Statement of Teaching Philosophy, Goals, Objectives, and Methods
Teaching is more than a simple transmission of information from professor to student. Teaching in higher education is a responsibility, of taking developing minds and helping to guide them towards their passions, their potential, and their future. The opportunity to meet with young adults as they emerge from the breadth of a secondary education into the focus of the university environment is one that I take extremely seriously. As a theatre history professor, I preside over an area which is often intimidating to many students enrolled for the purpose of performing, designing, or working in the theatre. I embrace the challenge of offering an accessible entry into the important elements of theatre history, all of which benefits and uplifts any theatre artist’s understanding of their craft.
Discourse lies at the heart of any university setting. Students should feel as though they are active participants in their own learning, and lively discourse encourages each student to extract what is most valuable to their own experience. As a mentor to young adults often away from home for the first time, taking initial steps into specializing (or embracing the variety that a liberal arts education offers), I feel very strongly that these students should be treated as they are: intelligent, capable thinkers who have proved a great deal through their acceptance into this learning environment. I see no benefit in treating students as empty vessels waiting to be filled by experienced faculty members. I would rather generate conversations which facilitate means of processing shared material. I work to motivate at-home reading as an incentive for engaged classroom experiences, and encourage online discussion forums as another means of engaging with texts. My classroom approach is a lecture/discussion hybrid, where I bring historical context to the reading the students have explored. I believe strongly in historiographical engagement, which supplies students the tools to analytically interact with plays, playwrights, and historical artifacts. In my philosophy, history is not passive art.
My interpersonal philosophy lies centrally in respect. Respect encourages open dialogue and creates classroom equity through artistic freedom. To receive respect, I must offer it, so I work hard to learn the students’ names and to be acutely aware of their challenges, mental health concerns, and gender pronouns. I am acutely aware of the challenges minority students may face, particularly those far away from home and dealing with a different mosaic what they are used to. This personal attention generates motivation to complete work and to engage: any student who feels like a ‘number’ is certain to check out far sooner. On many occasions, previously introverted students find their voice when made to feel comfortable and safe. Once students feel like the classroom is a safe space – as all productive theatre environments should be – they are empowered to want to do their best work.
This concept of the safe space extends to writing feedback. I was trained in a graduate program of the highest caliber, with a thesis supervisor who strongly prized excellence in written expression. I carry forward the lessons I learned at this level to show students that pride in written expression is a matter of attention to detail. I am exacting in my comments, mark-up, and feedback, with the intention that an engaged student will take that interaction as an opportunity for improvement.
Ultimately, I believe my educational role is, at least in part, to challenge students to push themselves beyond what they felt was possible. A student who claims to be “terrible” at writing bases that perspective on past failures, but these failings should not entirely be laid at the student’s feet. If we neglect to give feedback that encourages improvement and exploration, we fail to serve that student. High expectations encourage students to believe they can achieve more, and to seek excellence. Encouraging self-confidence and exploration of limitations and abilities demonstrates emphasis on personal growth difficult to quantify in syllabi, but it leaves an impression that they will carry forward.
Engagement with works of literature is a foundational life experience, and I allow my love for the material to infect the classroom setting. We have the distinct privilege to challenge, excite, inspire, and lead as we prepare students for the next step, whether it is entirely unassociated with the subjects to hand, the rigors of graduate school, or the assimilation of the life tools that a love of theatre can offer to any well-rounded university graduate.