Yesterday, Upper School English teacher Ms. Abigail Chen and Mr. Cory Edwards received the 2017 Joanna Nichols Award for Excellence in Teaching and Professional Development.
“I couldn’t hear the crowd [during the award presentation] because I was so nervous about tripping,” says Ms. Chen. “I just wanted to make it to the stage in one piece.” Teaching has always been her dream job. “I have wanted to be a teacher since middle school, and I used to imagine how my classroom would look. Right now, it does look like what I imagined: a lot of books and kind of messy.”
According to her freshmen students, Ms. Chen is the kind of teacher that is willing to talk about anything. Julie O. (‘20) says, “We always stay after class to talk to Ms. Chen because she’s not just an English teacher. She cares. She’s always open to answering questions about feminism!” When asked why she was chosen for the award, she said, “I don’t know. But the other teachers who have been chosen in the past years have had strong relationships with students. I’ve always tried to teach from an act of love, as opposed to being a ‘scary’ teacher.
Despite being a performing arts teacher, Mr. Edwards also could not help but let nerves take over him: “I was thinking about not tripping as I walked up the steps, but also, how thankful I am that I work for an Administration that provides incredible support for the performing arts.”
Reflecting back on his own learning experiences and insights he gained, Mr. Edwards recounts, “My most influential teacher was a theater professor at University. Her teaching approach was simple: she wanted to give her students the skills to become powerful storytellers. She was kind, full of love, and always based her teaching style on the fact that each student was different but had so much to offer the world of art. It was not about reaching Broadway, but for her, it was about collaboration, communication and love.”
“My favorite part about teaching Theater is of course seeing the growth of my students in the craft of acting,” says Mr. Edwards. “I love watching my students achieve something they never thought was possible. Along the way, the relationships developed will always be a part of me and that gift keeps on giving well beyond the black box walls.”
When teaching, Mr. Edwards likes to keep a William Ball quote in mind: “Limitation is the springboard of Creativity.” He explains, “This quote can be interpreted in so many ways, but for me, it is about empowering all students (who often feel limited) to reach beyond their potential as storytellers. I also feel that the best performances are often built around simplicity – allowing the audience to imagine the rest.”