By Ian Christopher Beck ’12
A decade ago Ms. Elizabeth Clarke was student-teaching in Illinois, filling out applications to graduate school and teaching positions around Chicago when she got a tip from a former Speech and Debate opponent about a job opening in Phoenix.
After researching Brophy online, Ms. Clarke’s initial reaction was that the position wouldn’t be a match for her.
But after a successful interview, Ms. Clarke left the Windy City for the Valley of the Sun.
When she first arrived at Brophy, the newly employed English teacher/Speech and Debate coach found a bare bones program with room for changes.
Ms. Clarke, who had performed in speech events during her high school and college years, inherited a program that had all debate events and no speech.
Only one student, a senior at the time, was possibly interested in competing in any speech events.
Now the Speech and Debate team is competing in tournaments and competitions all across the country, including an upcoming tournament that will take place at Harvard University in February.
In her first year at Brophy, Ms. Clarke was the youngest teacher on staff and was almost 2,000 miles from home.
She admitted the first year wasn’t perfect but there was no doubt in her mind that she wanted to return for a second year.
“It’s more work than you anticipate it can possibly be but it’s also more rewarding than you think it’s going to be,” she said.
In the years that passed, Ms. Clarke built the Speech and Debate program into what it is today.
“It’s huge,” she said of the pride she feels looking back at what she helped accomplish with the team. “I definitely had an opportunity to take over teams in other places that were already really well established and that already had good speech programs … I passed on it because I wanted to see what it would be like to build something from scratch … not fully from scratch but pretty close.”
Jesus Betancourt ’13, a junior on the Speech and Debate team, likened Ms. Clarke to the glue that keeps the team together.
“As a coach she’s very experienced and she keeps everyone on the team, both coaches and students, running and moving at all times,” he said.
But Ms. Clarke’s tenure at Brophy has not been entirely focused on the Speech and Debate team. She also teaches English and tries to lead various retreats and immersion programs.
She said when she leads these trips she is immersing herself just as much as the students on the trip so the experiences help to realign her perspective as much as they do for the kids in her charge.
“It’s humbling, it puts things in the right perspective, which I’m thankful for,” she said.
But as with Speech and Debate, the immersion trips and retreats are just a part of Ms. Clarke’s Brophy experience.
“It’s absolutely changed me,” she said of teaching at Brophy. “It’s opened up my world so much. I think it’s made me more compassionate. I think it’s made me really more calm if that makes any sense. I accept the chaos.”
In 10 years Ms. Clarke has had a lot of experience with Brophy students and offered a succinct piece of advice for current Broncos: “Be open and be organized.”
Ms. Clarke warned freshmen that they won’t be micromanaged anymore and the key to thriving at Brophy is to stay on top of things, communicate with teachers and be organized.
She also advised opening yourself up for the many new opportunities that Brophy offers.