Willoughby teaches 40 years, impacts students


Ally Bliss

Willoughby talks with a student about performing techniques.

Ally Bliss

Lisa Willoughby has been teaching English and theater for 40 years at Midtown, impacting generations of students.

Willoughby’s passion for teaching began when she studied at Agnes Scott College. She was a student teacher during the 1983-84 school year and began her career as a fully employed teacher in 1984.

“I’ve always been at Midtown,” Willoughby said. “Except for a couple of tutorial experiences in other places, the entirety of my career has been here. Part of the requirement for the education program at [Agnes] Scott was to take part in an observation. From the minute I got here, I knew that this was the right fit.”

Willoughby has seen changes at Midtown consistently since she arrived, but this year has been the biggest shift in her career, as she transitioned from primarily teaching English classes to teaching theater classes. Before this change, Willoughby had already taught several theater classes. 

“When the AP Lang program sort of exploded, I was teaching five sections of AP Lang at one point,” Willoughby said. “Just the number of papers that [I] had to grade and all that sort of stuff was just overwhelming. Another teacher came on and taught some of the AP Lang classes, and I got to teach more theater, which made me happy.” 

Former theater and AP United States history teacher Lee Pope left Midtown at the end of2021-22 school year, and Willoughby was assigned the acting classes Pope had previously taught. 

“When Mr. Pope left, they offered me the opportunity to teach the theater classes that he had been teaching, which I jumped at because I always wanted to teach more theater,” Willoughby said. “That still involves two sections of English. I just don’t teach any AP Lang [anymore].”

After majoring in theater in college, Willoughby has always been passionate about theater and is grateful for the opportunity to teach more acting classes.

“I thought when I started with my theater degree that I wanted to be a theater designer; that was really my passion,” Willoughby said. “During my junior year, I applied for internships in theatrical design. My senior year in college, I directed a play, and I worked with younger students. That’s when I realized I really loved directing shows with younger people.”

Sophomore and theater student Lannea Kimmons feels that Willoughby has brought her passion for theater into her classes and is pleased with the role Willoughby has taken in the theater department.

“One thing I like about drama is that I like the creativity of it, and I get to express myself in different ways,” Kimmons said. “My biggest challenge has been stepping outside my comfort zone in her class, especially when it comes to improv. She [Willoughby] does different kinds of exercises that help me, though. I like that she pushes everyone equally; it makes the class fair and makes us more of a team.”

The transition to teaching acting classes came with an entirely new teaching experience for Willoughby, one that she feels prepared to endure. 

“I’m really excited about the acting classes that I get to teach because it’s entirely new,” Willoughby said. “I teach younger kids now. This year, I have two huge sections of ninth graders. That’s a little bit of a shift in terms of teaching style when getting used to the maturity level of students that I’m teaching. Also, I want to make sure that they’re getting a different kind of experience than in any other theater coursework that they would get here.”

Senior Arden Dalia is in Willoughby’s advanced theater class, and appreciates the hard work she has put into the class already. 

“I’m really loving how quickly we were able to dive into acting exercises and how we’ve been able to learn some movement techniques really early on in the year,” Dalia said. “It’s definitely a breath of fresh air, and I think that it’s really cool to see a teacher be so in tune with how important movement can be for actors.”

English teachers Emily Dohogne and Kate Carter now teach the English classes that Willoughby previously taught. 

“This is my fourth school in six years,” Dohogne said. “I’m very comfortable with picking something else up quickly because I have taught so much in such a short amount of time in my career. It’s not been terribly daunting; it’s been fun.”

With all of Willoughby’s teaching experience, students said she smoothly transitioned to teaching acting classes. Dalia said Willoughby has taken over the role in a commendable way, paving the way to success for younger actors in the program.

“Ms. Willoughby has definitely done admirable work in taking on theater classes, and it’s awesome to see that she’s willing to work so much harder for kids in theater,” Dalia said. “I imagine it’s no easy feat to teach a bunch of high schoolers about acting, and it means a lot that she keeps every class interesting with new exercises and things to try.”