Blackman alumni return as Rutherford County educators

Maddy Williams, Editor in Chief

Often times you may wonder, “Will what I learn in my classes actually teach me anything for my future?”  These Blackman alumni prove the opposite—they still use the skills they learned in Journalism for their careers now.

Matt Brewer and Caitlyn Parris are former Blackman Voice staff members who used their skills from the staff to boost their careers. Both Brewer and Parris returned to Blackman High School to teach.

Brewer is currently the eighth-grade assistant principal at Smyrna Middle School. Brewer is also a former Theatre and English teacher at Blackman High School.

Caitlyn Parris is one of the English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers at Blackman High School.

“[Returning to BHS] was a mixture of weird and exciting. Things are different from when I was a student; however, the building is the same, so I definitely had some moments when memories would come back. A crazy moment was when I ran into Mr. Feyka; I didn’t even know he was here, and we used to hang out in the same friend group. There are quite a few teachers still here that were my teachers (Mrs. Boyd, Ms. Walker, Mrs. Burks, Coach Vice, Señora Lettsome, Ms. McDowell, Mrs. Giacobbi, Ms. Stockard). It’s good to see them again and get to collaborate (and even hang out) with some of them. All the teachers and staff were so welcoming and excited for me to come back. It’s been exciting to be back, and I love teaching high school,” stated Parris.

Returning to Blackman was a unique experience for both Parris and Brewer. Being back at their alma mater was comforting and welcoming.

“It was surreal, in a good way, to return to Blackman as a teacher. Many of the teachers I had as a student were still there when I came back. It’s an odd transition to go from sitting in Coach Vice’s class to now sitting in a faculty meeting with him and having your classroom two doors down from his. As different as that might have felt at first, it was comforting coming to a place I knew so well for my first ‘grown up’ job,” Brewer explained.

Both Parris and Brewer expressed that many of the skills they used for the school newspaper are still applicable in their current professions.

“Being part of the Voice staff gave me my first real taste of what a job might look like after school. Producing a product that a team was proud of is something that I first experienced with the Voice and something I try to replicate even now in my life,” stated Brewer.

Matt Brewer was first a sports reporter for The Blackman Voice; he later became the business manager. He was a part of the staff for two years, and he helped gain sponsorships and advertisers for the staff.

Courtesy of Ms. Walker
Matt Brewer featured in The Blackman Voice print edition.
Courtesy of Smyrna Middle School’s website
Matt Brewer today in his faculty photo for Smyrna Middle.

“While I don’t write for a newspaper, I use written communication daily in my job—which is a skill I first really practiced on the Voice staff. Making professional contacts with the community is also something I still use in my daily job that I used while on j-staff, although now it is not selling ads,” explained Brewer.

Since Brewer is a principal, communication is a large requirement of his job. He meets with faculty and students each day. He also communicates with parents often.

“Writing to a deadline, building professional relationships, and working on a task without specific directions were all life skills that I learned while on the Voice staff. On a more personal note—my Voice experience instilled a love of written news articles that I still dedicate hours per day reading now,” stated Brewer.

Writing for The Blackman Voice requires drive and motivation to complete articles that are often time sensitive. Brewer still uses these skills that he learned while writing for the paper in his workplace today.

Caitlyn Parris said that being on the journalism staff helped her with keeping up with deadlines and communicating with those around her. She uses these skills in her profession to this day.

Courtesy of Ms. Walker
Caitlyn Parris as a BHS senior in the bottom row second from the left.
Courtesy of Blackman High School’s website
Caitlyn Parris today in her faculty photo for Blackman High School.

“It gave me confidence to put my writing out in the world.  It helped me be open to critique and to helpfully critique others as we worked as a team to get each edition ready for print,” stated Parris.

Parris’s experience writing for the newspaper gave her the ability to receive constructive criticism, which is a vital life skill. Writing for a newspaper often requires immense editing and even updating, so critique is very common.

“I majored in English Writing and minored in Spanish.  After graduating from undergrad and getting into the “job embedded teaching program” at MTSU in 2016, I got my teaching license in 2017.  I will finish my Master’s in Education with an emphasis in English as a Second Language this summer, and I am very excited about that,” Parris explained.

Parris’s interest in English likely led her to joining the school paper initially. She continues to pursue English by working towards her Master’s.

“As a teacher, you do have to have a lot of self-discipline, and you have to set deadlines for yourself and your students.  I still write for fun– particularly poetry at this point.  The skill of seeing story all around is key in my poetic process; there is a lot of poetry and potential stories in every day life.  Additionally, a lot of teaching is being an effective communicator, so I would say The Blackman Voice was definitely a part of my ongoing journey of learning to communicate as clearly as possible,” said Parris.

Teaching requires many of the skills Parris used on staff, such as deadlines, working independently, and communicating. In addition, Parris writes in her free time, so she’s actively using some of the techniques learned.

Parris was a reporter on The Blackman Voice for a few years, and she met one of her best friends while on staff. They are still friends eleven years later. She also reconnected with another staff member through a Zoom call while quarantined.

Evidently, even though the classes you take in high school may not seem important now, both Parris and Brewer have shown that high school classes can pay off in your future endeavors.