Gerald Parker started his teaching career at Sequoyah in 1990 as a 21-year-old English teacher, and is the state’s newest inductee into the Georgia Thespians Hall of Fame.
Parker was mentored by Janice Lewis, the theater director at Sequoyah until 2006, and the two became a strong team.
“Gerald Parker is a good teacher, a studious theater director and a caring person. I began working with Gerald in 1991 when Sequoyah High School opened. He came on board with me to develop one of the best theater programs in the state,” Lewis said. “Fresh out of college, having mainly been an actor, he has become a thoughtful, inspired director, a creative set construction and designer, a strong leader and an inspiration for young actors.”
It didn’t take Parker long to get involved in the school’s theater program, becoming the assistant director and co-Thespian Troupe sponsor in 1991 — just a year after coming to Sequoyah.
When Lewis retired in 2006, Parker was chosen to head the school’s theater department, and in 2010 he was appointed as the Fine Arts Department chair. Parker was selected by his peers as the 2012 Sequoyah Teacher of the Year.
“I was blessed to be Gerald’s theatrical mentor, but over the years, he has become so much more to me. He is not only my colleague. He is my dear friend,” Lewis said.
Lewis said she often visits Parker and his theater students at the school, and is proud of what he’s accomplished since becoming the theater director.
“In his seven years as theater director at Sequoyah High School he has brought honor and many awards to the theater program,” she said. “Gerald has taken the Sequoyah theater program to newer and exciting opportunities. He has expanded the program and continues to look for creative adventures for his students.”
Parker said he was in shock, and “couldn’t believe it” when he was called up to the stage by his mentor to receive the award at the Georgia Thespians conference earlier this month.
“I didn’t know anything about it,” he said. “I was very fortunate to have Janice as a mentor.”
He said the most memorable thing from his decades of teaching theater at Sequoyah are the moments when struggling students are able to overcome their hardships and succeed.
Whether the students struggle with lines, musical numbers, dance step, or if they struggle because of stress at school or at home, Parker said seeing them overcome and succeed is a big reward of teaching.
“When you see students struggle for whatever reason … when they overcome and they succeed, beyond expectations, it can really affect you as a teacher to see a student stick with something and really fight and knock it out of the park,” he said.
Parker said a big reason for his student’s success was the fact that he treated all of them with respect.
“I try to talk to them, not on a level where I’m talking down to them, because you can’t get them to open up to you if they feel like you’re talking down to them,” Parker said. “For me, it gets better results … I feel like it’s just a matter of respecting what they have to say.”
Parker said he felt lucky to have colleagues, parents, administrators and students who worked hard and believed in the program, and he couldn’t take all the credit for his Hall of Fame induction.
“I’ve got a lot of fantastic parents that come in after school and help as much as they can,” he said. “Between having talented kids, having someone like Janice to work with, having parents and boosters … if we do anything successful, it’s because it’s a real team effort.”
Parker said he wouldn’t be able to direct musicals without Sequoyah’s “wonderful chorus teacher,” Joshua Markham.
“He’s just tremendously talented,” he said. “If I didn’t have someone who was willing to come in and work on musicals, we wouldn’t have them, because I certainly couldn’t do them by myself.”
Parker grew up in Georgia, and his parents Ruth and Thurston (Buck) Parker live in Jasper. He graduated from Pickens County High School and Shorter College, later earning a master’s in education from the University of Alabama and an education specialist degree from Lincoln Memorial University.