After more than two decades as an educator, instructing students from 6th grade to the graduate level, I still regularly reflect on my educational experiences as both a student and teacher. In all, I have determined that I value an inclusive classroom that engages in the analysis of texts, serious discourse, collaborative learning and the use of creativity to engage challenging ideas and concepts.
Ideally, these values are enacted in an environment in which teaching is seen neither as a mere service nor a requirement, but rather as a privilege. Indeed, as an experienced teacher on multiple levels and in an array of fields, I can attest that the most meaningful moments in education occur when the teacher and student work together to learn not only the core components related to the course, but also work to strengthen the various skills of both learner and teacher.
At the core of a meaningful theatre education resides an exploration of the human condition through the analysis of texts, accompanied by discourse involving questioning, listening, ruminating and finally, reflecting upon those ideas through both creative and intellectual endeavors. Yet, that is not enough. With the privilege of education there is the responsibility of service to others and the willingness of the individual to contribute meaningfully to the school and community as a whole.
Over the past decade I have attempted to enact, incorporate and demonstrate values and elements associated with a mode of learning that challenges and stimulates students to think, engage, create and reflect upon the components of the course as well as larger issues related to the human condition. During my career I have worked with many levels of learners. In all, I have taught a multitude of subjects, including humanities, world literature, American literature, speech, dramatic literature, composition, theatre, film, history, rhetoric and western ideas and culture. I have instructed at large state universities and small community colleges, as well as massive public schools, small private schools, alternative schools and charter schools. As a result, I have been able to adapt to - and thrive in - various modes and methods of instruction and learning.
Unlike many, I have not developed a rigid and standardized pedagogical approach. Rather, I am always reshaping and refining my approaches to teaching and learning. That said, the constant throughout my experience as an educator is the importance and primacy of meaningful discussion. I truly believe in this notion and have attempted to enact such discourse in both teaching and learning. I have consistently utilized discourse and seminar-type approaches centered upon fundamental questions throughout the various courses and grade levels I have instructed. Indeed, the more I utilize discourse, the more I learn from students and the more they learn from one another.
As a perpetual learner and empathetic educator with an inquisitive mind and a passion for texts and the arts, I believe that I can model the methods of serious study of - and discourse on - ideas that are both new and challenging. In addition, I can serve as a guide and fellow explorer of concepts, essentially an experienced scholar who understands the difficulties and challenges of engaging with important ideas and texts. Indeed, the struggle with concepts and knowledge is fundamental to a proper study of ideas and I am willing to embrace that noble struggle as a learner, scholar and instructor.
Through my pedagogy I attempt to utilize a multitude of approaches to address all student abilities, backgrounds and interests. Beyond serious discourse within the classroom, students develop and refine critical thinking skills, research approaches, composition practices, reading strategies and oral presentation abilities. The development of these practical skills is also enhanced by periodic Socratic Seminars focused upon questions tied to the text. That said, learning does not simply consist of attending classes, reading assignments and completing papers. With literature, students must engage the artistic process themselves to develop a better understanding of the dynamics of creation.
In all my endeavors in teaching, students have meaningfully explored elements of literature through creative engagements. This includes exploring dramatic literature and theatre history through costume and set design, dramaturgy, directing and even playwriting. Beyond creativity, I have also successfully integrated technology into the classroom, using wiki spaces, audio adaptations of dramas, blogs, extensive discussion outside the classroom via boards and even podcasts. That said, technology is valuable only as if it is used to enhance – and not replace – the collaborative exploration of ideas and the arts.
Because of a need to work and teach in the community, I designed, developed and managed the arts organization Madison Young Playwrights for three years. This non-profit, grant-funded program sent teaching artists (often undergraduate and graduate students) into the local public schools to work with teachers and students in the creation of 10 minute plays. After in-class instruction, workshops and read-throughs, each year more than 100 scripts were developed by area students, many of which received performances at a theatre festival at the end of the year. The project (which I have since passed on to Children's Theater of Madison) serves as a unique way for young people to (1) voice their interpretations of the world and to (2) explore the dynamics of writing for theatre. In all, Young Playwrights works as a harmonious unification between the university, area schools, young people and the local community. As I designed and wrote the curriculum, this service learning project is easily adaptable to a variety of college and community settings.
Further, to build a sustainable community, one must acknowledge the varieties of the human experience. Through collaboration and discourse, recognizing all student voices and backgrounds, educational institutions can move toward diversity. Diversity itself must be recognized as a fluid dynamic. From working with Ebony Theatre and various LGBTQ students and groups, I know the importance of carving a space (and providing a place) for student voices to be recognized, especially those voices that are often silenced or ignored. In addition, these students must also be able to see that individuals with similar experiences and backgrounds are represented not only in the classroom as students and teachers, but also represented in the curriculum. Only through recognizing the diversities of our identities can we truly begin to learn about one another. The arts provide a unique method in which to explore and educate ourselves and others about diversity and identity.
Education, the arts, teaching and service are noble endeavors and such undertakings require a commitment to a disciplined struggle with ideas, a dedication to learning, the ability to admit ignorance and a willingness to follow the Beckettian maxim of “Try again. Fail again. Fail Better.” In all my endeavors as a teacher, from the undergraduate college to the public secondary school, I have sought to maintain a student-centered, accepting and challenging classroom that explores the various elements of the intellectual and artistic experience.