I wish I could have read Acting Lessons for Teachers (1994, 2007) in 1990 when I was teaching my first college classes. Robert T. Tauber and Cathy Sargent Mester‘s book would have shown me that my teaching act wasn’t a gimmick but a pedagogical necessity–not simply because I was a twenty-two-year-old who could have passed for seventeen but because all of us who teach are performers.
Despite its title, Acting Lessons for Teachers doesn’t offer tutorials on craft but instead describes the acting strategies that enhance teaching: physical and vocal animation, teacher role-playing, strategic entrances and exits, humor, props, suspense and surprise, and creative use of space. It also presents anecdotes from teachers, both K-12 and college professors, who have successfully employed those strategies in the classroom. Raymond J. Clough, Professor Emeritus of Modern Languages at Canisius College, recalls an evening in the mid-1960s when he saw Vincent Price perform a dramatic reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” For Clough, then a young college teacher, Price’s mesmerizing performance served as an epiphany, illustrating the importance of “training the voice” and of “knowing materials cold” (192).
Scott Richardson, Professor of Classics at St. John’s University, recounts how he presents a Viewer Mail segment in his classes to address the relevance of studying a dead language and broader questions regarding the value of higher education (202). To introduce the Greek god Dionysus, he invokes The Rocky Horror Picture Show (203).
While some teachers readily draw on the tools of actors in the classroom, others would rather not identify themselves as performers, believing that focusing on performance emphasizes entertainment over instruction. But all of us who teach–whether we call ourselves performers or not–share the aim of instructing our students, which requires their attention. Acting Lessons for Teachers shows us how we can capture that attention as an actor would.