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Stand Up Teacher

News Story

Adolescent education student Dante Plush cracks the jokes and the books in his classrooms as a practicing comedian and student teacher.

While most aspiring teachers hope to convey their love of a subject to their future students, adolescent education major Dante Plush stands out—and up—to combine his love of history with his background and experience as a comedian to create a unique vision for the kind of educator he wants to become.

Plush, originally from central New Jersey, is a student for whom performance is a second nature. His gregarious personality served him well as an Orientation Leader for incoming Pace freshman. He is a member of the Pforzheimer Honors College and is an active member of the Pace Drama Alliance. In addition, Plush holds leadership positions in the Alpha Chi Rho fraternity, as well as the Interfraternity Council, serving as the vice president of programming.

But his time at Pace hasn’t been all laughs. His journey to the University started off quite the opposite. “I came to Pace my freshman year in the fall 2011 and I was homeless,” says Plush. “During breaks, I would go stay at a friend’s house, sometimes I’d have to sleep in my car.”

For Plush, his steps to success began with accepting the friendship and help of strangers. “You don’t know strangers, but strangers can be some of the brightest people in your life and they can turn into some of your best friends,” he says. And through those supportive relationships, Plush was able to return to Pace each semester and build a foundation at the University one friend, one joke, and one lesson at a time.

Originally a history major in Dyson College of Arts and Sciences, Plush opted to join Pace’s School of Education instead of attending a more budget-friendly Rutgers. “Here,” he says, “I was able to start observing classrooms as early as the beginning of my sophomore year and I’ve had access to cutting edge technology like the TeachLivE avatar lab.” Plush also praises the program’s “essential” resources like the pre-teach colloquia, in which students delve deeply and think critically about educational issues, as highlights of his SOE experience.

He’s even collaborating with Professor Christine Clayton, EdD, on a research project called “Educational Advocacy through Comedy,” which combines his talent for comedy with his interest and knowledge of educational issues. Plush has written three comedic monologues—featuring topics on barriers for English language learners, technical advances in education and the importance of literacy, and the Vergara vs. California Supreme Court trial—and is working on memorizing them, recording them, and performing them at conferences to share facts, various perspectives, and information about the education field.

He says comedic acts like the monologues are similar to classroom lessons because they both require constant tweaking and tinkering based on the audience or class. “You can’t have a uniform lesson—you have some students with special needs, you have some students who need more of a challenge, you have some students who need less of a challenge, you have some students who are having a hard time—you’ve got to modify it to meet their needs,” he says. The same can be said for ways to make an audience laugh.

And as a student teacher, laughter is his tool. He deals with his fair share of students trying to test their boundaries with the new teacher on the block and is always trying to find the best way to diffuse this behavior “without embarrassing the student or making them feel like a target within their class.” This fine balance of classroom management skills is critical, he says, because the wrong approach can “disengage the student and keep them from effectively learning.” Plush uses comedy, jokes, and other theatrical gestures as rewards for good behavior and engagement.

Student engagement is one of the uniting factors among teachers he remembers best and looks to for inspiration. He recalls his 11th grade Advanced Placement American History teacher, Mrs. Mills, as an inspiration to become a teacher. In her intelligence and professionalism as a teacher, he saw an opportunity for his future to “learn and discuss history for the rest of my life through being a history teacher, because there's not many better ways to learn something than teaching it to someone else.”

Plush visualizes success by combining the engaging qualities of humor, with a teacher’s deep knowledge base and pedagogical skills to gauge student understanding. “When you put a child’s education in my hands, I’m basically saying ‘I’m going to prepare them for you, lawyers; I’m going to prepare them for you, doctors; I’m going to prepare them for you, engineers.’ They have to go through me first. And it’s a really big responsibility.”

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