If you ask KHS drama students what they hear most often from their teacher/director/coach Dr. Jared Griffin, (besides “learn your lines!”) they’ll probably tell you it’s “Words are food.”
For Griffin, who has taught at Kodiak College for 15 years, that love for language spills into his literature, drama, and writing classes, an etymology column for the Kodiak Daily Mirror, directing and acting in plays, sharing newly released songs as a DJ at KMXT, editing the Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies, and researching and writing a book on epigraphs. If words are food, Griffin doesn’t mind having a full plate.
He recently submitted the final edits for his book, Common and Uncommon Quotes: The History and Rhetoric of Epigraphs, which covers 400 years’ worth of epigraphs. He wanted to explore the ways writers use epigraphs to establish credibility with their readers and to control how their text is interpreted. It’s a book idea that he’s contemplated since grad school. He had to narrow his epigraph examples down to 3,000 for the project.
“You can tell what a literary tradition’s canon is and how that canon changes by looking at who is epigraphed,” he says. “It was fun to research.”
Fall semester 2022 will be Griffin’s nineteenth year of teaching at the college level. The nature of the job has changed in that time, the biggest shift being that 50 to 100 percent of his teaching workload is now online.
Griffin says that teaching online has made him a better written communicator. He’s learned what language works and what doesn’t when giving feedback.
“I think I’m more attuned to student needs in their writing. I can read a draft of their paper once and articulate the biggest things they need to work on. I’m more efficient.”
This semester he experimented with feedback delivered in video form, talking through their draft. “It takes a bit more time, but it felt more engaged with the process.”
“I got into teaching because it’s part helping people, but it’s also part performance. That’s what keeps me going, is the engaging with your student audience. It’s important for me, it makes me feel that I’m doing something good. I get the energy and feedback, which you don’t get with online as much. The energy is different.”
After nearly two decades of teaching, Griffin says, “The challenge is that large parts become rote, the liturgy gets dry. The rituals are there, so you have to find new magic. I’m sure that goes for any job.”
He finds inspiration in reading, and in paying attention to what others are doing in higher education.
“I love to cannibalize ideas,” he laughs. “I think most ideas are cannibalized.”
“I’m always reading about theater and acting and coaching and directing. “I think that translates well to teaching,” he says.
After taking classes in Greek, Roman and Irish theater in college, he set that interest aside for almost a decade. Busy with kids and work and going to school full time, he didn’t really pick it back up until his dissertation was over, the PhD was done, and his job at Kodiak College allowed him that flexibility.
Griffin has coached the Kodiak Middle School drama club for 12 years. He also volunteers with the Shakesbears, Kodiak High School’s drama team, which can take up as much time as teaching. The group spends hours rehearsing each day after school when they’re preparing for drama competitions or working on a performance.
“It’s a lot of theater,” he says.
This spring, he taught middle college classes at KHS, which was the culmination of several years of offering theater class at the college campus and separately doing high school drama competition and a play or two every now and then. “We’ve been able to find a way to bring those two worlds together.”
“I’m thankful for middle college being something new and practical and good. I think we’re moving in the right direction. I’m hopeful.”
He teaches in the drama pod, a small theater space that’s ideal for classes like Theater Appreciation and Fundamentals of Acting.
“It’s a cool way to give them a college experience on an academic level, to see that level of expectation.”
“Working with them keeps my energy up,” says Griffin. “Teaching is so much more about listening. Students will tell you what they need without telling you what they want. Teaching acting helps you intuit a lot of that. And to be more sympathetic, because I see with these kids, their trials and tribulations. It’s taught me patience.”
He says that since the pandemic started, virtually all his deadlines are flexible. “I’m much more gracious than I was 19 years ago with things like deadlines. Everybody’s got their own struggles.”
“I think students become anxious when they bury their needs under what everyone wants and expects of them.” He reminds them that they are more important than the play. They are more important than the essay.