Teaching theater is Holly Potthoff’s dream role

Maplewood Richmond Heights (MRH) theater teacher, Holly Potthoff is grateful to work for a school district that appreciates drama – the good kind. “I am so fortunate that I teach in Maplewood Richmond Heights because I don’t think they’d ever cut theater funding. Thank heavens I teach in a district that values the arts,” she says.

Her own high school wasn’t big enough to support a full-time drama teacher, so plays were directed by the choir teacher. “At the time I didn’t know any different. I didn’t know what I was missing,” Mrs. Potthoff says. And although she dreamt of being a teacher since her freshman year at Missouri State University, she says, “It wasn’t until I was student teaching in college that I realized high school theater has the potential to be really amazing.”

Mrs. Potthoff teaches six theater classes a day, three to middle school students and three to high school students. Because the MRH Middle and High Schools are in the same building, she can potentially have students for six years. “I get them when they’re twelve, and then I see them walk across the stage at 18 to receive their diploma. I am able to build relationships with these kids and their families and their siblings, and it just keeps going.”

Kayla Walker, who nominated Mrs. Potthoff for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Teacher of the Month, is one such student. Now a high school junior, Kayla has had Mrs. Potthoff as a teacher since she was in seventh grade, and she has seen lives change firsthand. “When I was in seventh grade, I was quiet and had no confidence, but now I’m loud and proud, and I owe it all to the best teacher I have ever had,” Kayla says.

Theater has a way of instilling life lessons in students without their knowledge. Mrs. Potthoff says, “They become better speakers, they gain self-confidence, they learn how to collaborate with other people, they learn the rehearsal process.” One project is particularly transformative for the middle schoolers. “When I have them perform a monologue, they learn so much from that one assignment. They’re so proud of themselves, and they learn to accept others,” she says.

Mrs. Potthoff was overwhelmed when she realized she’d been named the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’sTeacher of the Month. That the nomination came from a student made it even more meaningful. “I forget the impact I have on them,” she says. “I just go to school being my silly, goofy self, and I sometimes fail to pause and think about how my presence affects my students.” In celebration of this honor, Elco Chevrolet has given Mrs. Potthoff $250.

As an executive board member of the Missouri Thespians, students all across the state benefit from Mrs. Potthoff’s enthusiasm and dedication to the arts. She’s also the sponsor of MRH High School’s Blue Devil Players, the director of Thespian Troupe 3189 and the director of all after-school theater productions.

Still, she says, it doesn’t feel like work. “I feel like I go to school — and I love going to school. I get up excited to go to school because the kids bring me such joy. We laugh a lot, we have a lot of fun, and it’s so rewarding to see kids grow.”

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