My Professor and a Piece of Toilet Paper

Regardless of who you are, whether you’re a prospective Dordt student or a current Dordt student or a Dordt parent or a Dordt alum or someone loosely associated with Dordt, I know that you’re probably tired of hearing certain Dordt buzzwords, community being a prime example. We Dordtians tend to talk a lot about how the people are what makes this place so special, whether we’re referring to our roommates, our classmates, our residence life staff, our chaplain, our admissions counselors, our President, our professors, etc. And the more we talk about how these people set us apart from other institutions, the more cliché the term community becomes.

However, I firmly believe that clichés are cliché for a reason, so please bear with me for 696 more words as I introduce you to Dr. Teresa Ter Haar, the head of our theatre department.

Teresa certainly fills the professor role well, as she’s incredibly knowledgeable and experienced in all areas of theatre, from acting to directing to designing to teaching. She instructs us verbally, explaining various theatrical tactics and walking us through theatre history, all the while using her own theatre skills to make lessons engaging. Theatre, by nature, is collaborative. So, while we undoubtedly learn from Teresa, she also creates room for us to learn from each other. Our classes are always discussion based, and Teresa is always interested in what new information we can provide to enhance the classroom experience.

And yep. You read that correctly. I called my professor by her first name with no title. That’s what she prefers; in fact, that’s what all Dordt's theatre professors prefer.

Teresa also instructs us experientially, allowing us to practice what we read on her PowerPoint slides. This way, Teresa helps us fully understand what her verbal bits of advice breathe like on our own bodies, which is essential to becoming a skilled artist. She knows each student’s specific passions, and she works those interests into her lesson plan. For example, in theatre history class yesterday, my hopeful-director self was given the director position in an ancient-Greek scene we were working on. In Teresa’s educational theatre course last semester, for another example, my classmates and I taught real theatre courses, both in workshop format as part of Sioux Center Arts program and in real classrooms at Unity Christian high school. Because she cares about developing the skills we’ll need when we’re no longer classified as college students, she goes out of her way to give us identical experiences now. Of course, she’s also thoughtful in casting her mainstage productions, giving roles/design positions to those who demonstrate the potential to develop necessary skills, not always to those who already possess them. Teresa sees everything as a learning opportunity, and that sort of outlook inspires us all to learn alongside her.

Our interactions with Teresa are not limited to the classroom or even to campus, though. Essentially, while still maintaining her authority and position as our professor, Teresa is also our friend -- and not only because she was my first professor to send me a friend request on Facebook!

At the end of my freshman year, I joined some senior theatre students in Teresa’s backyard with Teresa’s beautiful family for a graduation BBQ she coordinated, celebrating four years of collaborating with the students who began as strangers and became a theatre family.

Yep. You read that correctly. Teresa hosted a party for her students. At what other college does this happen?

Last summer, one of my jobs included co-directing two shows in my hometown. With Teresa’s help, I turned this project into an independent study, reading a few of Teresa’s favorite books and Skyping with her throughout the rehearsal process.

Yep. You read that correctly. I Skyped my professor over summer vacation, partially for academic purposes and partially to catch up and giggle with her two daughters. At what other college does this happen?

And when I sent Teresa a Saturday-afternoon email to let her know that I was officially changing my major to theatre (see other blog post), she read the news with an audible squeal of joy. Her daughter Katie overheard the squeal, asked what sparked it, and proceeded to join Teresa in celebrating the fact that I was going to make my home in the theatre pod. In fact, Katie made me a cute drawing on a toilet-paper square as a celebratory gift.

Again, at what other college does this sort of community happen? It’s the difference between signing an email with “Dr. Ter Haar” and beginning it with “Hello, friends!” It’s the difference between having students make appointments to meet with professors and having an office pod with couches and coffee so students can work alongside and live in relationship with their professors. It’s the difference between a student asking a professor an academic question and a professor asking a student what God’s up to in their life.

And as far as I’ve heard, this difference is pretty unique to this place I call home.