Supporting teachers through the arts
By Deneia Washington
From a professional viewpoint that spans from auditions and callbacks to single file lines and raised hands, Alice Gatling, a third year MFA Acting student, finds that her love for children and her desire to act makes her purpose as actor and educator even more impactful.
Her duties as an instructor who faces harsh realities in the school system, while simultaneously acting as an outsider by way of theater, gave Gatling the idea to establish an approach for teachers to utilize the arts and deconstruct the traditional atmosphere of the classroom, making it more conducive to learning.
“I hear individuals who are quick to say something negative about teachers, but how are we feeding teachers? How are we giving them what they need? When I was an educator, do I feel like my needs were actually addressed?” says Gatling. It was in these moments of reflection that Gatling realized that much of the teachers’ voice and concern would be dismissed, and sometimes even ignored, throughout the conversation about the state of the U.S. education system.
On a quest to address this issue through the use of artistic expression, in 2009 Gatling, founded TEACH, The Educational Acting Company of Houston. TEACH serves as a developmental program for teachers by utilizing the arts in the classroom for a new and creative approach to teaching, as a response to a technologically advancing world.
Gatling finds that it takes more than the traditional way of learning and teaching to keep students thirsting for knowledge when there are so many distractions that result from a new technological age.
“The way I was taught in the ‘60s is not the way that should be taught today in 2014,” explains Gatling. “A lot of individuals get on that little high horse of, ‘if it was good for me, then…”
She feels that teachers and their classroom methods of engaging young learners must adapt to the changing times. “When you were a child, you didn’t have a computer so your brain didn’t have to work at a fast pace, it was trained to work at a slow, reasonable pace," says Gatling. “So when you come with that slow pace to someone who’s been trained to move fast, they’re gonna get bored with you really quick.”
While shifting TEACH from thought to reality was a huge goal for Gatling, there was something she felt the developmental program was missing.
That all changed once Eileen Morris, Artistic Director of the Ensemble Theater of Houston, contacted Gatling about a play called No Child, by Nilaja Sun.
After reading the script, Gatling instantly felt like No Child, a one-woman play that explores New York’s public schools through the lens of various personnel in the schools, fit perfectly with TEACH and the program could finally move forward.
“Teachers are able to come in and see it and it’s not just a reflection of them, but they’re able to see that even when an outsider comes in, this is what they have to say,” says Gatling. “This is the script that teachers need, that we could then build workshops on themes found in this script.”
Not only does Gatling see No Child as an important dialogue starter for teachers, she also feels that it is of great importance to rising actors, as this one-person show style of acting was constructed in a way she hadn’t witnessed before. “It blew my mind,” says Gatling. “This is dialogue. This is jumping from to character to character to character. It is so challenging, so a part of me also wanted them to have an opportunity to see that,” she adds.
Though she now had all the factors needed for TEACH to propel forward, life had its own plans for Gatling. With constant bookings for shows, and even graduate school to attend, Gatling was not able to completely get TEACH off the ground.
But in 2015 as a part of her senior project, Gatling plans on showcasing TEACH with No Child in Temple Theaters. “I think it would be a great launch for it because there’s so much happening in the educational system in Philadelphia,” says Gatling.
After the performance, Gatling wants there to be a session of dialogue, where discussion about important themes in the play will ensue and solutions can be addressed.
“There may not be one, or there may be several, or there may not be one we can come up with, but the least we can do is go away and think about it more,” Gatling says. "When individuals are able to talk about what they just saw, it makes for a more lasting impression.”
Thinking about TEACH and its effects on a much larger scale, Gatling has hopes to expand the problem with various plays that meet the needs of different school systems across the nation. “When we’re contacted by anyone in the country and they’re like, ‘we’re interested in having you come in and present this work to our teachers’, they’re able to then choose which one of the productions will best meet the needs of the development the teachers need to have.
Essentially, Gatling’s main goal is that TEACH brings a community of teachers together where everyone’s voice can be heard.
“I want to not only inspire teachers so that they really look to use the arts, but the main thing I want is for teachers to feel supported and that there is someone else out there to support you and help you grow.”
Gatling will appear in Temple Theaters' production of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo at the Adrienne Theater this September.