Teacher utilizes childlike imagination, individualizes curriculum to reach students

People say that if you can find a job doing what you love, you will never work a day in your life. English teacher Stephen Dillon, who has had a big imagination ever since he was a child, has taken his love for stories and creativity with him all through his life. 

Dillon has been teaching English for eleven years, six of which have been at Bryan High. He chose a career in teaching English based on his desire to help people and, most importantly, his love for stories and characters.

“I love getting lost in the stories I read,” Dillon said. “I especially appreciate characterization, the way the characters unfold throughout the story. I particularly like when characters do weird things, like they appear one way, but then they go rogue from that and do things you don’t expect. For example, I really like the Joker, someone who seems purely diabolical on the outside, but as time goes on you can kind of understand where he’s coming from.”

Dillon works hard to ensure that everyone in his class is accounted for, and that he stays ready for anything.

“I like to have an open-minded kind of strategy when it comes to teaching,” Dillon said. “Kids should learn the way they learn best, so you can’t be strict and have one set course, because most people won’t learn that way. You have to have visuals, you have to have reading, you have to incorporate everything so that every kid can learn something.” 

Dillon’s students, current and graduated, appreciate the time and effort he puts into his teaching style and his adaptability.

“I really enjoyed how he wasn’t like ‘Students have free reign,’ but he also wasn’t so strict,” 2021 graduate Quinton Ford said. “He was very open to situations and conversations of all kinds in the classroom. He’s also not afraid to say what he wants, he’s not afraid to let other students say what they want, and he’s just a very cool English teacher.”

Senior Alex Ariola feels more comfortable and understood around Dillon than other teachers he’s had.

“Mr. Dillon is pretty chill,” Alex said. “He’s funny and open to students, and very mindful of your life outside of school. He understands us, and that we have other classes, jobs, and difficult home lives. He also never really abandoned his child-side, he’s still into superheroes and stuff. It’s like he grew up, but he never grew old.”

Before becoming an English teacher, Dillon was involved in the military. He was a part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and other missions in Afghanistan, for eight years.

“I had a lot of fun when I did it,” Dillon said. “I met a lot of great people, went to a lot of good places, and had plenty of down time. Even if we had to do some chaotic, off-the-wall type things, I’m glad I was involved.”

Dillon credits his eight years of military experience for his ability to stay calm not only on the battlefield, but in the classroom setting. 

“Going through military life requires a lot of patience,” Dillon said, “and you have to have a lot of patience in teaching. When a kid starts getting irate or having trouble, the leader of the group has to stay calm for them and get them back on track.”

Despite the potentially hardening experience of war, English department head Lisa Prejean believes that Dillon is able to remain lighthearted, while still encouraging students to do their best.

“He’s got a good sense of humor,” Prejean said. “I think that kind of resonates with kids because he can get onto them but they know he cares about them, so they don’t react negatively. He does a great job of preparing his students for when they graduate high school.”

Preparing his students for the outside world is something Dillon finds especially important and prioritizes for his class.

“I like to have a realistic approach,” Dillon said. “Some teachers just give you ‘here’s literature’ and ‘here’s what school is’ all the time, they don’t really tell you about what it’s like on the outside. I try to give them a realistic approach of what life may be like, even if you don’t wind up going to college. I try to relate the schoolwork and the subject of what we read to the outside world.”

Dillon greatly enjoys seeing his students learn and develop throughout the year.

“My kids grow as both writers and readers,” Dillon said. “Most people improve their reading when they have me because we read in here so much. Students have to be ready to take notes, which prepares them for the outside world.”

Dillon believes that there is a negative stigma around English classes as a whole, which he partially frames his class around subverting.

“One of the biggest challenges I get is all the attitudes,” Dillon said. “Some of them come in here saying ‘Oh I hate English, and I’ll never get over that because English is just so hard for me.’ If some of them would just take the time to say, ‘You know what, this is gonna be tough, but I can do it,’ that attitude would change everything.”