The Potency of Showing Your Passion
I recently had dinner with a mentor of mine. I asked this person about their teaching practices and ways I could apply their successes to my program. Among the many jewels of wisdom he gave, the one which stuck with me most was: You’re the face of your program, so don’t be afraid to keep showing your passion for your subject. Now yes, it’s no secret I love theatre and that I love teaching. But when finding ways to show the more vulnerable side of my passion, I sometimes balk. It’s not that I need my students to think I’m a Cool Teacher, which I’m not. My nerdy digressions about podcasts, books, and pedagogy aren’t the most riveting of subjects as compared to Disney musicals, Kabuki theatre, and stage combat. But it does allow me the time to share my personal interests in a way that pertains to my curriculum. Sharing my passion has gotten easier because of the following steps I’ve employed in my classroom, and it starts before the first bell of the first day of school!
Scrutinize the Syllabus: I use my extended breaks (Summer, Spring, Thanksgiving, Winter, etc.) for time to relax and enjoy my interests. However, my teacher brain rarely turns all the way off, hence why this website has its title. So when I’m reading Marie Benedict’s newest historical fiction, or listening to NPR’s Throughline podcast episode about the History of Nostalgia, or re-watching Schitt’s Creek for the third time in two years, I’m thinking if it relates to any of my Units. If it does, I jot a note and continue the relaxing. If it doesn’t, then no harm no foul, it’s for me on my break time anyway. The Syllabus should be your guide to teaching what you must teach while marrying how you teach it. The How is the art of teaching, how you bridge that gap, how you give your students the heads up of what they’ll be learning. If the Syllabus is pure content and standard-based with no connection to your passion, then are you really teaching the right subject? Are you really employing endless resources to be the most effective teacher you could be?
Pace for Interruptions: I can’t recall the last time I made it through my 5-period teaching day without at least half-a-dozen interruptions. An off-topic question, multiple phone calls from the front office, a campus aide needing a student to go to a counseling appointment, and the list goes on. Bathroom requests, water requests, tardies, etc. My first year of teaching consisted of many frustrating looks and grunts when forced to deal with one of these interruptions. Now, four years in, I’ve learned to allow these to happen (since they’re going to happen anyway) and even better, allow for non-interruptions to take precedence if the class goes that way. Currently, my Beginning Theatre classes are going through our Greek Theatre unit, reading Bryan Doerries’ translation of Sophocoles’ Women of Trachis. Betrayal is a topic of discussion, and one period wanted to discuss it, on-topic and vulnerably while safely, for 48 of my 56-minute period. Great! That’s the interruption I like! We didn’t get to the other things I planned, but this time I planned for the plans to not happen, just in case. It allowed for dialogue, not monologue, and our mutual passion for relating times of betrayal to our text worked wonders for our class bonding, a bond that is still deepening as we finish our text.
Be the Student: How many times have you gotten the high off seeing your students experience that A-Ha! moment? It’s pretty thrilling, I’m not going to lie. Now, think back to the last time you had an A-Ha! moment. Imagine the high a student would feel if they saw their teacher get that because of a response they gave, or a thesis they proved, or an alternate way of approaching a problem. When a student even nominally blows my mind, I call that out. I tell them what they did. I reinforce their confidence in not only speaking up but going out on a limb, or pushing back respectfully, or delivering criticism while using academic language. It’s not easy for our students to do that, to share their true thoughts in a content-based situation unless they’re really passionate about the topic. So be the student, put yourself in their shoes, and allow them to see the mutual passion, not just the Sage on the Stage. You don’t have to know it all, you just have to know when to be the teacher and be the student.
Do What Makes You Happy: If you’re bored, they’re bored. Plain and simple. Non-academic conversations about your weekend, about your day, about a movie you watched or a restaurant you tried or a book you love serve as great fodder for connection over content. I’ve had countless conversations revolving around who won at the Oscars, if Tom Brady should retire, or if provolone is a worthwhile cheese to ever have in your fridge, which then evolved into examples used in a journal response, or a lecture, or video someone recommended on a topic we’re studying. When passions are shown, students see more than an authoritative adult who grades and gives lessons; they see a human, just like them, who has interests, just like them, and who they can connect with outside of the text book and final exam. If you’re happy, they may still be bored, but at least they see you enjoying your profession. Who knows what could inspire them next?
The potency of showing one’s passion is not backed by statistical data, nor is it a secret sauce that will instantly connect you to all the students you teach. But, it’s something you can control, and in these days of teaching there are only so many situations in our control, so we should certainly seize them every chance we get. You control what you read, listen to, and watch in that free time of yours. Most of your students do too. You control the majority of what you teach and definitely how you teach it. Plus you have more control than your students, so show your passion, learn something new, and you’ll sooner-than-later notice just how many welcomed interruptions you’re engaging in.