Frani Geiger Rollins
Theatre Professor; Design and Technology
As a teacher and mentor, I feel this quote helps to introduce my philosophy in that there is more to be taught in a classroom than what is undoubtedly going to be learned from the pages of our texts. Yes, the scholastic material of a course and how we present and engage our students with said material is of the utmost importance, but I feel that my overall support, both in and out of class for my students, needs to incorporate teaching and reinforcing good life skills while also being a reliable and solid professional academic resource for their continued learning. I feel this concept is becoming more and more important to incorporate into our work as information becomes more freely accessible: anyone who has the motivation can teach themselves what can be found in a good textbook. What can’t be learned is how the material constructively interacts with the interactive world around them.
A wonderful but small example of how I emphasis life skills while in the often ‘bubble-like’ academic environment is with one of my first assignments in my upper level design class. After the first week I ask the students to email me a quick response where they write about what they are excited about, what they would like to focus on, and what if any questions they have regarding the syllabus. I ask them to send this response as an attachment. The following class I use this assignment not only to address issues, concerns, and exciting things to come, but I can quickly demonstrate how important it is to send attached documents with specific and precise document names. With my computer hooked up to a projector I show them how when I received their assignments via email I downloaded them all into one folder on my desktop labeled ‘Assignment 1’ (pretty typical). Without fail, each time I do this I end up with a folder on my desktop with 15 documents labeled ‘Assignment One’ or ‘Response One’. The students are always surprised at how anonymous their work becomes on the delivery end of this assignment. I then relate this to job applications, final assignments, and other submissions that require attached documents. Sending an attachment called ‘Resume’, just like sending an attachment called ‘Assignment One’, does nothing beneficial for you on the other end. Often, a poorly labeled resume may be forgotten or looked over simply due to time restrains. This little demo takes all of fifteen minutes, but I feel it has been a very successful lesson. Students that have experienced this assignment in my class consistently choose smart and descriptive names for attachments they send me in the future, and assumedly, for other valued attachments beyond the academic environment.
With the example above my hope is that what my students are asked to complete in class ultimately makes them more successful in other facets of their lives. With this in mind, over the years I have developed a wide variety of assignments for assessment in each of my classes depending on the type of student often found in each class. I feel that the best way I can prepare my students for the unknown responsibilities in their futures is to allow them to experience multiple ways of engaging and being successful with the material. A great example of this comes from my Introduction to Theatre course. This introductory class is often filled with non-majors whose academic focus is often outside the humanities cannon. Their academic comfort zone is regularly found in written assignments that demand exact page counts, thorough and concrete cited research, and conclusions that are substantially tangible. For this course, I have several written assignments that follow these guidelines and reinforce the skills they are most familiar with, but I always like to push them further.
For the students who lack improvisational skills, I include pop quizzes that ask the student to be creative and inventive in a short period of time: 5 minutes. One quiz example from this course: How do you see the protagonist in the play dressed? What costume could they be wearing and why? Render a costume design for the protagonist and include 5 character-specific items of your choosing, and explain why you have incorporated them into your design. As soon as this quiz is handed out, hands shoot to the sky. Questions like, “How large should the drawing be? How would you like us to write out our explanation? How long should the descriptions be? Should one of the items be a hat? What is an example of something that would be wrong?” come firing from the class. After answering a few questions with a simple ‘It’s up to you and how you see the character through the lens of the play’, the students warily and nervously begin the assignment.
As they prepare to turn these quizzes in for the first time, the students fold their papers in half so that classmates can’t see their work. They apologize and look at the floor as they make excuses before they even hand me their papers. The obvious discomfort in the nature of this assignment is always a reminder to me about how important this first experience, and future quizzes are to these students. It still amazes me how by the last creative quiz of the year, the students are sharing and discussing their work with other classmates, often talking through the creative research process they have taken without a hint of self-consciousness- A huge step for a lot of these students in becoming confident in their efforts where there is no definitive finish line for their work.
My responsibilities as a mentor and teacher outside of the classroom has helped me realize that part of my becoming a more successful teacher in the classroom is really looking at how I would define success in my students. For me, I know I have done my job well when some aspect of what is learned in the classroom or learned in the scene shop shows up in another facet of a student’s life: a student designing and building a bookcase for their dorm based on learning how to build platforms for a show; seeing questions asked in class about color theory later being explored in a student’s first lighting design; or a great grade on a Philosophy or History paper because of dramaturgical work done while working as a stage manager on an unrelated production. These moments are where I know, in myself, that I was successful in teaching not only the specific ‘academic’ material, but the material that will help positively build and shape a student’s academic, professional, and personal future.