I first learned about John Browne through my colleague and co-teacher early in my career. It was my first time teaching Shakespeare, and we were about to take on Romeo and Juliet with a group of freshmen at a public school in downtown Brooklyn. I had no idea where to begin.
Let's do it John Browne style, she said.
What does that mean? I replied hesitantly, half wondering if I missed something in grad school.
We'll get the kids on their feet! Have them act it out! It is going to be amazing just wait!
We took it on, and watched our students interpret script as Elizabethan actors: setting the scene, making choices, and ultimately becoming Shakespeare's characters. I was hooked.
Several years later, in a different public school in Washington Heights, John's name once again found it's way into my English classroom. I had just received a student teacher and we were going through the syllabus, We're teaching Midsummer?! she enthusiastically questioned, I just took a course about this at TC! We just acted out the play!
This time, I didn't miss a beat, John Browne's class? Performance based? I knowingly replied.
That's the one! She replied, Did you take his class?
I've actually never met him, but most of this unit is modeled after that same approach. It will be great to have your input!
A few years later, I would finally connect with John as department chair organizing incoming student teachers. Our relationship would be based mostly though email exchanges asking how many teachers I would need or how things were working out. Occasionally he would make a joke or send along an encouraging note during one of the longer stretches of school year, always with a signature valediction: Great Weekend or Appreciated or Enjoy the Break. His small notes, coming from his thirty-two years as a public school teacher, went a long way. Though I had never met the man in person, I felt like he was genuinely looking out for me, thankful for my contribution.
Teacher after teacher would come through our school, and they would reliably rave about the incredible John Browne.
Finally, just last Fall, John sent a note saying he was retiring from TC, but that he would continue his Teaching of Shakespeare class to stay connected. In a reply of congratulations, I casually asked if I could stop in one day to see his infamous' Shakespeare course in action. Why don't you just take the course?! John invited. I couldn't refuse.
So I was part of John's final Teaching of Shakespeare course in Fall 2016. When we finally met in person for the first time, we exchanged smiles, a handshake, and flood of mutual respect. That's how he made you feel respected, appreciated, special. After thirteen years in the profession, he pushed me in ways that I needed, helping me synthesize, innovate, and gain confidence in my own ideas. I watched himeffortlessly lacing teacher moves,' building relationships, modeling a human form of leadershipbring our community together and exercise his gift that he had been giving to the world for nearly 50 years.
So John is still with us. He is in classrooms across the country, living in the hearts of the hundreds of teachers he has mentored, the thousands those will mentor, and in the multitude of studentsfilled with excitement, a little healthy apprehension, and joyexperiencing Shakespeare, John Browne style, for the first time.
I will miss your notes, your smiles, and conversations John; but I will keep your passion, ethic, humor, and towering character as my inspiration as the work continues. Thank you for your gift.