Through twenty years of serving as an educator in a variety of settings, I have developed a sophisticated philosophy of teaching shaped by my investigations of educational theory, interactions with inspiring educators, and continued reflection on my praxis. Specifically, I greatly challenge my students, while offering them a tremendous amount of support. I serve as a guide, a facilitator, and an explorer alongside my students. Finally, I recognize the complex identities of my students and foster a space where everyone is seen for who they are.
I first learned about “high challenge, high support” at Upward Bound, a program for first-generation college students. As a child of a single mother who had attended only middle school, I had little awareness of higher education. No one in my home was asking where I was going to college; it was a closed door in the mind of my mother and everyone else in my family. After being selected by teachers as a student with potential but no means to continue my studies, I spent my high school summers living in a college dorm and attending classes to prepare me for higher education. I worked very hard during those summers, and Upward Bound provided me the support I needed to believe that college could be a place for someone like me. What the program did for me was to position higher education first as a plausible dream, and then as a reality. This experience has made me able and obligated to challenge young people to dream big and to support them as they reach for those dreams. As an educator, at my core, I believe in helping others to recognize their potential so that they can open doors for themselves.
I do not see myself as an authoritarian figure imparting knowledge to students in my classes; rather, I aim to serve as a guide to students as they explore the art of teaching. I offer students a variety of tools and methods, and encourage them to develop their own style of teaching. I ask questions, provide examples, and encourage inquiry. Fifteen years ago, when I was student teaching in Cambridge, Massachusetts, my cooperating teacher, a large man with a booming voice, explained to me that I simply could not be him. “The students see right through it. Your job is to develop a style of classroom management that works for you,” he offered. He was right. Teaching is an individual art form. I offer my students a variety of methods which they then try on in theory and, most critically, in practice, to see what works best for them. I then guide and encourage my students as they select and develop their own styles.
I have had the opportunity to teach a wide variety of students from diverse socio-economic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds. As an educator, I directly address issues of identity, race, sexual orientation, culture, and diversity through the material I select and the topics I bring to my classes. I also consciously address diversity in the methods through which I explore material. I am acutely aware and constantly learning about how people respond to ideas based on their cultural heritages, and this influences how I introduce and explore material.
When I was teaching a Creative Drama course, I required my students to read the book Cootie Shots. One student wrote me an email explaining that her religious beliefs would not allow her to read a book which celebrates stories of children of gay parents. Rather than dismissing or negating the student’s religious values, I asked her to come to my office, where a valuable dialogue ensued. After listening carefully to how the student feared this book that challenged her core beliefs, I offered her the option to consider another assignment and perhaps write about how she might interact with gay families and gay students in her future classrooms. The student wrote that paper and eventually also read Cootie Shots. She needed sincere validation of her religious beliefs and an opportunity to consider how her beliefs would coexist with a position in a public school. I have grown to be careful of assumptions I may make as an educator about my students, and to model respect for diverse perspectives. I ask questions and encourage students to explore their own identities. I model talking directly, yet sensitively, about race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and physical and mental abilities. I am also conscious of the variety of learning styles likely present in any classroom. I offer multiple entry points into my lessons to help all students engage with the material I present.
I organize my courses and each class with great thought and clarity for both my students and myself. However, I model flexibility with my students as well. I am able to adapt in the moment to meet the needs of students that I was not able to foresee. Though I carefully plan each moment of every class, I remain open to questions that arise. I also pay close attention to the energy students bring to class and where the group is “at” at any given moment. My clear planning and consciousness of the big picture enable me to recognize how I can maintain adaptability while at the same time assuring that we meet the objectives and learning outcomes for every student. For example, students come to UT with a myriad of experiences in their high school theatre programs, from fine arts high schools with a full season of plays to rural high schools with only one play a year. These diverse experiences necessitate that I differentiate instruction to assure that every student, no matter their previous experience, is prepared to teach in a variety of settings.
Assessment is a critical part of learning and often a challenging skill for educators, especially in the arts. In my courses, I have developed methods of assessment that aim to authentically examine the skills and knowledge gained by a given assignment or course so that I am able to know when students have met the learning outcomes I have identified. One instrument I use is a daily participation grade sheet, where students assess their participation in every class. Self-evaluation is an important part of my assessment, and a skill that students often have not had the opportunity to develop before taking my courses. Asking students to evaluate their participation on a regular basis helps them to become more familiar and comfortable with assessing their work, and more able to do this on larger assignments, such as portfolios. I also find that students become less concerned with pleasing me, their professor, and more willing and able to establish their own criteria for progress, which we can then evaluate together. Assessment becomes a dialogue, and students gain ownership of their own learning.
None of these experiences, qualities, or guiding principles stand alone. They meld together to make me the complete educator I am. Ultimately in my teaching, I foster creativity, deep thought, and action within my students. I bring to my classes a great deal of energy and enthusiasm, and I challenge my students while offering them support. I model sensitivity and awareness of inclusion and diversity. I encourage self-awareness and reflection with all of my students, and I foster an environment where sharing of oneself and asking questions is safe and encouraged. I engage myself in inquiry with my students and consciously and honestly recognize them as the experts of their own lives, experiences, and cultures. My classes are student-centered, and I am committed to engaging my students in material that I then explore with them. The joy I receive from teaching is immense.
This philosophy is ever-changing, as I am a life-long learner. Through each course I teach, I discover how to better employ both materials that reflect the most current thinking of the field and methods to meet my students’ needs.
Commitment to Teaching at the University of Texas at Austin
The central focus of my work at the University of Texas in the BFA Theatre Education program is on our undergraduate pre-service theatre educators. I make myself highly available to my students and voluntarily serve as an advisor to several undergraduate student groups. I am consistently present at student productions, and I express sincere interest in their lives and in their work. I often include graduate and undergraduate students in my research, and I travel with students to multiple scholarly conferences and creative events each year. I advise graduate and undergraduate students and engage with them in class and in my office every day. My students are eager and hungry in all the best ways, and they are an absolute joy to me. It is a great privilege and pleasure to work with this population. I am confident that my students are aware of and appreciate my commitment to their education and future success.