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INSPIRING EDUCATION | oise.utoronto.ca
Act I Scene I

Dr. Gallagher (PICSF): The Learner, the Teacher, and the Space In-between


Text: How can the approaches of individual teachers enrich the classroom experience beyond traditional teaching practices?


Kathleen: Sometimes we look at teaching our teachers as individuals with charisma, or with skills, with experience, with charm, when we’re talking about good teaching. And I was aware in my context of a teacher who had many of those qualities, but probably what was most significant about her practice was the way in which she positioned herself in relationship to the students, and their families, and their communities in front of her. And so her classroom was a window onto broader social relationships and social contexts, and she brought those into the classroom all the time. So while she conjured the metaphor of family often, for her, family was something that wasn’t an ideal. That it was sometimes problematic, it was often not easy. And she would look to the varied ways in which she and her students were positioned in the larger social context. And so I saw a teacher who was very aware of the power of the world beyond her classroom, and regularly brought it into her classroom to help clarify why the relationships were sometimes a struggle. And in her context the relationships were often a struggle. And she sat with that. She wasn’t trying to remedy it. There was no quick fix for her. The teacher that I was working with was a black teacher and she also had a history with drama that was her own educational history, things that she had learned and challenges she’d had. And she also had a particular family history that she drew upon in talking, in trying to wrestle with this metaphor of family that she used in her own classroom. And she also had a learning disability which she made very explicit to her students as a way to talk about some of her own educational challenges historically. And so in some ways it seems like just another teacher whose a bit of an open book. But actually what she was doing was drawing from very very personal experiences and trying to create bridges with students, some of whom shared those challenges, certainly with the dyslexia that she was talking about; Her sense of being racialized in her case of a mostly white school. All of these things she created as ways in for students to make present and access their own experiences of subjectivity that some times can be marginalized. What it also made me think was, you know was she speaking from  her own experience of challenges and oppression because they were multiple in her own life and that’s what she sees in her classroom? She was very clear and angry about the situations in which many of her students lived and struggled. She wasn’t politically correct about those things, she was sometimes just her own emotional self about what she thought was wrong, unguarded in that way. So I guess I came away from that experience asking myself serious questions about, as teachers, the ways that we make ourselves present in classrooms and the way that we make ourselves absent in classrooms. And what of the teacher, whose own biography is so very different from what she sees before her, who thinks that those things are not bridges? So my concern with this is that we fall back on affinity or affiliation instead of actually seeing that difference as well can be a place to begin a dialogue. And I wouldn’t want teachers who don’t share some of those things with their students to feel that there’s no conversation to be had.


Text: What does literacy mean in the drama classroom?


Kathleen: Literacy in a drama classroom is embodied, its relational, its dialogic. And some of what gets counted as literacy I think undermines the power of dialogue, and by that I mean in particular peer dialogue as a significant factor in how a student comes to know him or herself as either a literate or an illiterate person. And so it isn’t just about validating different kinds of literacies, its about situating literacy in a larger set of both relationships in the classroom and ways of knowing. And by that I mean in particular knowledge that is discovered, gleaned, and demonstrated through physical and creative enactment and building and movement and discomfort; all of the things that are in effect the sensory experiences of a classroom. And I think sometimes that is divorced from what gets counted as literacy, as viable literacy. And I think there are some students who feel tremendously fluent and literate when they’re in those moments of creating and collaborating through a social context like a collective creation. Which isn’t necessarily counted among those things which signal someone’s fluency or literacy either in a language or in concepts generally. So I think literacy and a dialogic and performative concept is in a sense missing from even our broadest definition of multi-literacies and drama has something very particular to contribute to that conversation.


Text: What meaning do students take from the physical arrangement of a classroom, and how does this affect teacher/student relationships?


Kathleen: And what I learned from the students was they remark on every aspect of the space that their in. And to them it means particular things. So when I ask them about the space of their classroom they pointed to the size of the desk their teacher took, and it wasn’t bigger than theirs. They pointed to the way in which the teacher’s desk was positioned in relationship to theirs. They pointed to what was on the boards around and who got represented. And it was a classroom that took very seriously the idea of the world being multiply represented. Even the alphabet was not a traditional alphabet and they pointed that out to me. So everything that interrupted what the neutral standard classroom looks like was on their radar.  And meant something specific to them. So I learned that those signs and symbols that sometimes seem extraneous or external, when interpreted by the students are important indications of what kind of relationships are going on in that classroom. 

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