Former Fighting Illini football player and Fulbright Scholar Stephen Steinhaus is opening a new high school in Solihull, England, this April. Once obsessed with becoming a lawyer like Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a long line of teachers in his family—and Lennie in John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”—led him instead to become a driving force for children’s education and performing arts.
Residence: Leamington Spa, United Kingdom (originally Addison, Illinois)
Degree: BA, ’95, teaching of English
Current occupation: Principal, Solihull Academy
Family: Wife, Lynsey, and two sons, Isaac and Saul
What’s a typical workday?
My typical work day isn’t very typical at the moment because we are building and developing the school to open in April (we have three terms in U.K. school, not two semesters). I’ll be on-site for an hour to check on telecom installation, then meet with prospective students and their parents/caregivers for a couple of hours, then a quick phone call with the Solihull Academy team, then shortlisting candidates for our new pastoral roles, then another student meeting, maybe a presentation to a community group, then back home to catch up on emails and paperwork after dinner. Being this close to opening a brand spanking new project means it is non-stop.How did you land your first job?
My first proper teaching job was teaching English at The University of Hawaii Laboratory School. I was working part-time at Kokua (the university support program for students with disabilities) as well as bouncing at a nightclub in the evenings whilst doing my master’s degree in creative writing when someone passed me the ad for the teaching job. I showed up for interview in a tie (which is a no-no in Hawaii!) but wearing flip flops. As part of my interview, I was asked to “performance read” a section of Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” Being 6-foot-4 and a good 250 lbs. at the time, I got up and read a section in character as Lennie, a role I was pretty much born to play. I got the job!
How did you get from there to where you are now?
I taught for a year in Hawaii whilst finishing my master’s and fronting the resident band, “The Rejected,” at a beachside Harley parts distributor and biker bar called the Kickstand Café. Then I taught English in San Francisco and was head of drama (as I had a master’s degree in Shakespeare—and had trained as a professional wrestler—and could do stage combat) and a college counselor at The Marin School in Mill Valley, California, where I also started a girls’ basketball team (we went 0-12 for the season but had a great time of it). Marin was a brilliant, innovative, very relational alternative/special school (which has been a direct influence on the school I am building now).
Next I taught for a year in a tough, inner-city, boys-only high school in Birmingham, England. I moved to Stratford-upon-Avon College (for 16-18 year olds) as program manager for performing arts, and then was headhunted to be head of drama and community outreach and, eventually, director of the performing arts for Alcester Grammar School. I led three international tours (to San Francisco, Chicago, and Hawaii) for 15-18 year olds with The Comedy of the Physical project, a combination of slapstick, improv, clowning, stage combat/wrestling, and live music.
Eventually I took a job as assistant principal at Trinity Catholic School. After three years I could not progress (you have to be a baptized, practicing Catholic to be principal) so I applied for the role of vice principal at Whitley Academy. There were rumblings of a potential free school (a school set up by an organization or a group of individuals, and funded by the government, but not controlled by the local authority or school board) being launched in Solihull. Three years later, when that job was advertised, I pounced!
What about college and your major best prepared you for your life and career?
A minor compliment, bit of praise, or a funny/memorable line in class may go further than you will ever know. In particular, my education studies at the U of I taught me that moments like that are where REAL learning often can happen if you embrace it.
My English courses at Illinois taught me to truly love literature. So, 20-odd years of students have benefited from not just what I learned about Shakespeare but also the passion I developed for Shakespeare at U of I. They have also gained insights because of my knowledge of and admiration for poetry, including and especially the “jazz” poems of the Harlem Renaissance, the John Coltrane-inspired work of Michael S. Harper, and the fiction and autobiographical writing of James Baldwin, to name but a few. For me, without that fire, without that boundless joy found in both your subject and the oxygen that comes from helping a child to be the best he or she can be, then education is just a word, and teaching is just a job, and students and colleagues feel that loss.