never too much pressure or too little pressure. They were like “Hey, we know you’re smart and do your best.” I didn’t struggle with school because of that so I appreciate that they were like that. I had an English teacher who was also the drama director at my high school. She was wild and wacky and we had a lot in common. We’d talk about Pride and Prejudice. We’d go out to Cal Poly Pomona and do Shakespearean competitions, we’d perform in front of people for prizes and stuff. My fiance has been super supportive, he’s somebody who helps you be yourself, to find out who you are and what you need. Finally, me. I helped myself get here and I don’t think I give myself credit enough which is something that I’m trying to work on cause I’ve worked hard and it’s difficult to look at yourself and say “You’re doing great right now.” I constantly think about what I did wrong and what I could do better. But it’s like “No. I’m doing great and I worked hard.” 

What is something that you’ve had to change about yourself to fit the job?

Perfectionism is deadly and I lived with it throughout my life. I didn’t realize it until I got older. There’s a part of you as a teacher, I found, that feels responsible for everything. I think that’s why some students see teachers as controlling because there’s a part of you (as a teacher) that makes you feel like it’s all your fault. If it’s not going well, you have to fix it. If a lesson didn’t go well it’s like “Oh my god, I’m the worst.” With cheating, I try to figure out what I did wrong and try to give the students a second chance. I’ve learned I need to just step back and realize that people make their choices. Everybody does what they do, naturally, you can’t step in and try to change it cause you’d be controlling them saying “Hey this, hey this.” Sometimes you’ve got to step back and let them make their choice and if their choice is to not do well in the class then it’s not my fault. If I did everything that I could do, it’s not my fault.

What is the main goal you want to see your students achieve?

Confidence is an important goal I want to see my students achieve. I want them to have enough confidence in themselves to be like “Hey, I can do this and it’s going to be okay.” My ultimate goal is to have them try acting, try to get up on the stage and use their voices. Acting did that for me, it built my confidence like now I can give back the wrong order and talk to people on the phone. Exploring is also a big thing. That’s why I picked the fall play that I did, cause I want them to explore different things from every culture and variety.

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