Photo: Taneli Tuovinen
The students' intervention at EMMA – Espoo Museum of Modern Art.

Experiences from the teaching practices

The master's students of the Theatre Academy studying in the programmes for dance and theatre pedagogy work in various contexts during their teaching practice periods. This text is a peek into the experiences of six MA students as they've concluded their teaching practice 1. What did their work consist of? Where did they teach? And what did they find fulfilling or challenging during their practice?

”From a professional point of view, the biggest wake-up call was that I felt — tremendously — that I was committed to the kind of teaching that I want to do as my profession," tells Esko Korpelainen. ”I loaded myself with pressure before the occasions: is this what I've thought I've wanted, what if this goes horribly, what if in this context I'm a measly teacher? However, these doubts disappeared quickly and teaching was best 'here and now'.”

Esko, who taught at the Theatre I -class at the Lahti Adult Education Centre (Lahden kansanopisto), built his teaching practice from improvisational exercises on stage, shared conversations and meditation. The themes that rose from the practice will likely follow Esko to the master's thesis process: "For me, the biggest finding was the essence of emptiness in the improv exercises happening on an empty stage. With improvisation, these spaces are filled, something new is born in them. I was left asking, how does this emptiness take place? What is the emptiness like? Is the empty space somehow the goal of a teacher and the core of learning? The finding was so interesting that I'll probably continue researching it in my thesis."

He mentions the distinctiveness of the institution in which he taught: “The students are highly motivated young adults who yearn to be part of the theatre industry. Their willingness to learn is very high. I felt privileged to teach in those circumstances."

Johanna Perttunen, who taught character work at the Kallio high school, is also very complimentary toward her students. "They were highly skilled and motivated! The Kallio high school is full of marvellous people, and for example working with my supervising teacher was very rewarding." Johanna also mentions, how the teaching practice included a four-day workshop in which the local students created a small performance together with visiting high-school students from Frankfurt.


Diverse work happening in multiple projects

The teaching practices are some of the larger modules in the studies, and they can be undertaken in multiple projects. Laura Humppila, a theatre teacher student, split hers into three parts: a physical theatre course at The Finnish Adult Education Centre of the City of Helsinki, a performance skill and choreography course at the Sibelius Academy for Bachelors of Music students in singing, and a series of workshops on composition held in various locations in Ecuador. ”All of these focus on physical theatre and directing holistic, movement-oriented expression", Laura explains. "At the Sibelius Academy, bringing the theatre and choreography exercises together with the practicalities of a singer's profession, for example in opera, felt very relevant."

”At this point I've held the courses set in Finland. I think the workshops in Ecuador will teach me a lot in a different way due to us working in very diverse communities, in a culture I don't yet know. And in Spanish, which is bound to make everything interesting due to difficulty of making oneself understood within the boundaries of a foreign language." Laura mentions that the teaching practice projects that have already taken place, have been fulfilling. "When you're an aficionada of something, it's easy to become blind to how thrilling and new it can be. The course at the Finnish Adult Education Centre was a good reminder about how exciting and idea-inducing physical theatre exercises can be to someone coming from a very speech-based theatre background, or a teacher who's into drama." 

Verna Laine (TEO) did her teaching practice in two parts. ”At the folk high school Työväen Akatemia I worked as a movement director and a choreographer in the acting class's production, Aiskhylos's Oresteia trilogy. I worked on realising the choreography of the fighting scenes and the scene changes, and taught the movement choir with exercises drawing from the Suzuki method and Meyerhold's Biomechanics technique." 

”At the Theatre Academy, my classmate and I held entry-level acrobatics lessons,” Verna explains. ”Our pedagogical approach was focusing on the individual learner. We aimed at creating an environment in which to dare try things within one's own boundaries. We taught acrobatics but tried to steer away from the tradition of how acrobatics are often taught." 

Part of Nóri Varga's (TEO) teaching practice was held at EMMA – Espoo Museum of Modern Art, where a group of multidisciplinary students created interventions at The Man Who Fell from Earth exhibition (read more here). ”Our goal as a group was to create an event what make the participants think through relevant questions connected to gender representation, neoliberalism, culture as power, capitalism, alienated bodies and pop art. One of our goals was to help the participants to reinterpret their positions as visitors, cultural consumers and the importance of the museum space."

The other project, at the All Our Children non-profit organisation, focused on the creation of anti-racist, non-verbal art workshops honouring diversity. ”I wanted to offer different perspectives to the participants, and it was very hard because of the limits of reflectivity of a nonverbal processes. I used visual and theatrical metaphors to pose some questions on racism. For me the language I use has importance, as it can reinforce or change the usual power structures. For this reason I decided to use Hungarian — a language nobody knew — as the language of the instructions. ”


Observations and feedback

Many students have a lot of work experience as they enter the two-year master's studies. This can be seen in the variety of tasks done as part of the teaching practices. For example, dance pedagogy student Eevamari Kitti observed the practicalities of implementing the new curriculum at her long-time work place Vantaa Dance Institute.

”I focused on the 7 and 8 year old's, as they are the ones affected by the new curriculum that we are implementing in stages. The most important 'finding' was that in fact the curriculum is working alright already, even though it hasn't fully been taken up yet", she tells about her observations. "On the other hand, the teachers at the institute created the curriculum together, so it is not surprising that their vision of good dance education is clear in it."

Eevamari noted the personal ways in which her colleagues teach dance: "It was fulfilling to see how the teachers approached dance in such different, yet pedagogically justifiable ways. Each had their own personal way of working, but the shared values of the community could be seen there." She encouraces teachers to attend each other's lessons: "I learned from each of them myself and gained new perspectives on my own view of teaching dance."

She began a plan of thematic discussions to be held at the institute. As part of it, Eevamari sent her observations to the other teachers. "It was challenging to give feedback so that it doesn't become a critique of a colleague's teaching skills, yet so that it helps the receiver to reflect on and develop their own teaching."

Laura also had pondered on the questions regarding giving feedback. She mentions how many a participant may want direct answers and harsh feedback. "'Am I good at this, how can I be better at this?'. It might work for some techniques of physical theatre, those where a certain aesthetic is included in the technique, but ultimately my own thinking doesn't fit in that mould. Physical expressions is so attached to the performer's body. I feel ever more strongly that the most key aspect is encouraging the learner to find the aesthetic of their own body and use it. The pedagogue and student's dialogue can help find the ways." 

“Physical theatre and performing offer windows to share with others, share the common yet personal art of imagination", she concludes.

How something is taught must be taken into consideration as well as what is being taught. As the person in the teaching position what I say and do can affect the learner's experience on a fundamental level", says Verna when reflecting on the notions that have been reinforced during her teaching practice. "Pedagogy is not separate from art but an essential part of it." 


The text has been collected and edited from the students' (Finnish and English) emails.