Meet Michelle Haner
Country of origin: American (though my mother is English, so that part of my heritage means a lot to me).
Languages spoken: English, French and Spanish.
Year joined the faculty: 2006
Subjects taught: Theater in grades 9-12 (including the IB Theater course)
Michelle graduated Phi Beta Kappa/Magna Cum Laude from Harvard University from its all-honors "Social Studies" program (an interdisciplinary social science, philosophy, economics program) and also received a Certificate in Latin American Studies. At Harvard she was especially proud to receive the Hammond Prize for outstanding senior thesis on a Latin American topic, for her thesis on popular opposition to Pinochet in the Chilean shantytowns, the fruit of living and researching in the shantytowns over the course of a summer.
Other diplomas include a Certificate in Political Studies from Sciences Po, Paris; a Masters (with highest honors) in Theater from the Sorbonne (with specialization on Paul Claudel and Antoine Vitez) an MFA from UCLA (in Theater) and also completion of a 2-year professional training program in physical theater from L'Ecole Jacques LeCoq in Paris - training ground of many great world artists in physical, collaborative and experimental theater. There, like here, the perspective is truly international, as each class represents students from all corners of the globe.
Q. What led you to become a teacher?
Both my parents are educators and I've always frankly loved the spaces dedicated to "learning" - from primary school through university. Ever since high school, I have always taught in some capacity. I began by tutoring for supplementary income when I was in college and later when acting in LA. I also taught at a Business School (l'IPAG) in France and taught acting at Chapman University and UCLA, not long before coming to IHS. I love teaching and working with young people, finding that in the process, you are forced to continually re-examine, synthesize and articulate your own understanding. Some say "if you can't do, you teach" - but in my experience teaching is a fantastic route to deepening and gaining clarity on what you "do" - and "why". Working with bright, creative young people also keeps me humble; they have a freshness of perspective and a connection to the pulse of the unfolding future, which teaches me much - and keeps me on my toes! Without teaching, I fear I would fall into a certain complacency - thinking I "knew it" and had "done it"; teaching helps me rediscover what I have learned and demands that I learn more every year, about my subject area and the craft of teaching itself.
Q. What drew you to French American / International?
The international faculty and European sensibility; the motivated and talented students; the school's dedication to and investment in the arts, as an essential facet of eduction, culture and its own community.
Q. What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
The students! No doubt about it. They bring great creativity, commitment and talent to their work, in classes and beyond. It is a pleasure to accompany them and see them grow over the four years.
Q. Can you describe an in-class exercise/experiment that especially engages students?
In theater classes, students are continually creating their own work - so it is an on-going experiment. Often in the first days of classes I get them "used to" this expectation by having them create a short solo piece with just 10-15 minutes of preparation time. They are asked to tell the story of their summer in a very short 2-3 minute piece comprised of seven frozen tableaux, three of which may come "to life". They are asked to also integrate movement, text and song to hereby use the tools of live theater to capture, very succinctly, not just the events, but the feeling, atmosphere, highs and lows of their summer experience. In this way, just as they might write a short essay or create a picture to communicate something of their summer, they begin to use theater as a tool to "tell a story." As the classes unfold, this kind of on-going creativity and readiness to undertake and share work with others becomes the norm and paves the way for more elaborate ensemble creations.
Q. Can you recall a specific moment when a student taught you something?
One that leaps to mind is Kayla Cushway (class of 2012). Kayla, while a dedicated theater student, was and remains set on becoming a doctor, focused on cancer treatment in particular. For her IB senior theater project, she wanted to take on a theater project that would be connected to this passion, so she created an original piece in which she interviewed cancer patients at a ward where she was volunteering. From these interviews, she selected excerpts, memorized them and then brought them to life, "inhabiting" the people with gesture, movement and vocal inflection. The material she collected through this piece had so many powerful, poignant moments, in which people who she knew really fairly fleetingly, spoke frankly of their illness, their fears, their longings and their life philosophies. As she incarnated these voices, with great simplicity and truth, it really taught me anew the power of theater to allow us to "walk in the shoes of others" and also to share and communicate experience and wisdom. It also made me think about time and how precious it is to take the time to ask people about what really matters to them, and to take the time to really listen, as Kayla had done in this case. I like to think I do this often - but in truth, Kayla's work made me reflect on this deeply and take stock in my own life; it made me think about the ways I too may rush or simply not take time to see those around me. It made me think about how theater is about time, taking the time to hear, to see, to show up - live and in person ... and that may make it fleeting, but also gives it a power that I think is lasting and vital in this era of digital rush and information saturation (however empowering and exciting that may be in other ways). I try to remember Kayla's work often as I meet with students and also as I strive to teach them to take this time - to listen, observe and share - here and now.
Q. What would you tell incoming 9th graders about attending International High School?
The school is challenging - but so rich with opportunity - for travel, arts, academics, athletics. Also, it is a space in which they can carve out and create their own opportunities. I would tell them to allow themselves to jump in and explore it all - to both take on the things they already love, but also to go places or do things they never imagined before. I would also tell them, however, to not necessarily try to do it "all at once", but trust that they can make choices and take some time, that they have four years to experiment and explore. I think it is important in this often demanding environment, to also carve out some downtime and space to absorb, reflect and also play.
Q. What do you see as the key benefits of the French/International Baccalaureate?
The IB is rigorous, world-recognized and global in its perspective. The IB trains you to have an international outlook; it integrates, in each discipline, diversity of culture and perspective. This is of course valuable in the marketplace of the unfolding future. It is also valuable in preparing students to be future citizens, parents, leaders and community members who can understand the complexity of the world and be prepared to take on its great challenges.