The spring semester at my university was going well. I was confident in my teaching, the students were all learning, and the student caring project was growing daily. The last theatrical production of the year was a success, finals and grading were even enjoyable. My morning coffee tasted better than ever. My son Christopher came home from high school and told me a joke, “What are the three best parts of teaching Dad?” While I pondered an answer, he told me, “June, July, and August!” I was looking forward to my summer break, and was comfortable. “How my students will benefit?” – The best is yet to come.

As summer began, all of that changed with one email. A lawyer located my name on the Internet and invited me to be a theatre safety expert witness on a case. My first thought was, “Why would I want to do that?” I am comfortable. After some conversations about the details of the case my thoughts changed to, “How can I not do this?” I have the knowledge to be able to help these people and make a difference. What I had no way of anticipating at that time was how saying yes to the lawyer ultimately would benefit my students.

As I worked on the case, essentially, a research project, my knowledge about safety practices in entertainment industry was refreshed and expanded. I became a student again! In doing so, I was experiencing what my students do; the pressure of a deadline, having to get it right, and fear of failure. It was rejuvenating!

I give research projects, set deadlines, and enforce safety practices. After my experiences, my thoughts evolved to: “I assign research projects, how good is the information I give? Are my expectations clearly communicated? How will I assess the work?” Deadlines are essential and I love them. “How can I better communicate the importance of research and deadlines to my students now that I have recently experienced the emotions of this process?”

In my class, “Career Directions and Your Daily Bread,” I encourage them to leave their comfort zone, get to know new people, shake their hands, talk to them and then follow up to discover how they may be able to help them to further their careers. Did I do this when I was meeting new people in various legal environments? No. I am not outgoing. I am just fine to do my part, thank you. Fortunately, another individual working on the legal case, a Hollywood director, was. He reached out to me and invited me to meet with him and a movie star about an upcoming theatrical project.

Do I now have a better understanding of how my students feel when I encourage them to network and meet people? You bet! I will, no doubt, when I teach that class again change the way I teach the networking portion. Of course, I now have a new story to tell too.

You may be wondering where the “Bear” fits into this article, stay with me, he’ll be here soon.

The movie star asked me to become her executive producer for a theatrical production. I said yes. Another opportunity to learn.  A part of this theatrical production was the creation of a video trailer which would appear on a website. I work in live theatre, not video! I learned it takes 12 hours to shoot the video for a one minute and twenty-seven seconds trailer, and countless other valuable pieces of knowledge which I had not previously known and can now teach to my students. Now, as a student again, I was experiencing uncertainty and fear of failure. “David, what do you think of this camera angle? What is our deadline for getting this online?” Best of all, I felt young again.

Early in my career, producing was part of daily life, but not in 20 years had I been personally responsible for producing a show. Yet, during the past 9 years, I have been teaching a course producing for the theatre. The course was always successful, but now I want to take it to the next level. Throughout the process of producing the show, I kept a journal, took many photographs and movies, and made audio recordings of the production meetings. All of these will be incorporated into the new and improved course for next spring.

Again, another person reached out to me and invited me to join him on a future project. His name is “Bear.” Bear is multi-talented motion picture industry special effects and explosives expert who was the master carpenter on our Hollywood production. His nickname is well earned due to his size, facial hair and warm hugs that he gives. Bear invited me to join him to be a pyro technician for an upcoming Fourth of July show in Southern California. You guessed it, how could I say no? Throughout my career, I was always the person hiring and designing the fireworks displays, but never had the opportunity to be part of the crew who would set up the show.

Student: Matthew Scholtens

Student, Mr. Matthew Scholtens Loading the Fireworks.

The best part of the experience was being able to invite a current student, who was in the area during the summer break, to join us. We learned together. When I give lectures in class about how something is done, it is good information, but nothing can compare with the moment Matt and I looking at each other with hundreds of pounds of explosives in our hands and me saying to him, “This is not the time for us to screw up.” Now, Matt knows how to safely load and fire a fireworks show and I have another, “How To” lecture!

The classes I will teach are already full, as evidenced by the roll sheets I view on the computer, most of them, all new names and faces. In past years, summer was always a time to review and revise my classes in an intellectual way. The opportunities of the past few months have given me experiences to enrich my courses in new ways which would have, otherwise, not been possible. I am very grateful for the privilege to be in the position to teach and also to the lawyer, movie star, and Mr. Bear.

Prof. David Pecoraro, M.F.A.

Don’t miss our upcoming podcast: “Caring for Students in our Historically Black Colleges and Universities”

COMMENTS

Steven Pyser (Via LinkedIn)
President and Founder at The Pyser Group 
Thank you. A most thoughtful and relevant article, David. One of the most telling observations you stated, “The opportunities of the past few months have given me experiences to enrich my courses in new ways which would have, otherwise, not been possible.” I concur and regularly look to new and unexplored activities where I stand in the shoes of a novice. As subject matter experts it easy to forget what it means to occupy that untested space. The opportunities you described reinforce humility and can keep the professoriate humble as we share knowledge effectively with our students.
Alice Hudder (Via LinkedIn)
Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine
Thank you for sharing your experiences. Aside from keeping current in our chosen disciplines, I feel it is important to be challenged by learning new things outside of our comfort zones. This provides humility for us and even empathy for our students. As adults it is far too easy to keep to a routine and never challenge ourselves. I teach biochemistry in a medical school, but spent some time this summer at a workshop learning to play jazz saxophone and improvise. It was very challenging, terrifying and exhilarating. It reminded me what it was like to be challenged, sometimes overwhelmed and struggling, but ultimately progressing.
I was taught by incredible faculty who constantly actively engage the students while challenging them and supporting their efforts. I learned a lot about myself and hope to incorporate some of their styles into my own teaching. Good teaching techniques are independent of the discipline being taught!
Why Your Opinion Matters: 

Our upcoming book:The Caring Professor: A Guide to Effective, Rewarding, and Rigorous Teaching, was written with feedback from many educators and students, which was our plan all along. We began by outlining our thoughts on a series of topics, then we recorded them to share with the world. From the feedback we received, we were informed about the needs of the student caring community. We need your feedback so we may continue to fulfill our mission statement and help students, the world over.

Thank you!

Daniel & David