Pam Niscil

PAM NISCIL:


I’m Pam Niscil; I’m an assistant professor in the dance department in the College of Health and Human Performance.

Well, teachers that my children have had that I would consider to be the excellent teachers, uh, well prepared teachers, are those who seem to be able to make a lot of cross disciplinary connections within what they’re doing.  Who are innovators in terms of, um, experimenting and applying, especially applying, um, research based material to the classroom.  Uh, involving students in---in a variety of learning activities, um, and finding ways, I think---I think mainly for me, it’s been, uh, watching how they’ve---how they connect, um, the interdisciplinary work that they do, so that---so that they’re not separating the subject matter, um, completely and helping students make connections.  And I think that those teachers are the---are the ones that seem to have had the biggest impact on my stu---on my children.  Um, my children are---are hands-on learners, which most children are, and so I think the more experience that they’ve had with---with that kind of learning the more successful they’ve been and---and that’s how, um---those are the kinds of teachers that I---admire.  That---that, uh, also seem to be those that I consider successful.

What gives rise to a well-educated teacher---is---a breadth and an experience with many disciplines of learning.  With experiences with the arts, experiences in the sciences, in literature, the letters, um, not only experiences, but---but the ability to take that background and that learning and that knowledge and a---apply it in a practical way to their lives, but also within their disciplines.   I think that, um, we spend a lot of time in---in the disciplines training our teachers and we would hope that they can ta---can bring within to that experience many, uh, experiences that enrich that and---and give them an understanding of the world through their discipline, that then they can share with their students, so that there is application, uh, rather than content.

In the dance discipline, um, we have a body of knowledge that---that our student teachers have the opportunity to---to share, through their teaching and that---that a well-educated teacher would do.  It isn’t just a series of skills.  And I think that being a dance educator is understanding that you’re helping your students not only understand and learn the skills that you would take into the classroom, but that you’re help---helping them make application of the conceptual material that you’re teaching to a varie---a variety of, um, disciplines.  We encourage our student teachers to---to bring in literature, to use poetry to inspire choreography.  To use visual art to inspire choreography and---and movement.  We---we try to encourage them to---to see as many---to bring in as many applications as they can because in the process they really do become educators.  I think that you can be a dance teacher and you can teach skills and steps, or you can be an educator.  And I think that, that has a much broader scope and---in understanding how you touch the world and how you influence the world.  If you’re educating a student in dance, you help them to dr---draw those applications and to make sense of their world.  So as they go out with dance skills, hopefully, they also have a richer understanding of---of dance in the world, but the world at large, I think.  I don’t know if that answers your question or not.

Well, um, we use other content domains to---to enrich and enliven the dance classroom, in---on a regular basis.  Um, one example that my students regularly use, it’s an example that actually isn’t my own idea but I’ve---I share it with them because I think it has such rich possibilities within it.  Is to---to bring in, um, some of Matisse’ painting and works and, uh, particularly to look at his shape period where he was, uh, using cutouts of paper and---and designing his work through that.  And we, uh, have a process that I’ve---I take the students through where they have their own colorful paper and---and they have to make dance shapes and, uh, interesting shapes.  And then as they---as they create those and they---they split up into partners and the partner has to draw, just freehand, the shape they’re seeing.  Then with tho---with those drawings they take them and tear them out, so they can’t use scissors, they tear ‘em, and so they have these---these really great little art shapes.  They, uh, with groups they create their own little Matisse painting and then from that they have to create a---a dance composition that reflects the shape, that reflects the line, the---the color, whatever it might be.  Usually we do it in---in a---in context of design, choreographic design and shape in a positive and negative space, just whatever that might be.  Um, there are a lot of applications for that, but that’s one example of how we would bring in other content and, um, try to give more breadth to the kind of work that they’re doing so that they can apply some of those same principles or see how some of the same principles are the same in art, they’re---they’re similar.  Uh, they may not become experts in---in Matisse, but certainly then they’ve---they’ve been exposed to an idea there that they could expand into other parts of their worlds.

Well I think to be able to determine if a graduate, uh, ‘got it’ or if they have that---if they are a well rounded teacher, I think a lot of it comes of an understanding of that or a judgment of that comes through just---uh, an awareness of what they’re doing in their curriculum as you talk to them about ‘what are you doing?’  ‘What are the---the great things that are happening right now in your class?’  And they get excited and they start talking about---theme concerts that they’re doing or applications that they’re bringing to the class beyond the---the core curriculum, that goes beyond the concepts that they’re teaching, which all of them are teaching, but that---that shows innovation in how they’re presenting that and how they are, um, applying that in students lives.  For me that’s when I know that they really got it, that they really understand what it means to be an educator rather than just a dance teacher.

I don’t think so.  I think that your questions have been, uh, pretty clear and, again, I just believe that a well-educated teacher probably doesn’t, um, probably doesn’t happen.  They’re probably not completely compare---uh---prepared when they leave us but I think that if they have that core of what education is.  I think if they’ve been exposed to the principles of---of what it means to be an educator, which I think does come through their---their teacher education courses---course work and---and I think that sometimes that’s a struggle for us in dance education because they haven’t necessarily experienced dance education, K-12, they don’t have a model that---that they can look to and think, ‘oh, yes, I understand.’  Um, many of them are studio trained or, you know, they’re---they’re training in dance comes from a different source than the education realm.  And so for us it’s a challenge in four years time, in five years time to in-culturate them with what---what it means to be an educator and how that’s different than maybe what they’ve experienced in---in the studios.  How, uh, what that really entails and so, um---I’m not really sure where I’m going with this other than it---that it---it is a challenge in some disciplines that don’t have that, uh, built in to the K-12 system.

Well I think that professional education, if it’s doing what it needs to do, uh, does contribute significantly to, uh, that teacher’s understanding of what it means to go out and to be a competent, caring teacher, as you say, to be an educator.  That an educator addresses the whole child; they’re not just addressing content material.  Uh, they’re not just teaching content or disci---you know, specific to their discipline, but they’re addressing the moral dimensions, they’re addressing the whole child.  They’re preparing that child to go out and to contribute to society.  That’s why, as educators, we do ma---draw those cross disciplary---plinary ap---ap---applications.  We do help them go into the world and be whole persons.  Um, and I think that the---the teacher education piece of their whole education helps them to understand their role, I would hope, within that.

Well the role of the arts in a general education I think is critical.  Uh, I think that without the arts we don’t have humanity.  How can we, um, ignore the arts in a general education when we want our product of---o f education to go out and---and heal humanity.  If we want them to be functioning members of society the arts are an indication of our humanity and of our society.  And so I think that the role is, uh, whether or not our students become dancers or visual artists or actors, whatever it might be, is to give them that opportunity to experience what it means to be engaged in the arts in some way.  Uh, how that does connect with their spirits, how it does reflect their humanity, how it is an opportunity for them to express themselves, um, through other means than verbal communication, uh, and I think that as our students come to appreciate the arts they will be more human as they enter the world.

A complete and caring teacher has an understanding and appreciate---appreciation for the arts. 

If we’re preparing individuals to go into society and to be contributing members of society they need to understand what that society is.  They need to understand what the humanity is, that humanity comes from the arts.  The arts express, for us, what it means to be human.  And a teacher without that understanding cannot connect to the spirits of their students, I don’t believe, or understand the desires of their student’s hearts.

The arts help us to find that something within ourselves that we cannot express verbally, always, to one another in a conversation.  They help us connect with that depth of our soul, of our spirit, that can’t always be articulated.  But it’s real, it’s something that---that people feel and respond to in a very real way.