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COMMENTS ON PROCESS A Nurturing Pedagogy for the Traditional Theatre Classroom Kaarin S. Johnston From the time I was five years old, I wanted to teach. A holy mission drives me— to help people to learn. I am addicted to the expression on faces when, suddenly, an idea connects with a hungry mind. I came from a non-traditional high school in Europe; one that practiced holistic learning. Our "tradition" meant that our class of twelve discussed Ezra Pound while following the Irish poet/literature teacher around the school grounds. While I attended junior high school, I directed plays and in senior high, I ran acting workshops for children. I developed skills that would help me when I began to teach at the college level. Yet, when I arrived at a small college in Iowa, filled with my over-seas experience and my holy mission, I learned that professors expected students to be seen and not heard. Women, I discovered, were not even seen; teachers almost always called on male students. Universities were overflowing. Part of the teacher's job included winnowing out the chaff. Because we were told we each had an equal chance, a democratic illusion was maintained. Teachers explained that if we studied hard enough, we would succeed. In order to succeed, we had to play by the rules. Therefore, we learned to play by the rules. Rules included figuring out what the instructor wanted us to know for tests—true/false, fill-in-the-blank, and multiple-choice. Essay tests, our worst nightmare, meant not only figuring out what the professor wanted us to say, but how he or she wanted us to say it. Luckily, I had some help from less traditional role models, but in order to survive, I learned bad lessons. These lessons took years of self-conscious effort and anguish to unlearn as I strove to give up the traditional "weed-them-out" frame of mind in my classroom. Because the ripple baby boom is almost over, economics has forced many institutions to face the fact that they are competing for students. It is difficult for many administrations to adjust to this and it is often hard for the faculty to accept it. For many, it may mean a complete revolution in their way of teaching, a change so fundamental that they must re-evaluate how they define themselves if they want to call themselves teachers. This may be especially difficult for teachers in the arts. 87 88 Kaarin S. Johnston We in theatre have typically fallen into two categories: those departments which are small and struggle to cast shows and fill classes with non-majors as well as majors, and those which see themselves as pre-professional departments wanting the best students. Departments in the first category already operate using a siege mentality; they are sometimes committed to a state of hopelessness and are not interested in expanding—"How can we serve our majors if we get any bigger. The administration won't provide more faculty or technical assistance!" And the second category, the pre-professional program, is often a strong example of weed-them-out mentality put into practice. If the role of a teacher is not to weed out the average and below average student, if the role of one who teaches is to help others to learn, then we must change the way we "teach." I am fortunate enough to teach at private liberal arts colleges which value teaching as the primary duty and responsibility of the faculty. We receive tenure, sabbatical, promotions, and other rewards primarily on the basis of our teaching. Pedagogies are so important that they have been put into the required core curriculum by the faculty. Faculty must use discussion as a teaching method, not in all classes, but in some. Writing as a teaching method is required. Faculty are sent to workshops and have discussion groups in their own departments as well as across disciplines. This atmosphere provides support for experimentation and as a result, traditional pedagogies begin to soften and faculty have the courage to cast off the old-fashioned role of knowit -all. What does this mean in practical, everyday, how...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3346
Print ISSN
1054-8378
Pages
pp. 87-92
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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