In applying for a teaching job recently I was asked to share my teaching philosophy. I'm glad they asked because I didn't realize I had one. I mean, I knew I had ideas, but there's nothing like a direct question to focus your attention. Your attention meaning mine.
Here it is:
The summer I was sixteen I was hired to choreograph a musical for a middle-school theater program. Having been a veteran of many such performances myself, I knew what quality to expect from suburban kids with more enthusiasm than grace. So rather than teach a dance combination to assess how the kids moved, I decided instead to work from what they knew.
“Who can do a pirouette?” I asked. “Who can do a cartwheel?” The girls who studied dance volunteered, demonstrating their abilities, while I noted their names. From there, I worked my way down to the simplest dance steps, seeing who could do what. Then I choreographed the numbers to suit the varying abilities of 50 some-odd children.
The result was that everyone looked great. The students who could really dance got to show off their best moves; the ones who couldn’t were featured in parts of the dance that emphasized stage business over routines. Moreover, by grouping them according to their strengths and weaknesses, I was able to teach them all something that made them better, so that they all walked away from the experience with new skills and confidence.
That summer made a lasting impact on how I’ve approached students ever since. While I delight in imparting information and helping people of all ages to grow and learn, I still make a point to examine what the students’ points of entry are, to provide the best counsel for them to excel.
I have continually returned to teaching as a means of supplementing my career as an artist, first as a professional opera singer, then as a writer. Having amassed a substantial amount of experiences as a published novelist, commentator and produced playwright, teaching has increasingly become an essential component to my work.
As I move into a new phase of life mid-career, I am committed to building teaching into a cornerstone foundation for the rest of my life.
Few things in my life make me as joyful as raising someone’s awareness – it’s part of my mission as an artist, and motivates my enthusiasm and passion for teaching. I consider even the briefest encounter with a student to be an honor and an opportunity to put some good into the world.
And on that very earnest note, ladies and gentlemen, Kristin Chenoweth...