Passion, Performance, and Persona

As a high school student, my favorite teacher was a man who used to perform at the Second City, a Chicago comedy club known for sketch comedy and improv. His teaching style was dynamic and mobile. He used his voice and his body as props, employing pitch, tone, and volume, hand gestures, and movement throughout the room to direct our attention. In other words, his skills and experience as a performer translated into effective and engaging classroom teaching. He was passionate about his work and he knew how to convey that enthusiasm to his students.

As educators in the field of human sexuality, one might think that our classes, workshops, seminars, and courses would be inherently interesting! Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Even this subject can be rendered uninteresting by dispassionate lecturing or dull PowerPoint presentations filled with overwhelming amount of text. What can we do to avoid these kinds of pitfalls?

In an interview with the authors of Acting Lessons for Teachers, a book about developing the performance skills that may aid in enthusiastic teaching, Dr. Mester asserts that “both teachers and actors must fundamentally capture and hold listener attention” and that “attention is prerequisite to learning.” She and Dr. Tauber suggest that future teachers master methods that help to capture and keep the attention of an audience or a classroom full of students. They encourage the use of voice, expressions, hand gestures, movement, props, role play, and many others.

Beyond the learning of skills lies the deeper issue of self-awareness and presentation of self on the part of the educator. The writers of Acting Lessons for Teachers and many other resources (see below) believe that in order to be an effective and confident educator, armed with the aforementioned theatrical techniques, one must also develop an identity or a persona that is specific to the classroom. Hanning, the author of Act like a Teacher, suggests that future educators try on various roles, testing which aspects of themselves fit into the classroom. Fried, who wrote The Passionate Teacher, suggests that good and passionate teaching needs to be backed by a thoughtfully developed stance on or approach to teaching, including identifying core values and beliefs.

Much like a student preparing for a presentation or an actor preparing for the stage, it couldn’t hurt sexuality educators to rehearse and to practice these skills and the roles represented by their developing personas. Make a plan for your timing and delivery. Check your facial expressions and your hand gestures. Become more intentional in your movement around the room. Be conscious of the fact that, throughout the lesson, you are the tool. You are the vehicle for delivering information and the catalyst for learning. Be passionate!

For additional information, check out:

Alternately, if you’re a current Center for Human Sexuality Studies student at Widener University, keep an eye out for Don Dyson’s absolutely excellent elective course, Kinesthetic Teaching in Sex Ed. 😉


Fried, R. L. (1995). The passionate teacher: a practical guide. Boston: Beacon Press.

Hanning, R. W. (1984). The classroom as theater of self: some observations for beginning teachers. ADE Bulletin, (77), 33-37.

Hart, R. (2007). Act like a teacher: teaching as performance art. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA.

Tauber, R. T., & Mester, C. S. (2007). Acting lessons for teachers using performance skills in the classroom (2nd ed.). Westport, Conn.: Praeger.

3 responses to “Passion, Performance, and Persona

  1. Yes, yes, and yes! It is so important to keep one’s self in check while teaching. Thank you for the wonderful additional information links. I particularly like the “Developing your teaching persona” worksheet because although I had thought through some of these things before, I need to spend more time considering all of my teaching characteristics and come up with a game plan. Sometimes it’s the things not said that are the hardest.

  2. I really enjoyed the link you posted about using acting skills in the classroom. One of the teachers interviewed said that she would tell the new teachers to “be yourself” but later realized that this was not good advice because the teachers didn’t yet have a “teacher self”. The few times I’ve been in front of a classroom I’ve tried to approach the room as though I were an enthusiastic teacher-using the “fake it ’til you make it” model- and usually I can become that kind of teacher. If you’ve ever had Dr. Dyson, you can really see his acting background in the way he leads lessons.

  3. I like your point about developing one’s teaching “persona”. I struggled with different approaches in the classroom, and still try to develop myself in this way. It’s interesting that the person I view myself as, and the person I offer in a classroom setting, are not necessarily the same person: I feel like I get caught between being THE tool, and being A tool, in an attempt to maintain my student’s attention. Haha! I’ll admit, I’m still honing my craft…

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