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Community in the Classroom

Posted By Bethany Lynn Corey, AATE Network Chair; MFA Candidate, University of Texas, Austin, Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Walking into my first day of class for Latino TYA I glanced around to see 16 diverse individuals. The rest of the room featured undergraduates with a range of majors, Spanish language skills, background stories and ethnicities. I was the only graduate student taking the class, I was white and I spoke almost no Spanish. As we introduced ourselves I began to feel the pressure of the labels I would wear in this classroom.

My doubts about the class mounted during our first class discussion, I felt the need to be really articulate as I was the only graduate student in the class and fumbled pronouncing some Spanish. I wanted to be in the class but it made me feel stupid, I worried I was making the graduate program look bad when I wasn’t well spoken. I worried that everyone was judging me for not being more informed on Latino culture, that the rest of the class wondered why I was even there. The real problem was that this first day the other students were all still strangers. 

They had nothing to judge me on other then what they knew- that I was a white female graduate student who didn’t speak Spanish. They were undergraduates, mostly Latino and mostly Spanish-speaking. All we could see was that we were different.

Over the next few weeks we split class time between drama games, discussion groups and reading/writing assignments. While to many on the outside the amount of time spent ‘playing’ may have seemed excessive for a University class, Professor Roxanne-Schroeder-Arce dedicated the first part of class everyday to theatre games. Through theatre games we learned each other’s names, we found things we had in common, we laughed and played. 

We began to trust one another and build a community. Although I’d played most of the games before and had even used them in my own teaching this was the first time I saw a group transformed the way our Latino TYA class was. This group of students who had barely known each other grew to share details of their lives and debate passionately and respectfully on issues related to Latino culture and TYA. At the end of the semester when the class broke into ensembles for a performance assignment everyone was ready to work collaboratively creating some amazing pieces.

As I look back on the Latino TYA class I recognize how essential it was to build a community in that classroom. We never could have accomplished such a high level of work in the performance project or had the depth of discussion around sensitive subjects had we not taken the time to get to know each other and trust one another. As I think about how I felt the first day of class, being labeled for what I was instead of who I was I think about how many students must feel this way in school all the time. I think about the labels placed on children because of their family, their race, their ability or their test scores. 

I recognize how many students go through school, particularly as they enter high school and college, without their teachers or classmates ever knowing who they are. Reminding me about the importance of creating a classroom community with students of all ages. Thinking about my experience in Latino TYA I hope that as I can find ways to use drama to create community in more classrooms. How are you creating community in yours?

Bethany Lynn Corey is a second year MFA candidate at the University of Texas at Austin where much of her current research surrounds Theatre for the Very Young. She has worked nationally and internationally as an actress, director, and teaching artist. She currently serves as co-chair for AATE’s International Network

Tags:  Community  Latina  Latino  TYA 

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