My teaching philosophy is ever evolving. It is a work in progress, unfinished, and it always will be. The germinal idea of my teaching philosophy began over thirty years ago on an instinctual level, then over time interacted with the learning process, performance experiences, colleagues and mentors, assorted readings, the process of writing, precious little formal training, structure mingled with improvisation, practice, and then some more practice. My teaching philosophy develops out of a recursive process. It comes from a desire to construct meaning. It comes from a desire to connect. Since my teaching philosophy is ever evolving, the best I can do is try to tell the story of how I think it originated and how it came to be shaped to what it is on this day. I believe my instinct to teach originally sprang from what Aristotle described as the innate human instinct to imitate. "...Aristotle first argued that people are by nature imitative creatures—that they take pleasure in imitating persons, things, and actions seen in such imitations. In the twentieth century, a number of psychologists have suggested that humans have a gift for fantasy through which they seek to reshape reality into more satisfying forms than encountered in daily life. Thus, fantasy or fiction (of which drama is one form) permits people to objectify their anxieties and fears so that they may confront them or to fulfill their hopes and dreams." (Brockett, pp. 6-7) The instinct to imitate, then, is a means to organize meaning in an effort to learn about ourselves in relation to the world. It is a way in to empathize with the thoughts, feelings and motives of the object of our imitation, and to connect with an audience in order that they might empathize as well.
My exposure to drama and theatre was initiated and nurtured by teachers in classrooms dating back as far as elementary school. My own teaching and learning processes have always been inextricably linked to my exposure to drama and theatre. My earliest memory of having the instinct to teach is rehearsing a scene from Neil Simon's The Star Spangled Girl with a female classmate in high school. I played Norman, who is obsessed with his next door neighbor, Sophie. I recall my directing and teaching instincts took over as we rehearsed the scene, which amounted to my character very physically, aggressively, and comically pursuing her. I ran the rehearsal, finding the blocking as we worked, in order to make the dialogue and the action make sense to us on stage. It was very much improvisatory, coming more from instinct than any real knowledge of acting and directing. I distinctly recall guiding my acting partner to find the strategies to staging a successful scene through a kinesthetic instinct. At the same time I was keenly aware of the structure of the character's action provided by Simon's text. I also learned at this time that imitating the thoughts, feelings and motives of character was a truly pleasurable process, probably because I was unconsciously working out my own feelings about girls in general, (and this girl in particular!) I felt connected to her, and I felt a connection with the audience of our peers when we played the scene. I suspect this interplay between the structure of a script, performance and instinctive improvisation has been a present factor in my teaching ever since. I have always felt there is an element of performance involved in teaching in that I "play" a role as a teacher in front of an audience of students, following a sort of scenario in the form of a structured lesson plan, yet allowing for some improvisation in an attempt to interact with my students in the moment in an effort to connect them somehow to my own passion for theatre and drama. I struggled in the beginning of my teaching career at UNCP in the spring of 1998 because I was handcuffed by structure and utilized very little instinct. I spent hours taking notes, trying to plan every minute of the class, essentially creating structure with a script. But the result was that I was self-consciously tied to these notes, and hopelessly unable to get out of my own head, let alone be present in the here and now for true interaction with my students. It was only through semesters of repetition, which was not unlike rehearsing scenes from a play, that I began distilling the density of these early notes to a more streamlined scrawl on the chalkboard, and then gradually transposing sometimes illegible scrawl to even more streamlined and much easier to read PowerPoint presentations. Out of these presentations a more cohesive and logical structural pattern evolved over the years, both within class periods and in the overall design of the class over the semester. Within many of my classes I begin with the brief and simple presentation of a concept, followed by an activity that tasks students to critically think about the concept, to be followed by a forum for students to attempt to articulate how to apply the concept to the activity. As I "rehearsed" my Introduction to Theatre and Acting I fundamentals classes over the past twenty years, I have eventually been able to be freed from the "script," and this has allowed me to improvise with the students, to "act" energetically in the classroom, and even entertain them at times. The result is that when it is really going well each class is a unique experience, something that is happening for the first time, and not merely a repetition from last semester, coming entirely from what transpires between me and my students, and not from a book or a PowerPoint presentation. In this sense class sometimes seems like an act of theatre: all of us are participating in the same space, creating what is hopefully a learning experience. Over time my teaching has been shaped by colleagues and mentors. I have tried to emulate a couple of arts educators in particular, Dr. Gretta Berghammer, who encouraged me to seek a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Drama and Children's Theatre back in the 1980s, and more recently, Mr. Jef Lambdin, a well-known arts educator and movement/mime artist residing in North Carolina. It was through observing their teaching, coupled with the formal training I received at the University of Texas at Austin, that I learned how to structure a lesson plan complete with the definition of concept, learning goals, strategies for organizing activities and assessment strategies. I recall my earliest syllabi at UNCP being influenced by my Director of Theatre, Dr. Chet Jordan, who encouraged me to develop a variety of ways in which to assess students so that no one assignment or test would carry an inordinate weight in a student's grade. Hence, I have always striven to offer a diverse set of activities in every class. At the same time, my discipline as a stage director influences me to demand accountability from my students, and execute a tough but fair attendance policy.
