When I learned about the ESU scholarships and SUISS program in Theatre and Performance, I knew I had to go for it. I am in my 11th year as a Theatre and English high school teacher on Long Island, and I have been eager for an opportunity to broaden my knowledge. From the moment I arrived at the University of Edinburgh dorms, I was warmly welcomed by the staff and our student leaders. I was pumped for a new experience, and eager to get settled and see what was in store for me. When I made my way to my room and opened the curtains, I found myself face-to-face with Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano at the edge of Edinburgh. This was the moment where I realized this experience was going to be more than I had expected.
Too often for teachers, the professional development we experience is chosen for us. It is not often (at least for me) that we get to decide what to study and to be able to go in-depth with those studies. Applying for the Theatre and Performance SUISS program and the scholarship available through ESU was one of the few opportunities I have found to take charge of my own professional development.
This program provided me with the chance to both learn about different viewpoints on modern theatre, but also give me the space to see how these can be applied to my own teaching. In our daily seminars, I got to be a student again, listening and engaging in conversations about theatre that I have not been able to have in years. Teachers are still students at heart, so I am always eager to listen and engage with others. A few times each week, we participated in various workshops throughout the two weeks. These workshops focused on such topics as acting, clowning, playwriting, and storytelling, all run by professionals in the field. Each workshop gave me ideas to bring back to my students, whether it was the “15 Rules of Acting” from Ali D’Souza and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, or clowning activities with Tim Licata from Plutot la Vie, this program served as a refresh button on my theatre teaching practices.
One of the best parts of this program was meeting other teachers and growing and learning with them. I found a small teacher tribe here, and while we all teach at different schools around the country, as theatre teachers, we are often part of very small departments, or even one-person departments working alone. Here, we had other people who knew all too well the struggles we all face. We commiserated, as well as discussed all the different ways we could implement what we were learning.
One of the biggest takeaways for me came in our workshop with playwright Jo Clifford. Jo told us “theatre is a gymnasium of empathy.” If my theatre classes can teach students empathy as they go out into the world, then I will consider myself a successful teacher. SUISS provided me with the chance to develop new ideas for teaching and sharpen the tools I already have.