Statement of Teaching Philosophy
Elise Robinson, MA, ABD
As an undergraduate, I thrived in the environment of a private liberal arts college. My classes were small, all of my professors knew me by name, and – in my major, at least – there was no such thing as a “lecture section.” When I started graduate school at a large state university, I can clearly remember the shock I felt the first time I saw a big lecture class. The introductory theater class taught at Ohio State University boasts over 500 students every quarter and is one of the most popular courses on campus – but I can only remember thinking, “How can the students ever learn anything in a class that size?” As I gained teaching experience I learned that it was possible to reach students even in a class of 500; but it was at that moment that my teaching philosophy began to seriously develop: I believe in making an immediate connection with students, fostering creativity both in and out of the classroom, and embracing the liberal arts as a firm foundation for students of all backgrounds and ambitions.
I believe that personal attention to, and knowledge of, the students is an irreplaceable tool for a teacher. Beyond simply knowing their names (not always easy in a large class), personal connection also means giving careful responses to assignments, being available for consultation outside of the classroom, and using a range of pedagogical approaches to engage and educate every student. While smaller classes make it easier to give students individual attention, even in large lecture sections it is possible to foster an environment where the students feel that they are active participants in the learning process (rather than passive recipients of knowledge), and this is the setting I strive to create.
Though creativity is a desirable quality in any teacher, as a theatre instructor I believe I have a special penchant for it. To me, creativity means accommodating different learning styles and finding a way to involve students physically, emotionally and mentally. I find that physical activities (such as theatre games) can invigorate discussion sessions, while critical thinking exercises ground acting and performance work. To this end, I have consistently sought out a diverse range of experiences in my professional life. Because I have had rigorous instruction in both the theory and the practice of theater, I can offer my students an integrated educational experience where passion and critical engagement work together.
When it comes to teaching, I am a fundamental believer in theater as a liberal art, and moreover in the liberal arts as an excellent foundation for undergraduate education. As an alumna of a small liberal arts college, I know first-hand the degree to which a background in the liberal arts prepares a student for life after college. Having taught in a variety of undergraduate departments, from small BFA conservatories to big state school programs with hundreds of majors, I have seen how training in theatre and performance supports and enhances learning in almost any discipline. As a theater instructor, I feel that I can contribute to the liberal arts by introducing theater to non-majors and helping students discover the integral links between theater and other disciplines. A student who has taken an acting class will be a better public speaker; a student who has worked in a costume or scenic studio will gain an appreciation of physics and math as they apply to the practical world; students working together on a production will understand the true meaning of collaboration.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I truly love to teach. There is nothing more exciting to me than watching a student tackle a difficult role or discover a passion for a particular author and know that I have had something to do with it. I find teaching to be an endless challenge – how do you teach students how to learn? – but one that is also endlessly rewarding. I feel fortunate to have found a career about which I am so passionate, and I am excited about the opportunity to further develop my skills.