Teaching Traveling: Are you a teacher interested in a great travel and professional development opportunity to study in the United Kingdom for a week or three?
Let’s learn about one of the English in Action – TLab (Teachers Learning Abroad) programs: a chance to study (and act!) Shakespeare in the places where the Bard actually lived and wrote!
To tell us about her experience in this program, we welcome Martha Douglas-Osmundson. Martha, tell us a bit about your background.
Martha: I am originally from New York, but I have been living in Rhode Island for the past 27 years, and in all of that time, I have been teaching English and theatre at North America’s only all-girls Quaker school!
While I was a junior in college — English major, Theatre Arts minor — I studied in London for a semester, and nothing was ever the same for me. All I do, really, is try to sort out ways to get back to that side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Besides teaching English at Lincoln School, I am the founder and director of Shakespeare in the City, a program in which students from between 21-24 schools perform a Shakespeare play together.
TT: Interesting! Tell us about your study abroad experience.
M: In 2009 I attended the Teaching Shakespeare Through Performance program at Shakespeare’s Globe. It was incredible. I made fast friends with several members of the group, and I have enjoyed spending time with several of them even after we returned home.
Three of the participants of that program, Deidre, Annie, and Alison, visited me in Providence from Charleston, Cleveland, and Dallas, respectively, to see my Shakespeare in the City program in action.
The program itself was absolutely thrilling. Patrick Spottiswoode, the education director at the Globe, organized a wonderful program with instructors who are all at the tops of their fields: Glynn Macdonald, the movement director at the Globe, taught us the Alexander technique, one I regularly employ with my students with great results.
The Lively Action instructors gave us countless lessons for making Shakespeare relevant to students. Every day that I teach Shakespeare to my middle school students, I access the ideas I encountered at the Globe.
TT: Love it! Where did the name “TLab” come from?
M: In 2016 I was fortunate to attend Theatre and Performance, a fantastic program in Edinburgh. I applied for the course partly as a teacher of theatre and playwriting and partly as a playwright.
Timing the program during the Fringe and International Festival is genius, as teachers can steep themselves in international culture and art. This soaking up of culture is what gave me the idea for “TLab,” as in “laboratory for teachers” and “Teachers Learning Abroad.”
When the call went out for suggestions to change the name of the program from BUSS, I tried to think of ways to convey the feeling of these experiences as laboratory settings in which we teachers can absorb knowledge and expertise from these incredibly well-designed programs. TLab truly is a laboratory for teachers to experiment with new ideas and bring them back to their students.)
TT: Sweet! How did you find this travel opportunity?
M: I have had experience running ESU Shakespeare Competitions in my home city. (I feel as if I have always known about the ESU: the English Speaking Union of the United States.) Through the ESU I learned about the two programs I attended, and my contacts in the world of the Folger Shakespeare Library programs raved about them.
TT: Fantastic. How did you find the money to fund this travel?
M: My school paid the full amount of my tuition and travel to London in 2009. Last year I won a scholarship through the Newport Branch of the ESU to pay for the Edinburgh program. I applied for these funds in 2009, but the Providence branch (now defunct) had no money, so my school sent me instead.
TT: I’m glad you were able to find funding! I see there are also some scholarships available for these ESU study abroad programs. Now, tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.
M: The Globe program culminates in something called the Midnight Matinee, when the teachers perform scenes they have been rehearsing with Globe actors/teachers. I was one of the Juliets in our “gallop apace” scene.
At one point I was directed to look up and speak the line, “Come, civil night, thou sober-suited matron all in black,” and when I looked up into the night sky through the “O” in the Globe’s ceiling, my breath caught in my throat.
I was acutely aware of being on that stage in that place, and I remember thinking, “Don’t pass out. Say your lines!” Thank goodness for Glynn and her reminding us of the importance of breathing!
TT: Hah! How have your travels impacted you as a teacher and in your current career, and how have your travels impacted you as a person?
M: I don’t think I can adequately recount the ways the Globe and Edinburgh programs have impacted my teaching or my personal life. I learned so very much during the three weeks at the Globe about teaching Shakespeare and about my strengths and areas to work on, it is (honestly!) with me every day.
I pass on the lessons on reading, movement, voice, and stage presence I learned from Patrick, Glynn, Yolanda, Chris, Adam, et al every day. My Edinburgh tutor, Mark Brown, opened my eyes to theatre so that my playwriting is already stronger and techniques I learned from the poets and playwrights I met there have deepened and therefore improved my playwriting.
Two of my students won major prizes in playwriting this year, so that is tangible proof of what I see in my classroom and in my students’ writing every day.
Personally, the friends I made on these journeys are friends for life, and nothing can take away all I learned and the relationships we ignited thanks to those programs.
TT: So beautiful. What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?
M: Don’t be afraid to go to a city you’ve never been to or one you thought you knew. Steeping yourself in a passion such as theatre or writing will bring you in touch with your people, and nothing will be the same again.
Your teaching will be more exciting as your knowledge deepens with experience, and you will be forever changed!
TT: Thanks so much, Martha. Readers, what questions or comments do you have?
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