Teachers’ performance experiences give insight on instruction

graphic by Elizabeth Teng

When chemistry teacher Janine Giammanco got married, she hired a DJ for her reception. The night was beautiful and she had a fantastic time, but she had one regret.

“I wish I had known Mr. Vajda was a DJ back when I was looking for one for my wedding,” she said.

Math teacher Zachary Vajda started DJing in college. One of his friends got him to work for an entertainment company, where he started off by doing technician work, such as lights and photography. Eventually, Vajda learned how to DJ and bought his own equipment. Now, he does private parties including Sweet 16s, bar and bat mitzvahs, and weddings every weekend.

Vajda is not the only teacher at Princeton High School with an unknown performing arts talent. Whether the subjects they teach relate to their extracurricular interests or not, many teachers at the high school have unrevealed experience as performers and artists.

Giammanco herself, for example, was a tap dancer for fifteen years. A dancer since the age of four, she was part of a team that competed all over the northeastern side of Pennsylvania. In addition to tap dancing, Giammanco did lyrical and jazz dance through her sophomore year of high school and then had to quit because she was captain of the school’s cheerleading squad.

Jack Bathke, who teaches English and public speaking, is another teacher at PHS who has specialized in the arts. Bathke has performed in many plays, especially with the Actors’ NET of Bucks County, a regional theater company founded in 1996 that performs in the Morrisville Heritage Center. His career includes the roles of Thomas Cromwell in Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, Friar Francis in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, and roles in other plays such as Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac and Pendleton’s historical drama Booth. In 2008, Bathke played Benjamin Franklin in Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards’ musical 1776.

For these teachers, experiences as performers can contribute to presence in class. “Having experience in performing arts comes into play in the classroom in that I know how to express things differently and I can approach things with different inflection in my voice,” said Vajda. “Being a DJ, I’m with emcees a lot, and they portray themselves in a certain way in that they demand attention. That’s the same thing that teachers focus on.”

Bathke agreed. “As a director,” he said, “[one functions as] a teacher. [Directors] are in charge of guiding … a vision for a show, and you have to guide it to an outcome. This is the same thing as being a teacher—I have an outcome that I’m trying to produce with the class, and I guide the class toward it so that my students become [the] actors [to the] director.”

These activities may not even be similar to the subjects they teach at school; nevertheless, teachers are able to make the time for such activities. “It’s nice to know that they did stuff that high school kids such as ourselves can relate to,” said Blaine Rinehart ’16.