2023 Amazing Educators - Wilsonville
School: Wilsonville High School
Why he is an Amazing Educator:
Jason Katz has been the Wilsnville High School drama teacher for 19 years, and has directed 30 productions with the program. He often works 12-hour days to help students build confidence, communicate skills and community through theater.
PROUDLY SPONSORED BY:
Building confidence and community onstage
It’s opening week for Wilsonville High School Theatre’s production of “Puffs,” a hilariously copyright-conscious play about the other students at a magical school attended by pop culture’s most famous boy wizard, and drama teacher Jason Katz is busy.
He commutes to the high school from Aurora each morning, teaches a full day of acting, film and yearbook classes, and then, at 3:30 p.m., rehearsal starts. He doesn’t get home until 6:30 p.m., he said.
Looking at the bright yellow wallpapered set while young actors buzz around the auditorium, it’s obvious Katz is putting on a serious production. But he’s also instilling confidence and life skills that his students will carry with them long after the curtain closes. For that reason, he has been named Wilsonville’s Amazing Educator for 2023.
‘A community act’
Katz has been the director of Wilsonville High School’s theater program for 19 years. Thirty productions later, he says he’s learned to trust himself.
“You can go to teacher school, but you don’t really know what you’re doing until you get into it,” Katz says.
His first few years of teaching were stressful. He was trying to figure out how to navigate the daily grind while wrangling teenage actors into plays, and he had also never directed a musical before coming to the high school.
But, eventually, things began to gel, and he said he’s much more relaxed these days.
“I trust myself so much more as a teacher and as a director,” he says. “It’s still stressful, but I have a better perspective.”
One of the biggest challenges he faces is how isolated students today are, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of his students show up to his class without having spoken at all that day.
“It’s so much harder for kids to come out of their shell and to trust each other,” he says.
In Katz’s eyes, theater helps break students out of their shells by forcing them to be vulnerable and part of a community.
“Coming together to put on a play is a community act that none of them could do by themselves,” he says. “And I’m facilitating that, and that feels really good.”
To help prepare his students for the stage, Katz starts by getting them comfortable with each other through games. In one such game, called “Whoosh,” students pretend to pass a giant ball of air around the circle. The point is to make the pass seem as real as possible, but mainly the students are learning to feel comfortable doing something silly in front of their peers.
After 10-15 minutes of playing, students seem more energized and receptive to learning — even in his non-acting classes. Building these communication skills in a structured environment sets students up for success in many other aspects of life, he says.
“Whether it’s theater or something else, in any field, in any part of their life, in families, you have to be able to communicate with other people,” Katz says. “You have to be able to share your point of view and be truthful and vulnerable. This kind of thing facilitates that in a really safe way.”
Katz also doesn’t talk down to his students, instead treating them as collaborators in the production. He says he enjoys working with young actors and helping them explore their potential.
“It’s not about me, and it’s not about you. It’s about this thing that we’re doing together,” he says.
When students finally take the stage, Katz said he wants them to have the same positive experiences in theater that he has had. He knows the vast majority of his students won’t go on to become actors or study theater, and he doesn’t mind.
“The most important thing that’s gonna come out of it, and I usually tell the kids this, is that they have a good experience,” he said.
Teenagers face ample pressure as they try to figure out what they want to do with their lives. Katz hopes his program can be a safe space for students to act naturally and take a break from the stress.
“You don’t have to worry about your life when you’re doing a show,” he says. “But it’s so confidence building that I feel like whatever you are going to go into is a little bit easier.”