A regular Salt Spring Exchange interview series with a "Campus" focus carried out by Amaranta MacAllister, a student who resides on Salt Spring Island. This is her first time working with Salt Spring Exchange. She hopes to pursue a career of film and fine art, but for now she regularly attends Gulf Island Secondary School (GISS). Where she caught up with the drama teacher, Mr. Donaldson and asked him a version of our favourite five short questions, and got five slightly longer answers-
Q. Describe a defining moment in your life?
A. When I was in the eighth grade I was moving between Comox and Vernon and doing my course selection for the new school year. In Comox, I was inspired by my woodworking teacher Mr Owen Leung and wanted to continue this passion. All I knew was that I loved woodwork and I didn’t care what courses I had as long as woodwork was on the top of my list. In Vernon I didn’t click with my new woodworking instructor and so I switched into a Drama class and met Mr Dave Brotsky, master drama educator, and my life was changed forever. I have since come to understand more deeply that education is about relationships. This past October I had the opportunity to return to Vernon to teach a workshop at the Association of BC Drama Educators’ fall conference. My high school drama teacher has retired from teaching high school, but he was there teaching workshops in design and production. It was pretty thrilling to reconnect with him and put my boots in the ring, sharing my passion and experience with my dear colleagues from across the province at the place where it all started for me.
Q. What brought you to teach at Gulf Islands Senior Secondary?
A. I was teaching Drama in Creston, BC and as that contract was ending I had two job interviews lined up, one in Oliver on a Tuesday and the other on Salt Spring the next Friday. I really wanted the job on Salt Spring and it seemed like a long shot. They offered me the job in Oliver, but I had to give them my decision right there and then. It was 35 degrees, I had two kids and no other prospects and couldn’t get my wife on the phone. I remember sweating in the parking lot and having to turn down a job offer with no other real prospect, just a dream and a sense not to settle for less than the best. It put a lot of pressure on me for the Salt Spring interview. When I entered the interview room there were no fewer than twelve people on the panel, student reps, union reps, school based team, clerical staff, administrators, custodians and the other arts teachers. “What, not everyone could make it?” I joked, and have been blessed to call those good people my colleagues ever since.
Q. What is your favourite thing about the school?
A. As the GISPA coordinator I sometimes get to tour new incoming parents and prospective students around the school. After ten years at GISS it’s pretty funny to sound like such a cheerleader and advocate for this place I have come to love so deeply. I am very, very lucky. My students choose to take my classes and they come to work. There is a rural sensibility that runs deep with the wisdom that if you want to get anything out of it, you have to put something into it. Salt Spring Islanders raise great kids. The community is magnificently supportive of the arts and it is accepted and even cool to excel at things. The school culture embraces diversity, passion and excellence and there is a very committed team of administrators, staff and students that come to work every day to leave things a little better than they were the day before.
Q. If there was one thing you had to change about the island, what would it be?
A. This is impossible to answer because there are pros and cons to everything and I would hate to put into place the unforeseen consequences of wishing things were different than they are. You can’t close some doors once they’re opened and people always say it was better when...It’s what you make it and I think we’re doing a great job of it. What? A skating rink, a turf soccer field, a black box theatre at GISS, the price of certain things, apathy or entitlement? I guess I’ll go with the chaos of getting gas at the co-op with nobody attending to the one way traffic signs and the fact that Volkswagens put the gas tank on the passenger side.
Q. Which person, alive or dead, do you think would be a good addition to the island, and why?
A .I would like to see Aristotle, George Bernard Shaw, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Dr Cornel West start a string band festival that attracted mandolin virtuosos and had bouffon clowns as ushers. Why? Something to complain about.