Outstanding Teacher of the Year

Jeanette McMahon

Jeanette McMahon

Choir & Musical Theatre Director
Godinez Fundamental High School
Santa Ana, California

Jeanette grew up in the central valley of California in the small town of Arvin. Her father and mother worked multiple jobs to make ends meet.  While they were a financially poor family, they were rich with the love of music,  which filled their home with joy. They all sang and played instruments and music was  the thread that held the family together. When Jeanette entered high school, she met her choir teacher who changed her life. While she already loved all things musical, he took her to a much higher level and showed her how the power of music can affect people. He was a master teacher and, because of him and the passion for music he shared with her, she and several of her classmates, chose music as their college majors.

After graduating from from high school, Jeannette attended Cal State Fullerton, where she majored in Voice. She wanted to follow in the footsteps of her high school choir teacher and, hopefully, have a similar impact on students as he had on her and several of her friends. After receiving her teaching credential, she landed her first teaching job at an intermediate school in Santa Ana, CA. It was there where she really learned how to teach.   Most of her students were Hispanic and none of them had any musical background. her goal was to get them all to love music as much as she did. However, her idealism was shattered by the reality of 12 and 13 year old interests that did not include music or even sitting still for more than 15 minutes at a time.

Like all young teachers, she struggled in the beginning. She struggled with making her instruction interesting enough to keep students interested. She struggled with classroom management issues and it seemed as if she was spending more time disciplining students than teaching. However, with each successive year, she settled in, learned from her many mistakes, became more confident in her abilities, and began to understand the importance of building relationships with students and finding material that related more to their interests. She was growing and improving each year and realized that this was going to work for her.

Jeanette remained at that middle school for 11 years before moving to Saddleback High School in Santa Ana, California, where her middle students went after leaving middle school. Saddleback High School did not have a theater and they were just beginning a performing arts program. She was charged with getting the new program up and running. The fact that her former middle school students were now attending her new high school turned out to be very helpful as she made the adjustment to teaching high school students. She was able to recruit her former students to take her classes, which filled up quickly. Because she was so familiar with her former students,  and they knew what to expect from her, the program grew quickly.  After four years at Saddleback High School, Godinez Fundamental High School opened and she was selected by the new principal to lead the performing and visual arts program.

By this time, Jeannette had taught for 15 years and had developed a firm vision of what she thought a great Visual and Performing Arts department would look like. She no longer had classroom management issues and she knew how to prepare material for students that was interesting and challenging. She was at a point where she was able to settle in and begin the work of creating a program kids would love and the community would be proud of. Jeannette’s biggest obstacle was that the school enrollment was 99% Hispanic and 100% low income, which meant that hardly any of the students had any prior exposure to the arts. Few had ever seen a musical or a play. Not many could read music – it was like a foreign language to most. She realized she would have to bring them into the world of music before she could really begin to share her passion with them.

With her philosophy that music can transform kids and her belief that there is talent hidden somewhere in all of her students, she was able to inspire students to learn to respect the power and the emotion of music and take a chance to experience all it could offer them. It worked.

Since moving to Godeniz her philosophy has not changed much about her approach teaching. Jeannette has grown the program from having 20 students in a class the first few years to now teaching between 250 and 300 students per day in all four of her choirs.

Aside from teaching all of the choir classes, for the past 10 years, Jeannette has combined her choir students with the drama teacher to do about fifteen musical events, and the past three years she has also produced a district wide summer musical as both the vocal coach and producer and choreographer. Recent summer productions include ‘The Little Mermaid, and ‘Shrek, The Musical.’

For Jeannette, her hard works has paid off.  In 2017, she had 12 students who auditioned for the US Honor Choir and all 12 were selected. Furthermore, many of her students have gone on to professional singing careers and one has become a professional opera singer, and has performed with several opera companies throughout the country, including the San Francisco Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Opera, and the Washington DC and Baltimore Operas.

-Published 2018

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