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Celebrating the Junior Faculty Teaching Fellows

Posted by on Monday, May 13, 2013 in Events, News.

The following is a short speech delivered by Assistant Professor of Theatre, Christin Essin, at the May 3, 2013 Celebration of Teaching.  In 2012-13, Christin was one of the Center for Teaching’s Junior Faculty Teaching Fellows.  She delivered these remarks to capture her experiences in the fellowship and to celebrate the work of all of those who were fellows this year.

Christin Essin
Assistant Professor of Theatre History
“First, I would like to thank Joe Bandy for asking me to say a few words; but more importantly, I need to thank him for first suggesting that I apply for the Junior Faculty Teaching Fellows program.  Last year, my first here in Nashville, I attended a few of the teaching observations that Joe organizes around campus.  These occasions first connected me to the impressive web of resources that the university provides its junior faculty as we launch our Vanderbilt careers.  I imagine this web a kind of safety net that gives us the courage to fly high, to swing through the air, to balance on various tightropes, or, dare to dream, to launch ourselves from cannons.  (I don’t mean literary canons here, but actual, metaphorical cannons.)

You can blame this circus metaphor on my field of study; I am a scholar of performance, and I teach theatre history and dramatic literature.  My JFTF colleague Jason Valentine, on the other hand, is a mechanical engineer; he would have likely chosen a different metaphor, something from his study of nanophotonics (that’s a real thing) or mega-tronics (that’s not a real thing, but its a little inside joke between us which I hope to one day understand).

But Jason and I, along with Jonathan, Alison, and Erin, were in the same teaching seminar, making time in our hectic semesters to think through broad pedagogical concepts and their application to our classrooms. Were it not for the JFTF program, Jason and I would almost certainly have never met, much less interacted as collaborative professionals.  And that would have been a shame because I gained a lot from contemplating his challenges teaching mechanical engineering and finding key connections to my own teaching objectives.  The JFTF is as energizing and edifying as it is useful to the always already unstable world of untenured faculty members, particularly as an open space for contemplation—for listening, learning, applying, and experimenting.  I might not have always understood the application of Jason’s discoveries, but as I listened to his process I rethought my own investments in assessment strategies and student outcomes, in my own classroom as a laboratory for embodied learning.

In the theatre, we talk a lot about ensembles and ensemble building.  Our work on the stage is inherently collaborative, and we rely on each other to change and evolve, to raise the quality of a performance beyond what we could achieve by ourselves.  William Shakespeare’s elegant verse would not have soared to such heights had he not crafted it for a company of professional actors with whom he had spent endless hours on London’s South Bank.  Joe, Derek, Nancy, Cynthia, and everyone at the Center for Teaching are not only a wonderfully effective and creative ensemble, but they also open spaces for ensemble building among the junior faculty through this program.  The JFTF gives us the reason and motivation to set aside time to think together… not just to think about, but to think with one another about our teaching goals at Vanderbilt.  The JFTF provides us with a model classroom to advance our own classroom experiences, to help us more effectively think with our students.

My passion for the theatre builds from this same desire to think with others, to experience a live event among an ensemble of spectators who enliven the artistry of performers through their collective response.  After the applause, we leave the theatre as individuals, and now that we’ve completed our fellows program, we return to our separate classrooms, but richer for the experience of having thought together.  On behalf of this year’s fellows, I would like to thank the Center for Teaching for this experience and Vanderbilt for providing such an excellent and instrumental resource to support our professional development.”

Christin Essin is an Assistant Professor of Theatre History with a doctoral degree from the University of Texas at Austin; she previously received her M.A from Northwestern University and B.A from Wake Forest University.  She joined the department’s faculty in 2011, and her recent book, Stage Designers in Early Twentieth Century America: Artists, Activists, Cultural Critics, examines the cultural roles played by theatre designers during the modern development of their profession. She also has published articles on theatre design history in Theatre Topics and Theatre History Studies.  She teaches THTR 100, Fundamentals of Theatre; THTR 201 and 202W, Development of Theatre and Drama I and II; THTR 204, American Theatre and Drama; and THTR 206W, Contemporary Drama and Performance Criticism.


Applications for 2013-14 are now being accepted until May 15th.
Visit the Junior Faculty Teaching Fellows web page for program
details and online application.



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