By Emma Price
The greatest gift in my graduate experience pursuing a dual degree in Educational Theater and Social Studies was the opportunity to trouble shoot and to teach. Sharing resources, experimenting with new concepts and having the opportunity to practice and make mistakes helped me to become a much better teacher. Because we had so many opportunities to teach, especially in our educational theater classes, I felt far more prepared to step into the role of student teacher.
These opportunities informed my teaching by helping me to find the flaws and holes in my lessons. Additionally, this practice made me more comfortable making mistakes with my students, because these are always moments in which I learn the most. By noticing where the lesson comes undone, I then know how to not make that mistake the following time. For example, in the first lesson that I taught with my fourth graders as a student teacher at PS 3, I dropped magic markers and poster paper in the middle of my students’ tables and said, “Write everything you know about Christopher Columbus.” I gave no clear directions, no sense of what these posters should look like, or how to use the markers. Therefore, this was a material nightmare! I realized immediately that figuring out how materials will be utilized over the course of a lesson is always something that I must figure out first in order to enhance the learning of my students.
Most of all, my experience in the Educational Theater program gave me encouragement and confidence, as well as a rationale as to why theater in the classroom is so important and useful. I left the NYU with not only a passion for teaching, but a resounding belief that theater makes material accessible to students in an entirely different and more transformative way, all the while encouraging community building and opportunities for students to express themselves, be heard, and hear their peers. In the classroom, this means that I try to give students as much of an opportunity to share as possible. This often means writing in role as a way to develop empathy with historical characters or contexts, and then having the students share their written work with their peers. I conducted two process dramas with my seventh graders throughout our slavery unit, as well as a mock trial. These dramas helped us understand the Underground Railroad more deeply, as well as how perspective plays a role in how people are judged (in relation to John Brown and Harper’s Ferry). While teaching fourth grade, I was challenged to find ways to teach about concepts surrounding social justice through theatrical devices. Once I was able to conceptualize what I wanted students to understand, I found the theatrical vehicles that would take us there. Throughout my time at PS 3 we wrote petitions, staged sit ins, created tableaus to communicate our ideas about injustices perpetrated against American Indians, and wrote boycott plays in order to help my students explore how to stand up for their rights.
Students greatly enjoyed this type of learning, and I believe it gave them more ownership over the material. In letters that students wrote to me at the end of both semesters, they most often mentioned the dramatic activities that we had done together. This demonstrated to me that the students found these learning experiences deeply meaningful, and it is my hope that those moments of learning will remain with them throughout the rest of their academic careers. I see education as a means of attaining social justice, and as a means of rectifying the injustices in our education system today. Through theater, students find their voices, and wrap their minds around abstract ideas as they express their understanding through their bodies. Therefore, the use of theater in the classroom serves as a tool to move the work of social justice forward in a beautiful way.
Given the growing student and applicant interest in a program combining social studies certification with theatre certification, NYU Steinhardt offers an innovative dual certification program, whose curriculum is built on the school’s already registered programs in Educational Theatre, All Grades, and Teaching Social Studies, 7-12.
For additional information about the program, visit the MA in Educational Theatre and Social Studies with teacher certification website.