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Home Videos on Teaching DePaul Faculty Oral HistoriesBarry Brunetti
DePaul Faculty Oral Histories: Barry Brunetti

Browse the videos below to hear Barry Brunetti, Head of Theatre Arts and Chair of Theatre Studies in The Theatre School, discuss what keeps him teaching and offer advice to other teachers.


What Keeps Me Teaching: Creating an Environment of Sharing

Featured Faculty Member: Barry Brunetti of The Theatre School.
Music: “July” by Marcel Pequel, courtesy of Free Music Archive. Creative Commons Licensed.
Videographer/Editor: Heather Banas
Interviewer: H. Jean Bryan

From the Transcript

I guess I gave up a long time ago the idea of teaching as representative of a kind of talking head, rather a situation in which I stand in front of a classroom and simply lecture for 60 or 90 minutes, and that kind of instructivist model I think fortunately has gone by the wayside for a lot of people who teach full time because it's so much more than that.

So, it's the dialogue and the exchange that really kind of keeps me going, and the participation on the part of students, that it's not just my sharing the knowledge that I have with them, but also establishing a context in which they can share with each other, and I think that's one of the most important parts of teaching. Students are perfectly capable of helping and assisting in peer teaching, and sometimes the products and the end results that you get from that kind of in-class work is amazing. It's amazing. So, that's what really the focus is for me in terms of what turns me on about the classroom. Discussion, talking, sharing, dialogue, and opening up the floor for all kinds of comments.




What Keeps Me Teaching: Staying Motivated

Featured Faculty Member: Barry Brunetti of The Theatre School.
Music: “July” by Marcel Pequel, courtesy of Free Music Archive. Creative Commons Licensed.
Videographer/Editor: Heather Banas
Interviewer: H. Jean Bryan

From the Transcript

I had an old professor at the University of Pittsburgh who said to us once, “You know, young teachers need at least a half a dozen years before you start to feel comfortable in the classroom.” And then she paused, and then she looked at us, and she said, “Probably more likely ten years.”

And I thought that sounded like an awfully long period of time. But when I really started teaching full time, I realized that what she was saying was absolutely true. That five or six years you begin to kind of figure out what the dynamics of the classroom really are. After ten years, there is the beginning of a real comfort zone, in which you feel, again, at home in the space. That you are in control of the space, and that just continues as you move through. But again, keeping it fresh is crucial. So, as much as we talk about engagement in terms of student learning and student progress, and the dynamic between faculty and student, or students talking between and amongst themselves, I think it's crucial for faculty after they've been teaching twenty, twenty-five, thirty years that they find ways to be self-engaged and self-motivated to keep on going. Right now I teach a class called History in Dramatic Literature, which looks at Dramatic Lit starting from the Greeks. Well, Sophocles and Oedipus Rex don't change. Whether I'm teaching it tomorrow, or whether I taught it fifteen years ago, the play is the same. The history of the Greek city state is pretty much the same. So what do I do to keep it alive and new and fresh for me? Well, I read, I figure out ways by talking to colleagues of different places and different sources where I can find additional information. If you don't do that, I think teachers run the risk of becoming static and bored with what they're doing. And as a result, you know, quite honestly, September is a great time for me every single year because I think, new beginning, new group of students, new ways to hopefully really get it really right this time. So, it's a principle that I think about all the time as I move from quarter to quarter.




What Keeps Me Teaching: Performative Learning

Featured Faculty Member: Barry Brunetti of The Theatre School.
Music: “July” by Marcel Pequel, courtesy of Free Music Archive. Creative Commons Licensed.
Videographer/Editor: Heather Banas
Interviewer: H. Jean Bryan

From the Transcript

I think I learned as I did and continue teaching that in the last 15, 20, 25 years, we've kind of gradually realized that the entire human body is engaged in the learning process.

And as I started to say, yes, obviously I teach theatre and work with actors, so the body is an important part of the teaching and the doing, but I think that kind of performative aspect is something that can be incorporated into literally every class across the disciplines. It's not just classes in which one would assume the body would be intimately involved with learning. And given the fact that we store memory and we store a lot of information in the muscular skeletal system of the body, I try as much as I can to make as many of the activities as performative as possible. Once you get students up and actually doing in a very specific controlled way, the end results are phenomenal. So, I think that's a big change in what has happened in the classroom in the last 20-25 years, that we're starting to admit that students, if we look at them holistically, truly holistically, that students have bodies below the neck and these bodies need to be engaged as much as possible in the learning process. So, that's been a huge change in my own teaching and I continue to try to develop that and expand on that and perfect that even more so.




