When people ask Diane Brown where she works, she tell them she doesn’t work. She teaches.
Teaching just doesn’t seem like work to Brown, a Hunter Street Elementary School art teacher who loves every aspect of her job. “Every day I get in my car and drive to school and I can’t wait to get there,” she said.
Brown, a second-career teacher, last week was named the York school district’s 2011-12 teacher of the year. But her work wasn’t always so much fun. Before she became a teacher, she worked for Springs Industries, designing artistic patterns for textiles. She enjoyed the work, but not like teaching.
“I feel this is my purpose in life, to be a teacher,” said Brown, a New Jersey native who taught in Chester County for seven years. She came to York about four years ago.
“I love working with children,” said Brown, who said she had always wanted to be a teacher. “I love seeing how they react to ideas and how they interpret things. And sometimes they really make me laugh, because of the way they see the world. It’s very refreshing.”
Brown said her mother and her grandmother were both teachers. She showed a talent for art from an early age, and won a scholarship to study art at Syracuse University. But the scholarship didn’t cover art education, so Brown graduated with a fine arts degree and became a textile designer.
However, when her two daughters were in elementary school, she knew she still wanted to be a teacher. “Every time I went to a school for any function, my heart just raced and I thought, this is where I need to be.”
In 2000, she quit her job at Springs, subbed in Fort Mill for a year to make sure she really wanted to teach, and went through the state’s alternative certification program to get into teaching.
Brown said her husband, Jody, is also a second-career educator, teaching math at Great Falls Middle School. And one of her two daughters is a kindergarten teacher in Charleston.
Brown said she survived three near-fatal car accidents over the years, each time as a passenger and always where another driver’s error caused the collision. She believes there was a reason. “I believe it was because I had to do this — I had to find my purpose,” she said.
She has been a big believer in integrating art with other types of learning. At Hunter Street, she started a literacy program that blends the processes of writing and creating art. “Both processes start with an empty piece of paper,” she said. “There are links between literacy and art.”
She also hosted a visiting sweetgrass basket artist who taught students how to weave the baskets as part of their study of South Carolina history. And she put on a school art show that raises money for special art projects.
“Art has to be about something,” Brown said. “My thinking is, why not make it about something they’re already learning? If you’re learning about the life cycle of a butterfly in second grade, which they do, we should do something that reinforces what they’re learning.”
Brown was chosen for the district Teacher of the Year honor from Teachers of the Year at each school in the York district. The other school-level teacher honorees and their teaching areas are: Robbin Hogue, Floyd D. Johnston Technology Center, building construction; Beverly Whitaker, preschool disabilities, Cotton Belt Elementary; Jennifer Sexton, York Intermediate, science; Wendy Wingard-Gay, York Comprehensive High School, English; Juliette Bennett, Hickory Grove-Sharon Elementary; Jackie Danko, York Middle; and Traci Clinton, Harold C. Johnson Elementary.
The Clover school district plans to name its Teacher of the Year during convocation in August.