drama teacher Chancellor wins inaugural Longwood University Drama Teacher of the Year Award | Education

On Friday morning, a parade of beaming alumni, Spotsylvania School Division administrators and members of Longwood University’s theater department surprised Matthew Armentrout in his class at Chancellor High School.

They announced to him that he was the first winner of Longwood’s High School Theater Teacher of the Year award.

“He was the biggest influence on my life as a theater person,” said Emma Masaitis, a 2018 graduate and acting student at Longwood, who along with her sister Natalie nominated Armentrout for the award.

Emma cried as she read her nomination aloud.

“He made sure we knew his door was always open to anyone for any reason,” she said. “He got me through some of my worst times in high school.”

It’s not unusual for high school drama teachers to take on this kind of outsized role, said Joyce Sweet, an adjunct teacher at Longwood and a former high school drama teacher herself. That’s why the theater department wanted to create the award to recognize the positive influence these specific educators can have on their students.

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“High school drama teachers are advisers and friends,” Sweet said. “We know how much work they put in.”

Ronda Scarrow, assistant professor of drama and head of Longwood’s drama program, said the university also wanted to thank high school drama teachers for sending them excellent students.

“I think we have some really good theater students, and that seed was planted in high school theater,” she said.

It is a coincidence that Armentrout himself is an alumnus of Longwood University.

Emma Masaitis said Armentrout helped her get out of her own head in high school.

“He taught us positivity,” she said. “When you’re in high school, your life is the most miserable thing ever. He got us talking about our feelings, expressed them, and then moved on. Theater teaches you empathy and it has made it an important part of our upbringing.

Natalie Masaitis, a 2020 chancellor graduate, said Armentrout also encouraged her students to look for ways to be part of the wider community.

“He helped connect us with opportunities in local theater,” she said. “We volunteered with Stage Door Productions in downtown Fredericksburg. Growing up here, I had no idea there were so many local opportunities.

She said Armentrout took the time to really get to know each student he taught, in turn helping them grow in themselves.

Armentrout was teaching a class when the parade surprised him with news of the award. Several students in the class took the floor to thank their teacher.

“You teach us to stand out,” said one student.

“Thank you for the opportunities you give us all,” said another.

Scarrow asked Armentrout what made him want to be a teacher.

“I always knew I wanted to be a teacher,” he said.

He said he was in fifth grade and had been assigned to write his career aspirations for the yearbook.

“All the boys at the lunch table said they wanted to be professional sportsmen,” Armentrout said. “So I wrote ‘professional basketball player.’ But it didn’t sit well with me. I went to my mom and said, ‘I really want to be a teacher.’

The next day, Armentrout rushed to the directory office to ask if he could change his career aspiration.

“And then,” he added. “My high school drama teacher was important to me.”

Adele Uphaus-Conner:


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