College of Fine Arts

Michael O’Hara: Teaching at Center of O’Hara’s Artistic Life

By Michael O'Hara, Associate Professor of Theatre
Winner of the 2005 College of Fine Arts Dean's Teaching Award


My philosophy of teaching is based on the premise that I am a teacher first and everything else (artist, scholar, director, writer, etc.) second. I believe that successful teaching occurs when students become self-empowered, and therefore capable of extending their learning far beyond my brief time with them. I believe that any moment or any activity is a potential teaching and learning opportunity. Indeed, we can never know what remark or what comment will stick with a student for a lifetime. Therefore, when I direct or write plays or films, I try to balance both the artist and teacher within. The teacher wins, however, if a student is at risk or a learning opportunity emerges.

I have also developed a significant research interest in pedagogy since my arrival at Ball State in 1997, and I find that my scholarly interests in Bernard Shaw have deepened as I see rich connections between pedagogical concerns and Shaw's life and work.

I am particularly energized to be teaching theatre, as the art form is essentially about creating, communicating, and apprehending meaning. When students realize they cannot be passive in that process--in academic, social, political, or cultural arenas--powerful learning takes place. Theatre classes are ideal instruments for exploring meaning because theatre classrooms are performance spaces as well as pedagogical spaces. Studying theatre allows us to measure ourselves and our assumptions against both the urgencies of the present moment and the introspection of reflective analysis. All cultures develop some theatrical expression, which offers fertile ground for exploring other times, ethnic groups, and cultural perspectives. Finally, the skills and concepts taught in theatre classes have power and application across the curriculum and throughout our lives.

My teaching is at the center of my professional and artistic life, and it informs and strengthens my scholarly, creative, and service activities. I am very proud of and grateful to my students, who I believe have given more to me than I have given to them. The real joy, the real power, the real stuff of teaching and learning occurs in the connections that we make, student and teacher, as human beings struggling to know ourselves and our world more thoroughly, more thoughtfully, and more compassionately.