SB 916: Theater and dance teachers need unique credentials

On September 26, Gov. Jerry Brown signed bill SB 916 into law, improving theater and dance education throughout California by replacing the currently required teaching credentials with theater and dance-specific ones.

Currently, teachers with English and physical education credentials are deemed sufficiently qualified to teach theater and dance classes, respectively, despite the fact that they are often unaware of the requisite national and state standards for theater and dance, according to Kathleen Woods, a theater teacher at Palo Alto High School.

“Theater and dance are art forms and instructional areas in their own rights, so often when you have teachers who have not been trained, they aren’t aware of the standards and they don’t have the experience necessary to teach those subjects adequately,” Woods said. “If they [a school] have an English teacher who’s never done theater before, it’s not fair to expect them to take that [a new subject] on and to offer students the education quality they deserve.”

With newer teachers, a student’s drive to improve their craft can also suffer. “If you’re an arts kid, your growth depends on a mentor,” said Nadia Leinhos, a senior at Paly and proponent of SB 916 who spoke at a nationwide convention. “Without a good one, your performance goes nowhere, and that causes nothing but frustration.”

With SB 916, a variety of improvements are expected.

“I think this bill will help make dance classes more entertaining rather than just a PE class students are required to take,” said Nathalia Castillo, a Paly senior and captain of the dance team.

“Theatre teachers from all over California declared themselves in favor of this bill,” Leinhos said. “It was incredibly compelling for me.”