Debra Gress Jansen '87 H'16

Director of Middle School Drama. Flex Lead Teacher for Lower School Students.

Debbie graduated from Springside School in 1987 and started teaching at SCH Academy (then Chestnut Hill Academy) in 2000.

What attracted you to teach at SCH?

In all sincerity, it was all I ever wanted to do—well, other than to become an actress! But I digress. When I graduated from Springside, I vowed that one day I would come back to teach at CHA. While I treasured my experience at Springside, there was always something about teaching boys that really spoke to me. When Springside’s Lower School head, Ms. Page, started an elementary education program during my junior and senior year, I was able to work with two legends, Ann Dimond and Janet Giovinazzo. After that experience, I knew I had to come back and have my own classroom without a doubt. I remain, even to this day, perpetually grateful for all that I was able to achieve while I was at Springside, and, as a lifer, and going through all the stages of my education, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. I also knew that when the time came, I would want my children to attend Springside or CHA, too.  

What do you enjoy most about teaching and why?

The joy of learning can be found in daily surprises, and after all, isn’t that what teaching is all about? Those daily unexpected blips never fail to bring a smile to my heart. When you first walk into your classroom, you truly can’t know what you will encounter. Yes, you can prepare and feel ready to take on whatever comes your way, but the moment things go off course, that is when you begin experiencing what teaching is all about. It’s being in the moment and reaping the tremendous benefits of keeping an open mind and an open heart and being able to listen and experience the joy of learning.

Do you have a favorite teaching story or moment?

I’m not sure I can pinpoint one moment, but rather a series of moments. My favorite teaching moment can be found in that harmoniously boisterous click and clatter of voices, eager to share their answers or opinions. It can be found in the unexpected picture that a student creates in response to something I’ve read to them. It can be found in a question posed that I might never have thought of, leading the class on an unexpected adventure with an outcome that is so much greater than what was planned. It’s all of those things and more that are my favorite teaching moment.

Is there some object in your office or on your desk that has special significance to you?

There is a wonderful piece that sits upon my desk. It’s a prop, really, from my very first show as director of Players. The show was Wind in the Willows, and the piece is a toad seated atop a beautiful gold piece of wood. This lovely statue was created to serve as a hood ornament for the toad’s car. The show was an enormous undertaking, for many reasons, not the least of which was the fact that I was succeeding two magnanimous names in Players’ history, let alone two mentors of mine. Lee Smith and Court van Rooten had done so much for Players, and all I wanted to do was keep their extraordinary legacy alive. The toad was given to me by the cast on closing night, and it has been with me ever since. It has come to represent what it means to have a dream and see it come to fruition. I am so grateful to have had that experience and even more to have a symbol of that dream greet me each day and serve as a reminder that dedication, gumption, and resilience can truly make dreams come true.


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