What Keeps Me Teaching: Staying Fresh

Featured Faculty Member: Barry Brunetti of The Theatre School.
Music: “July” by Marcel Pequel, courtesy of Free Music Archive. Creative Commons Licensed.
Videographer/Editor: Heather Banas
Interviewer: H. Jean Bryan

From the Transcript

I think it's extremely important that teachers themselves find ways to stay fresh, active, engaged. Obviously up to date and well informed.

And, the way I do it, and I know a lot of teachers do not follow this model, this file cabinet that you see behind me is not filled with thirty-five years of tests, and exercises, and activities. Because I firmly decided twenty plus years ago that every group of students that you encounter is truly different. And even if you are teaching the same class or similar classes again, and again, and again, you've got to find ways to mix it up, to make it different, to make it a little more customized for that group of students.




If I Knew Then, What I Know Now: Taking a Breath

Featured Faculty Member: Barry Brunetti of The Theatre School.
Music: “July” by Marcel Pequel, courtesy of Free Music Archive. Creative Commons Licensed.
Videographer/Editor: Heather Banas
Interviewer: H. Jean Bryan

From the Transcript

I think it's important that teachers find ways to find time even in the middle of the class to take a breath, to realize that you can stop talking, you can engage students in an activity in which they're carrying the ball for 10, 15, 20 minutes while the faculty member serves in a more observational capacity.

And of course, the whole context is one of critical response. One responds critically to something a student says, or the students who are sitting in the classroom, not up in front of the class, for example, might ask questions, or ask students who are up there helping teach something to explain something or clarify something. So, it's always meant for more than just getting students to take over the class for 10 or 15 minutes. There's a critical aspect to this, but it also allows the teacher a chance to take a breath. And after 35 minutes of teaching, I think that's important. I think it keeps us fresh. I think it keeps us watching what our students are doing without necessarily always being the one talking, and I think that that is something that I continually try to perfect and to incorporate more and more into the classroom for the simple reason that I think the results prove themselves, how beneficial that really is.




If I Knew Then, What I Know Now: Teacher Talk vs. Student Talk

Featured Faculty Member: Barry Brunetti of The Theatre School.
Music: “July” by Marcel Pequel, courtesy of Free Music Archive. Creative Commons Licensed.
Videographer/Editor: Heather Banas
Interviewer: H. Jean Bryan

From the Transcript

I think novice teachers have an incredible amount of enthusiasm that they take into the classroom with them. I certainly did.

One of the professors that I worked under when I was a grad student and teaching English as a Second Language used to come in to all of our classrooms and observe us for 60 minutes, and she used to do an observation technique in which she would come into the classroom with a legal pad that already had on it . . . let's say the class went from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., and she had already written on her pad, “10:00, 10:01, 10:02, 10:03.” She had gone through the entire 60 minutes, and the only thing she needed to do was to have a watch with a second hand, and at 10:00 if I was saying “Hello” to the students, “How are you,” she simply wrote, “TT,” which meant “teacher talk,” and at 10:01 if I was talking, she wrote, “TT,” and this went on down until 10:59. The first two or three or times that she did that, it was about 80/20 in terms of teacher talk versus ST, student talk, and she looked right at me in her office and she said, “You talk too much, but you're not alone. Every young teacher talks too much.” It taught me an invaluable lesson about learning when to speak and when to keep quiet and let other people speak.




If I Knew Then, What I Know Now: Bringing Life into the Classroom

Featured Faculty Member: Barry Brunetti of The Theatre School.
Music: “July” by Marcel Pequel, courtesy of Free Music Archive. Creative Commons Licensed.
Videographer/Editor: Heather Banas
Interviewer: H. Jean Bryan

From the Transcript

I think that most everything that happens to me in my life feeds my work in some way, and I try to cue students in about the fact that if I'm in the middle of talking about Hamlet and someone should barge into my classroom mistakenly thinking that it is this particular student's classroom or they're 20 minutes early, I find a way usually to use that interruption to come back to what I was doing.

I guess that's probably the theatre person in me, that all of the sensory information that we are continually receiving in our lives somehow is funneled and channeled into the classroom setting and students have even said to me, “That may not be relevant to what we're talking about.” I find a way to show them that it really is relevant, especially for a group of students who are striving to be artists, that the world that frames what we're doing right now in this classroom is your encyclopedia and the ability to be able to take it in and then channel it artistically and creatively is crucial. It's part of what the training program here at The Theatre School is all about, but I also think it works in every other classroom context as well, that that which we encounter around us has to be allowed to come in and be appropriated and assimilated and then funneled in the right direction in terms of whatever is going on academically or pedagogically.