Growing up on a dairy farm just outside of Green Bay, Wis., Minnetonka Middle School East language arts and drama teacher Brandon Becker was certain about two things. First, he wanted to be a teacher. Second, he craved a city lifestyle. Prior to graduating from Luther College, Becker came to Minnesota and did student teaching in Hopkins and Bloomington. “I fell in love with the Twin Cities right off the bat,” Becker says. When his wife, a professional dancer, found work in Chicago, the couple relocated, and Becker started teaching high school there.
Four years ago, Becker and his wife Jennie moved back to Minnesota to continue raising a family, which now includes 1-year-old Lily. “We missed the greenery, the parks, the beauty of it all,” he explains. Now in his fourth year at MME, Becker says he knew he wanted to be in a middle school classroom when he moved back to Minnesota. “It’s a good for fit for me because of the energy the kids can bring to the room,” he says. “I enjoy the fun and laughter they still have at this age. I think as we get older, we kind of lose that. [The kids] are fun and goofy and they make me lighten up a bit.”
Especially at MME, Becker says students are able to engage at a high level with him and with the material they’re reading, so they can hold sophisticated discussions. “I constantly have to be engaged as a person within my classroom for it to be productive, and I love that,” he says. “I have this pressure on me to be aware and make choices every second so everybody is safe and having fun.”
Melanie Dewitt, also a teacher in the district, says that Becker made a positive connection with her own daughter, Maddy, when she was in his first class at MME four years ago. Dewitt remembers how Becker helped Maddy fall in love with reading and English, two subjects that she had little interest in prior to seventh grade. “When I got to know Brandon, I was truly blown away immediately,” Dewitt explains. “He has this incredible ability to read people, to read students and to click with them.”
Becky Holscher is in her 10th year teaching at MME and has worked closely with Becker for the last two years as they piloted a program to help struggling learners. “He has a way with students where he can help them open up more; he connects with kids individually, on all different levels,” Holscher says.
When he’s not guiding classroom discussions or teaching drama, Becker says he is an “obsessive woodworker” and loves to build furniture. Additionally, he enjoys singing and playing the guitar, and loves to connect to his rural roots while cultivating his backyard garden. “Growing up on a dairy farm, I think it’s my way of working the land in my small yard in Minneapolis,” he says with a laugh.
Now a beloved teacher and mentor himself, Becker credits his high school math teacher with inspiring him to pursue a career in education. “I think that’s classic for a lot of teachers, to have somebody who can create a fire,” he says.
Melanie DeWitt adds, “To me, somebody who is able to ignite the passion for learning in a child is one of those people who truly has the gift of teaching.”
Students at Minnetonka Middle School East will present Willy Wonka, Jr. on March 16-18 from 7 to 9 p.m. More details at the website here.