My life as a teacher creates impact in small concentric circles. The most meaningful influence is made with students who allow me to see them closely, and in a moment of revelation, I know that I will hold them close in return. The connection happens quickly, often in the first class meeting, or in the case of acting, when we meet at an audition. It can happen in an interview, or a conversation in a hallway. There is a click. I quickly know who will let me in, who needs me, and who has a deep story worth nurturing in the way I nurture best. I think that although I teach content, new material, concrete facts, that what I am actually teaching lives in the murky grays of life lessons beyond the content.
I do not live life large as a teacher. But I live life close, lost in the moments of passion in the classroom where the room disappears and making something clear to a student is all that exists. The WHAT is irrelevant. The WHAT is merely a means to the HOW. Teaching a student about clarity of thinking, about the power of invested self-expression and the need for connection to passion is teaching HOW. Theatre is the WHAT that allows me to touch students with the importance of HOW.
HOW to be. HOW to think. HOW to care. HOW to share. HOW to create. Those are the lessons that will last.
My influence is not far ranging, and it does not explode in all directions with force, influencing distant shores. It hits close. It explodes, or not, for those who are able to let me in, those who hear my message because they need to hear my message. I am not for everyone. Although I can teach class after class about the importance of TEMPO to an artist, it is not so that students can say, ‘Tempo is how slow or fast something occurs.’ If that is what a student learns from me I know that we have not connected as hoped and my value has been negligible. Tempo is not only about WHAT, but about HOW, and it is an infinite discussion of which I will never tire. Tempo is about how to be, how to think, how to care, how to share, how to create.
At Williamsville East High School I was not adept at teaching about gerunds and infinitives, but I was passionate about teaching students how to think, how to care, how to express, and how to be fearless.
I do best with a small circle of those who are close and that is why I am beyond blessed to have found a home at the University of Cincinnati in the College-Conservatory of Music in the Department of Drama. What a stroke of luck. I am where I belong, and I have been able to gather students who need what we have to offer, our entire faculty of passionate HOW teachers who agree on nothing and agree on everything.
Teaching to me is so personal. It is a profession I began in 1983 when I graduated with undergraduate degrees in Theatre Arts and English Education. I knew nothing, and then I began to teach.
Being in Africa 31 years later still struggling to get at the heart of understanding teaching has allowed me to understand and accept my strength with the value it deserves in a new way. My personal life and my teaching life are one and the same. I will always be the one who is closer to Consolata who cleans my home and carried my luggage on her head the day I arrived at my new home in Kenya, to my neighbor Stef in Newport KY who I can greet on his porch every morning, to the quietest student in class with the deepest soul. I will never be the one telling you about my impressive plans or meetings with the Vice Chancellor of the University or all the other very important people in the world. The important people in the world walk right past me while I am busy connecting with a student who has a problem and needs someone to listen.
Small is not bad. Close is not bad. Personal is not bad. It is what I do best and always have. I just have to stop over-valuing the large and important and leave that to those who can only be large and important.
They can’t do what I do. And what I do allows the ripples to spread not from me, but from those around me, through me, as they make their own ripples by adding to my close, explosive, personal splash. And yes, I am so proud of the waves crashing from shore to shore around this world. Small circles, enormous moments.
That is what I’m trying to articulate.