• Katie Jenaway

Tara Gadomski: A Teaching Artist's Reflection (pt 2)

This post continues our reflection series following our first full year of Unscripted Project! Katie Jenaway continues interviewing Tara right where we left off last time. You can read part 1 here.


Katie: What were the benefits of teaching virtually? What did you learn from the challenges of teaching improv virtually?


I really learned to keep trying to engage the students, especially those that weren’t on camera or on audio, and not to give up and let students slip through the cracks. Now, in my classes with less than 15 students, I have 100% participation.

Tara: After every class, the teaching artists fill out a form, which we sort of evaluate how the class went, but we also evaluate our own teaching, like a little self-evaluation of how we did and we could have done better and what we


did well. I think it’s an important tool. I had never been in an organization where I had that tool where we evaluated ourselves like that after every class. I think it’s so good and so important.


Back in the fall, I wrote “I have to get better at chat”. The students would be having these long conversations in chat, and I would be like, “What?! Chat’s happening. I didn’t even know.” But the classroom teachers were great in reminding me, so that was a big learning curve in the first few weeks. Another learning moment for me was that I was over-explaining every game, because when you’re in person, you’re kind of able to just explain it as you do it, but because we were virtual, we couldn’t do that, so I learned to be a bit more succinct in my game explanations, because I was spending so much time on these long explanations.



I really learned to keep trying to engage the students, especially those that weren’t on camera or on audio, and not to give up and let students slip through the cracks. Now, in my classes with less than 15 students, I have 100% participation.


I learned how to engage students in other ways, like through the chat and through audio. Sometimes, we don’t know why they’re not on camera. I had one student who wasn’t allowed on camera, but was so involved in the chat and on audio. Students were able to use emojis in the chat to express how they were feeling.


Katie: What were the positive benefits you saw in your students?


[A high school student] said to me, “Miss Tara, I love your energy, always positive and fun. You made us feel comfortable and remained respectful. You allowed me to take risks, which I don’t often do, while having fun.

Tara: You sometimes get more out of it than the people you’re serving. The students were so kind to one another and showed each other a lot of empathy. I felt personally so inspired by the students in every class.

gif

From the feedback I received, a lot of students said that they felt comfortable taking risks.

A high-school student sent me a private note in the chat on the last day of class, and this student was one that the classroom teacher said might not come on camera because they were having self image issues, but they came on camera almost every week. They said to me, “Miss Tara, I love your energy, always positive and fun. You made us feel comfortable and remained respectful. You allowed me to take risks, which I don’t often do, while having fun.”


Something I got a lot of in the feedback was, “Miss Tara respects us”, and I was like, “Oh, that’s interesting”. I wonder if students in other parts of their life maybe don’t feel respected.

Katie: One of the difficulties for me was not getting that straight feedback from the students, so it was hard to see. What are you getting out of this? Are you getting anything out of this? Is it good? What could we be doing to improve, or make it more fun for you? But after getting feedback later, I saw how much they really did enjoy it.


Was there anything that made you a better teacher?


the student said, I want to make sure that everyone can have a money tree, so everyone can get the money they need, and no one has to be hungry and everyone can get what they need. Basically, he wanted to grow money trees for social equality.

Tara: What I took away was how kind and compassionate the students were to one another, and how kind they were to me and their teachers. That gave me a lot of hope for the future.


This younger generation of people sees the world differently. For example, on the first day of class we ask the students to introduce themselves and their pronouns. Everyone remembered others’ pronouns and used the correct pronouns when addressing their classmates. Just ten years ago, that was unheard of. I’m really excited that this generation of students sees the world in a much more inclusive way.

gif

One example of that was in one class, where in one game students have to pretend they’re being interviewed for a made-up job. The student said that they were a person who grows money trees, and when they were asked why they wanted to be hired for the job, I thought they were going to respond that they wanted it, because they wanted to buy all the stuff.


Instead, the student said, I want to make sure that everyone can have a money tree, so everyone can get the money they need, and no one has to be hungry and everyone can get what they need. Basically, he wanted to grow money trees for social equality. And this was sixth-grade students!


I just felt a lot of hope and I felt inspired by how they saw the world and how they wanted to make the world a kinder, better place.


And that's our interview! While we believe Unscripted Project, and improv education more broadly, was especially important to create community in an otherwise lonely, isolating year, we are excited to be going back into schools in person in the fall. If you are a teacher or administrator interested in bring Unscripted Project to your school in the fall, please contact us.