May 31, 2005
Student ties remain close to honored mentor Beston
BY chanmi kim
A friendship with someone for more than three years is meaningful. When the number of years exceeds 30, it’s extraordinary.
Alice Benston still keeps in touch with her students from three decades ago. In fact, they are her close friends. Former students not only call to ask for advice or to tell her about an exciting show in town, but they even invite Benston to their weddings and introduce her to their children. Many write to tell her how much she has impacted their lives.
“One of my former students wrote just the other day to tell me he’s still living out of the courses he took with me over 20 years ago,” said Benston, associate professor of theater studies and the 2005 recipient of George P. Cuttino Award for Excellence in Mentoring.
Benston’s classes in theater studies and comparative literature are based on active student participation through discussion and student presentations. “Teaching, to me, is a conversation,” she said. “I work very hard to try to help students to learn, to think and to write on their own. As much as I can, I treat my students as interesting and interested adults. We have a lot of fun.”
While Benston enjoys teaching all her classes, she particularly favors “Shakespeare in Performance,” team-taught with Associate Professor Tim McDonough and designed to incorporate both staging possibilities and literary criticism of Shakespeare’s work. But then again, “to teach Shakespeare is everybody’s treat,” Benston said.
Prior to joining the Emory faculty in 1966, Benston taught at the universities of Rochester and Chicago and at Northwestern University; she received her Ph.D. in comparative literature from Emory in 1961. Benston has published essays on playwrights from Shakespeare to Strindberg, and has done dramaturgical work for both Theater Emory and the Georgia Shakespeare Festival.
While a doctoral candidate at Emory, she saw the need for close mentorship to help Ph.D. candidates get hands-on teaching experience.
She wanted “a very carefully structured program” that would help graduate students develop practical teaching skills, such as making a syllabus or getting experience in the classroom. She envisioned a close relationship between professor and student, in which the student could receive feedback about teaching style and address questions that might not come up in a classroom setting.
Benston’s idea became known as the Teaching Assistant Training and Teaching Opportunity (TATTO) program and was adopted by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1992. In fact, it is now an academic requirement for graduation and a model for similar programs around the country.