Teachers urged to act out in classroom

February 24, 2005, vol. 32, no. 4
By Howard Fluxgold

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Professor Allan Einstein was in the middle of his physics lecture to a class of 400 first year students when he looked up from his notes. Several in the back row were talking loudly while a few right in front of him were quietly snoozing.

“Excuse me,” he shouted at those in the rear, “Can you keep it down. There are people sleeping here.”

It's a true story (only the name has been changed), says Jesai Jayhmes, who is helping professors keep their students awake and interested with his workshop on acting and improvisation.

“Acting skills are directly applicable to the classroom,” notes Jaymes who taught a course for instructors on voice and effective speaking techniques during the 1990s. He turned the course into a book called Developing your Vocal Power that includes a CD and video.

For his introductory class in February, Jaymes asked his students/instructors to brush up on two of Shakespeare's most famous speeches: “Friends, Romans, countrymen . . ,” from Julius Caesar and “The quality of mercy is not strain'd,” from The Merchant of Venice.

“I find that using the language of Shakespeare, you need a lot more breath and you need to really shape the sounds for clarity. It's like doing piano scales,” explains Jaymes, a professional actor and special project coordinator with the learning and instructional development centre.

Jaymes says that actors, like professors need “to tell a story that gets the listener to see the play and feel the emotions of it, as opposed to just thinking about it.”

As well, actors will play off each other. “Actors need to look at the other actors to know that they are affecting them. Similarly, the professor must see the response in the eyes of his or her students and speak with the intention to stimulate, inspire and awaken them.”

Jaymes also plans to practice improvisational techniques to “help professors think on their feet.” Many, he believes, are too accustomed to reading from written material or don't necessarily project their passion for their subject.

Jaymes contends that all professors can use acting techniques to become better teachers.

“I think anybody can do it. The only requirement is that you have to want to do it,” he says.
Jaymes notes that two of the 2004 excellence-in-teaching award winners had experience as performers. Before their academic careers, Paul Budra was a standup comic while Mark Leier was a busker.

“Street performing is probably the best credential for teaching because there is no obligation for an audience to listen at all when you're outside. If you can collect a crowd there, you can certainly stimulate students,” says Jaymes.

His workshop runs for four two-hour sessions during February. In the current class there are 12 participants. Jaymes says he will consider offering it again if there is enough interest.

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