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CHOCTAW, Okla. — She has the leading role in her classroom.

High school drama teacher MaryJane Burton starts class right after the bell because she has lots to say.

“I want you to listen, and apply,” she tells her students.

The advice, the warnings, the encouragement come out of her mouth faster than any student can write.

“Don’t forget to smile,” she admonishes.

“Know your character,” she cautions later.

Today might be audition day for ‘The Crucible’ but if you think lines are all these students are learning, listen closer.

Burton tells the class, “All interesting characters take a journey.”

Later she explains, “I think I was born to do this. I really do. I’ve done lots of things but I was born to teach.”

She arrived from the Philipines at age 5.

Her family lived all over the U.S. but they settled in Choctaw.

Young Mary always wanted to be an actress.

She took the drama classes but life intervened.

“Life is tumultuous,” says MaryJane. “Everyone has their past and a history. I was a teen mom.”

A close group of friends and classes like these got MaryJane through and she never forgot.

“I remembered how influential my drama teachers were and I thought I can teach it because that made the biggest difference in my life.”

It took her 15 years and a couple of other jobs but Mrs. Burton got her teaching degree.

She only applied to one district, the one she called home.

“That’s where I started my journey and I want to finish it there,” she says.

The high school opened a new Fine Arts Center back in 2011.

The stage is bigger and there is finally enough room to store all the awards from state and regional contests.

A visitor asks, “Is this The House That MaryJane built?”

She laughs and replies, “You know, I’m going to say there was a little bit of influence.”

The banners and plaques are all signals that MaryJane Burton is teaching her subject well.

But it’s the other stuff that really holds up the walls in this Choctaw High home.

Back in class, she points out, “I teach life. I guarantee that all these things we talked about, we can translate in one way, shape, or form.”

MaryJane Burton is entering her 24th year in the Choctaw district and 21st as the high school director.

Her students have won 13 championships in the annual state one-act play competition.

‘Is This a Great State or What?’ is sponsored by WEOKIE.