Writing has always been an important facet of my learning process, and thus I have always viewed it as critical to student learning. When I participated in the Quality Enhancement Program (QEP) a few years ago, my Introduction to Theatre course was transformed into a "Writing Enriched" course as I implemented a variety of "low stakes," or "writing to think" writing assignments and created much more specific guidelines for formal writing assignments. (l implemented these strategies in my Acting I course, as well.) In addition, I have recently received "Writing in the Discipline" (WID) designation for the Senior Capstone in Theatre, thereby creating the first course in the theatre curriculum with that status. In fact, I plan to apply for "Writing Enriched" (WE) designation for my Acting I and Theatre History courses this year, since these courses are already "writing enriched" by design. Since participating in the QEP program I began spending 30 to 45 minutes on each student submission of formal writing, for which I offer voluminous editorial suggestion and corrections. Since writing is a recursive process, I offer my students the option to write unlimited drafts based upon my feedback up until the last day of classes in order to improve their writing (and their grade). I know from personal experience that writing leads me to organize and codify my thoughts about the theatre. The writing process has been instrumental in helping me to progress throughout my career, helping me secure jobs, win grants and awards, achieve tenure and promotion, and just now, to articulate my philosophy of teaching. I know that if my students master the writing process, they can achieve great things after leaving college.
I rely a great deal on reading and other materials such as media to help guide my teaching and my own continuing education. Over the past twenty years, I have designed lesson plans based upon these materials from course textbooks and other sources. My classes are designed to encourage students to absorb assigned reading materiat either before or after my presentation of the reading material in class, and then task students to demonstrate that they can think critically about the material by applying it to various activities in class, outside of class assignments or tests. Currently, I am in an intense new learning mode in order to develop and deliver courses in Theatre History I and Il, and Senior Capstone I and Il courses. A major part of this has involved seeking assistance from two former BOG Award winners, Dr. Richard Vela and Dr. Weston Cook, both of whom have granted me permission to adapt some of their teaching materials in these new courses. Theatre History is not my specialty, and so I am starting practically from scratch in these courses. Because I have been engaged in "creative work" over my career, I have done very little in the way of formal research and publication, and I am currently learning how to do this on my own so that I might better guide my students in writing substantial and successful research papers. In the process of designing these new courses, I am reminded of how I began my UNCP career by learning to teach Introduction to Theatre and Acting I courses. I believe that I will be able to create a quality of delivery of these new courses in far less than twenty years, but it is interesting to note the similar struggles I face as I strive to obtain mastery over the subject matter.
I think it is extremely important that I maintain a presence on the professional stage, in the television and film industry, both as an actor and director. We are in the business of molding young students into theatre artists. It is important that my students view me as a successful professional who practices what he teaches, that I engage with them as a director and actor, and that I help them understand how to open doors to the profession. To this end, I work professionally every year, most recently in Romeo and Juliet, which was the opening of the Professional Artist Series at the Givens Performing Arts Center in September, 2017. Several UNCP Theatre Majors acted alongside in this production. Moreover, for the past five years I have directed UNCP students in a professional style children's theatre tour to Manteo, North Carolina. The students are paid a per diem and a stipend for their work. In February of 2018 1 am planning for my student cast to perform a school matinee of A Raisin in the Sun in front of (hopefully) a full house of 1600 high school students. These activities are critical to student learning, as it represents taking theory into professional practice.
It is an honor to be in the teaching profession. As with my desire to act and to make theatre, the process of teaching satisfies in me a need to learn about and define my place in society, and to continually construct meaning through structure and instinct, as I strive to understand my relationship to the universe. I am grateful to the mentors and peers who have helped me as I have traveled along this path. And I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to "play the role" of teacher as my students as I share in the process of learning through reading and writing, research and practice, thinking and learning, and discovering ways to connect with people and find meaning in the human condition.
Brockett, Oscar G. History of the Theatre. Allyn and Bacon, Inc, 1987