Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Five Lessons I've Learned in My First Year

Five Lessons I’ve Learned in My First Year
By Amanda Urban

1.      Grad School is a Blast and Half
Graduate school is a scary notion. We all wonder: How on Earth am I going to balance grad school, working, and my personal life? While it seems many of us are still struggling to find that balance, I can at least say that our program makes the challenge easier because classes are a blast and a half. I legitimately look forward to going to classes every week because I know that we’ll be doing something engaging, purposeful, and fun. In most classes, our professors ask us to get on our feet and the moment we begin our warm-up activity, the stresses of the rest of the world melt away—we’re here in class together to learn how to be better teachers, and to have fun while we do it.
The moment I fell in love with our program was when Sobha told our Artistic Lab class that the purpose of the course was “to play and have fun” for an hour every week. For that hour, I engaged in an artistry that my classmates were passionate about: we learned how to juggle, how to engage in stage combat, how to parody music, how to dance, sing, and play with one another. I appreciated that the program encouraged us to set aside time in our own busy lives to practice what we preach—to make time for the arts.
Moreover, my other classes kept me smiling throughout.  In Drama in Education, we collaborated to create a moving dragon using all of our bodies and traveled to imagined places using Guided Imagery. In my Teaching Literacy Through Drama class, we happily wrote and performed plays for each other. In my Conflict Resolution Through Drama class, we enthusiastically created flash forum pieces that sometimes made us laugh, but always made us want to make a difference. My classes invigorate and empower me every week. I doubt anyone else can say that about their grad school experience.

 2.      Take Every Opportunity
I’ve learned that this program has so many wonderful opportunities and I should take every opportunity to challenge myself as a student, artist, and teacher. On a small scale, I learned that I should take every chance to volunteer in class. How will I learn to facilitate Rainbow of Desire if I’ve never participated in it? How will I learn to make my students excited about a Dance Party warm-up if I don’t dance my heart out at the beginning of my class?
On a larger scale, the program offers weekend elective classes once a semester that I chose to participate in. In the spring semester, I took a Baby Theatre course and learned about the art of engaging 0-5 year olds in drama. Although I’m primarily interested in teaching adolescents, I was glad I took the opportunity to learn about early childhood development and to see the fascinating effects theatre can have on the very young.
Additionally, I volunteered at the Harlem Children’s Theatre Festival in the spring. I helped at the dress-up booth and enjoyed imagining with the children who would pretend to be Queen of the Forest when donning a crown, and a train conductor in the next moment because of a simple costume change. I loved watching the smiling children play with puppets, create crafts, and participate in a sing-along. Most exciting was watching them exit the theatre, possibly having seen their first performance ever. It was powerful to know that we may have played a part in exposing some of those children to theatre for the very first time in their life and I was happy that I chose to take advantage of the opportunity to do so.

3.      Practice Makes Perfect
Our program has taught me that being a good teacher means being prepared and being willing to take risks. In many classes, we are required to facilitate a lesson, either individually or in groups. I’ve enjoyed these facilitations because it allows me to try different strategies in a safe space before trying them with my high school students. Through my own facilitation and my classmates’ facilitations, I can see what works and consider ways I could modify an activity to better fit my personality as a teacher.
I like that our program makes me feel safe to share my teaching experience and encourages me to make my classroom engaging. Sobha told us to think of our program as a salad bar: just as a person can choose ingredients to make a salad that’s perfect for them, we as teachers should take the tools that our classes teach us and choose to use them in a way that will feel right for us and for our classrooms. In the end, we’ll learn the tools that work best for us, but for now, we’ll continue to experiment because practice makes perfect.

4.      Ensemble, Ensemble, Ensemble
Anyone who is involved in theatre knows that by the end of a rehearsal process, the cast and crew become a family. It’s one of the best parts about being involved in theatre. Amazingly, our program flawlessly builds ensemble in each class and has left me with a wonderful sense of family. We laugh together, share our challenges, and support each other. This program has taught me that it is pivotal to build a strong ensemble in my classroom because I see the benefits of a strong ensemble every day: our classes radiate positivity, we all feel safe sharing our ideas, and in the end, we learn more from each other and from our professors because of it.

5.      The Importance of Advocacy
While many of my friends and family have supported my passion for theatre since I was in my first role as Mama #1 in Fiddler on the Roof in sixth grade, I’ve noticed that people who do not normally participate in the arts or are not regularly exposed to the arts, may not see the value in our program or worse, the value in an arts education. This year has taught me the importance of not only fostering our artistry and pedagogy, but also the importance of advocacy.
When I tell my coworkers that I’m getting my Masters Degree in Educational Theatre, I can tell that some seem skeptical. I know they’re thinking: What place does drama really have in an English classroom? Are you really learning anything that will challenge your students? Is an Arts Education really all that important in the grand scheme of education?
I’ve learned that I need to take a stand for Arts Education. I can advocate by kindly informing my coworkers of the countless benefits of integrating the arts into the classroom. I can also advocate by actually facilitating lessons that require students to engage in drama practices. In doing so, I’ve already enlightened my co-teacher to the benefits of arts integration. “They’re so engaged,” she’s said to me. “That grad program you’re in really is amazing.”

I just smile at her because I already know it is and because I can’t wait to learn more as I continue the program.

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