Statement of My Teaching Philosophy
If I summed up my teaching philosophy, it would be in two sentences I often heard growing up:
"I don't teach math; I teach people."
"This may be a class on American government, but it's not a democracy."
I don't teach math or American governments my father and mother did, respectively but I do teach people and my classroom is not a democracy. The latter sentiment may sound a bit harsh out of context, but I've found the wisdom in my mother's words as I've found my own way as a teacher in the disciplines of theater arts, modern languages, translation, and creative writing. What she meant (and what I mean when I repeat her) is that a classroom needs a benevolent dictator (a philosopher king, if you will) who ensures the safety of the intellectual space the place where ideas are aired, exchanged, and sometimes rejected. In my classrooms, I aim to be that arbiter and enforcer of the rules of civil discourse, where no question is stupid, no thought unworthy, and no student who's willing to engage should ever feel left behind or left out.
My own version of combining my parents' wisdom as teachers comes out not only when I'm running a classroom, but also when I'm running a rehearsal as either a director or producer of theatrical work: "I'm your backstop; I won't let you embarrass yourself if I can help it." I've twice postponed play openings so that hardworking actors in my charge who weren't ready to be on public display (through no fault of their own) could regain the calm state of mind necessary to do their best work and stop worrying about looking foolish in front of others.
I had a similar experience as a teacher when I was conducting a playwriting workshop with high-schoolers in a creative writing class. None of them had ever even thought about writing a play, much less actually written one, and so they were at a total loss as to how to start even after instruction and encouragement. We'd already read a few plays and brainstormed what about the form and genre made the works "plays" at all, but still the students balked when it was their turn to put pen to paper. My lesson plan wasn't going to work if I simply forced it, and so I had to think on my feet and really listen to what my students were telling me: they were scared, and if put to a vote, they'd collectively abandon the project I'd set out before them and not think twice about throwing in the towel and moving on to something else.
Pivoting and drawing on a translation exercise I'd run with my Master's classmates the year beforeI asked each student to simply write whatever word or phrase popped into their heads at that moment at the top of the page. They did it, no problem. Voila title. Then I asked them to pass the paper to the next student and had them all write whatever line of dialog came to mind at first seeing the "title" on the page they'd been passed. Again, they did it. They hadn't rejected my leadership, only my initial approach. Half an hour later and several passes under their belts, they each got their original paper back full of dialog and characterizations flowing one line to the next and all started from the simple words they'd first written at the top.
At that point, I had to take a gamble that somewhere along the way of creatively writing, they'd overcome their initial hesitations and fear of writing a play. I told them their homework was to choose one of three options for what they had before them: 1) read through it and put their name at the top as something they were proud to turn in as their first draft of a play; 2) edit it so that it was a play they were happy to submit in draft form; or 3) write a new ten-minute play and turn that in. Not a single student turned in a page from the exercise, edited or otherwise. Some drew ideas from their classmates' writing; some didn't. But every one of them turned in something new and of their own exclusive creative flow.
As a corollary to that event where I'd made the rules and even had to make them up on the spot those same students surprised me again at the end of the workshop. I'd promised that no one ever had to read their work aloud, that I'd be the only one reading and commenting on it unless they gave permission for it to be otherwise, and that at the end of the workshop anyone who wanted to see their play performed would have time to have it stage-read. No one wanted anything but protected anonymity in the first weeks of the workshop. All the writing was for my eyes only. By the end, however, students were volunteering to not only have their own work read and performed, but also to be the ones reading and performing their peers' work. They went from being afraid to write a play at all to being a roomful of budding actors, reading each other's plays and vying for roles they thought they could play to the hilt in front of everyone.
Those students, of course, deserve most of the credit for their own willingness to be engaged and to trust me. Every student does because it's far scarier to be a student than it is to be an instructor even on the most frightening of teaching days. That said, however, I think I can safely say that it was my willingness to teach people and not playwriting, to give my students the safety of a strong, present leader who could make up rules on his feet instead of letting them flounder when finding their own way became paralyzing and counter productive that helped us all achieve some meaningful amount of learning and self-discovery. When prompted several months later by the creative-writing teacher for whom I'd run the workshop to write about their favorite and least favorite parts of her class, one student wrote this:
"I would love to take Creative Writing again and write another 10-minute play. That is (so far) my absolute favorite assignment of my high school career. In Creative Writing class, I was scared because it seemed like a lot of work, but it turned out to help me find my passion. I'm an okay writer. I need some improvement, but I loved writing scripts and such. Watching people in class perform my play was a dream come true."
Teaching people is my dream come true, and I look forward to doing it for as long as there are people willing to learn.
Education & Certification
Undergraduate Degree: California State University-Sacramento - Bachelor in Arts, Theater Arts
Graduate Degree: American University of Paris - Master of Arts, Language Interpretation and Translation
GRE Verbal: 170
Theater, Creative Writing, Translation
College Application Essays
College Level American Literature
High School English
High School Level American History
High School Level American Literature
High School Writing