Photo: Jill Anderson
Working as a substitute teacher to make ends meet while pursuing an acting and screenwriting career, Taylour Matz would always tell her students that she had no intention to become a full-time teacher. But her plans soon changed — and then some.
“I would always find myself daydreaming about how I would do things differently if I had my own classroom,” says Matz, now a master’s student at HGSE. “I noticed that the students were feeling unseen, unheard, like they didn’t belong in the school institution. They had a lot of complaints about how they were being educated and treated, and I kept thinking, ‘I want to do something about this.’”
Matz earned her teaching license and became a theatre arts teacher in Salinas, California, an area plagued by high rates of homelessness, gang violence, poverty, food insecurity, and youth homicide. Here, Matz could see the impact of the arts on her students, such as one young woman with a traumatic past who used poetry to tell her story. The value of artistic expression for this student was clear, so Matz sought out other creative ways to help students grapple with challenges in their lives, including facilitating a social-emotional learning group during her homeroom in which students could deal with their feelings of anxiety and depression. Soon Matz saw her students find connections with one another and start to open up. “They felt safe in that space with each other,” she says.
But Matz was not getting that same support from her own peers. As a new teacher, she witnessed a significant amount of teacher and administrator turnover and didn’t feel that she had an example of what “good teaching” looked like. She also craved professional guidance and dialogue about successes and failures she was having in her classroom. This lack of professional connection often made her feel as if she was just getting through the day.
So this one-time non-teacher went even deeper. “I [decided] to continue my education so I could understand the system and these problems,” explains Matz. “And HGSE is where those conversations are happening.”
Matz is fascinated by the creative process in general and believes that the habits of mind that exist within any artistic process — from drafting to planning, editing to collaborating — are useful in other domains, too. Armed with what she is learning at HGSE, Matz is working to design a wellness program in the alternative education sector that uses visual and performing arts to build social-emotional skills among underserved youths back in Salinas. The program will give young people a greater sense of identity, community, and belonging, as well as feelings of agency and an increase in hope for their futures. She hopes, she says, for her students to achieve greater emotional stability and emotional self-sufficiency that will allow them to achieve the life goals they set for themselves.
Faculty members like Karen Brennan, Marshall Ganz, and Steve Seidel offered just the kind of professional role-modeling she had been looking for. “The way that Professor Brennan facilitates her class is a great model for how I would like to set up my arts and wellness program: lots of drafts, mistakes, reflection, feedback, etc.,” says Matz, inspired by Brennan’s Designing for Learning by Creating course.
Ganz has inspired Matz to implement the art of personal narrative in her program as a reflective practice, she says. And Seidel has pushed her to look deeply at the nature of the arts in education, a practice that she intends to maintain as a working professional.
“All of my classes can be directly applied to the work I'll be doing after I graduate,” says Matz. “I have been lucky to work with people who are not only brilliant and immensely talented, but who are genuinely kind, supportive, and loving people. They inspire me to not only do good, quality work, but also do that work with a lot of joy.”