My Teaching Philosophy
Every teaching experience is an opportunity to inspire students of all majors to access their creativity and to express themselves in a compelling way. Whether I am teaching one of my six Humanities courses, Playwriting to emerging playwrights, English to adult refugees, Nonfiction to returning students, or English Composition and Converged Communication courses, I emphasize the benefits of developing use of creative language in their communications. I encourage students to critically think about an event or piece of art in terms of story. What story is being told? Who is telling the story? Whose story is it? How does it inform our individual narratives?
Stories help us connect, mobilize, promote change, and heal, as well as revel in the wonders of life. My students discover how to uncover, examine, as well as craft stories. Engaging in this practice not only prepares them for their academic and artistic lives, it strengthens their team building, critical thinking skills, collaborative abilities, as well as leadership and communication skills. Those skills have applications in work, social, and scholarly environments. These discoveries contribute to students’ intellectual growth overall. I am able to accomplish this through a commitment to my artistic practice throughout my teaching career, a multidisciplinary approach, and creating an inclusive and dynamic class environment. I incorporate my own expertise with a long history of research for my own artistic work in multicultural theatre, musical-theatre, performance and production, and strongly encourage experimentation. A renewed feeling of accomplishment comes with each class, each semester. It is matched only by the reward from successful artistic practice itself. I make contributions to my field globally, to my college and community through my work as a playwright, as well as through cultivating my students’ creative work. Theatre is urgent, vital and live; that is why I am a playwright. Educator and student communities are urgent, vital and alive; that is why I teach. The opportunity to combine my ongoing artistic work and experiences with teaching, and contribute to unlocking creative expression in students, is what can only be defined as my dream career.
I teach a wide variety of Humanities courses currently for the Florida State College at Jacksonville and have taught Creative Writing /Playwriting, English Composition I and English Composition II (Nonfiction), English for Speakers of Other Languages, and Theatre Practicum over the past thirteen years that I have worked for FSCJ.
I take an individualist approach to each new class of students and embrace the diversity within the class. In one memorable class for example, students included: dual-enrolled high school students, a Vietnam Veteran, a fifty-five year old divorcee and Cancer survivor, and a young man returning from active duty in Afghanistan. There was astounding breadth of experiences shared as a result. Appreciating this diversity immensely enriched the creative works that emerged.
In my Theatre in the Humanities course (THE 2000,) we explore the concept of “Breaking the Fourth Wall,” when a character talks directly to the audience and “breaks” the imaginary wall between the audience and the world of the characters. Students are instructed to write a monologue in which a character breaks the fourth wall and tell her or his story. This is one of my favorite exercises; and beyond the Theatre lens, it is a fitting metaphor for the student community at large. In fact many of my workshops have been entitled “Breaking the Fourth Wall.” Students are encouraged to critically think, trust their instincts, take risks, and ultimately “Break the Fourth Wall.” They develop trust in themselves and their instincts, each other, and me.
This is crucial in order for students to reach the next phases of development including the importance of collaboration and critique. Collaboration and critique are difficult steps for students to engage in initially. They often are reluctant to trust their abilities, and doubt their “right” to critique. Another popular exercise I call “Couples Dance,” provides a collaborative experience and pairs students well-developed projects into a collaboration. The exercise challenges them to develop further a project through collaboration while still remaining true to their individual visions.
I stress is an interdisciplinary approach in all of my courses. It is essential for students to have a sense of the relevant historical, cultural, and social contexts of the material presented. Therefore I include supplemental discussions, readings, cultural excursions, and when possible, guest speakers, who are experts in various related fields. My courses are layered with Humanities topics including History, Music, Language, Literature, and Religion. My own international experiences learning other languages, researching, living, writing and performing in Africa and Europe, inform my creative work and reinforce my interdisciplinary approach to teaching. I aim to broaden students’ perspectives, inspire inquiry, and illuminate the connections between us that extend beyond our local community, beyond our borders, and into the world around us.
I measure my success through careful reflection and consideration of my students’ evaluations. I encourage students to participate in this process and stress its value providing honest and anonymous assessment of my effectiveness. My annual evaluation and meeting with my dean provides other important feedback. Another measure of my success is through the continued communication from students after the class’s completion. The end of the formal instructor /student relationship is often the beginning of a long-term partnership between the former student and myself. Continued engagement in the campus community and my arts community at large is paramount in serving my students as a mentor throughout their college lives, artistic endeavors and beyond.