I’m having a day…

Today I have 6 girls in my classroom for over an hour.  Two are crazy loud mouth feisties, two are painfully shy, and two are pretty middle of the road.  I try to talk one through a tantrum over her grade which actually really seems unfair and I am wondering if the teacher really is doing something wrong.  I look up her grades, talk her down, make a deal with her before she goes to speak with this teacher.  Talk to the next one about her grades and talk her into doing her DDM.  I’ve talked about them before, they are tests I have to give because my district needs to check that I am teaching them something, eight million ways none of which they really check!!  The post test is a cold read performance of a monologue which I have to film.  I get her to do it and she rocks it.  The other girls comes back, she kept her temper I am very proud of her, but basically had the door shut in her face and now needs me to call the office so she can get a bus pass and let her into the bathroom and needs me to explain to her why she is also going to do her cold read,  Meanwhile all the other girls are asking about their grades and I go over it with them all.  One girl is asking about make up work when she missed a performance.  I get girl number two to do the cold read and to get shy girl number one to feel comfortable enough to do an actual very simple thing, but she’s shaking her head and hiding under her bangs so I try to duck into another class with her but none are empty and she comfortable nowhere, so I let that go for a min, talk to shy girl number two who is also sometimes nasty and rude into a comfortable state and she does hers.  she decides she’s just going to read it.  That’s not…give me your best…yea…THEN I usher out all the other five girls some of whom are playing soccer in my room.  After conversations about how R. has changed and doesn’t fight anymore, she lists names and names of girls she didn’t fight, T. makes a beyond her years comment to the likes of:  “but that’s the people you shouldn’t fight because you have a past connection with them…”  then we talk with her about her reading struggles and her acting triumphs.  I talk with C. about how I just found out bullying was happening to her in my room, and had I known, and it was important to me for her to know that…AND I need to sign everyone’s attendance buy back paperwork.  AND go over when why they were absent, whether it was excused, if it has to be made up…

Then…it is just shy girl number one and I left.  Alone, and she can finish her DDM because she cannot do it in front of ANYONE.  She starts, stammers, has to restart, holds her hand to her throat consistently.  Yet, she kind of really rocks it, using different voices for the girl when she’s being fake and the girl when she is admitting what she really thinks in her head, great emotion in her voice even some gestures…such growth! so proud of all of them!

This was only what happened after school today.

I am finally done, heading home…and I cry.  I cry because I haven’t told you about the rest of the day.  Another story for another day…soon, cuz there’s some doozies of stories to tell.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: These Terrorist Attacks Are Not About Religion

As a Drama teacher I always struggle with make up work, sub work, those kinds of things. You have to be in my class to get something out of it! You have to participate. I read this article and decided this is certainly something I would use as paper sit work of any kind with my classes. I would attach some questions to the article and they’d have to read and write.  I think this article was well written and what needed to be said and my students need to hear it. I’ve known this about myself as a teacher for a long time, I am not above indoctrination. I would sometimes really like to influence my students belief system. I value being some one who says what I deem the good things. So I think if I need to have work for a sub or something, great articles like these are the good ones to choose.  Hehe, sorry parents, yes I am trying to fill your kids heads with love… Now if only Time would let me copy and paste this article. SHHHHH! Don’t tell them!

TIME

Another horrendous act of terrorism has taken place and people like myself who are on media speed-dial under “Celebrity Muslims” are thrust in the spotlight to angrily condemn, disavow, and explain—again—how these barbaric acts are in no way related to Islam.

For me, religion—no matter which one—is ultimately about people wanting to live humble, moral lives that create a harmonious community and promote tolerance and friendship with those outside the religious community. Any religious rules should be in service of this goal. The Islam I learned and practice does just that.

Violence committed in the name of religion is never about religion—it’s ultimately about money. The 1976 movie, All the President’s Men, got it right when it reduced the Daedalus maze of the Watergate scandal to the simple phrase, “Follow the money.” Forget the goons who actually carry out these deadly acts, they are nothing more than automated drones…

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What would I tell a first year drama teacher?

Don’t walk around like you are Shakespeare reincarnated and can teach them everything they need for a good performance. Why? Because this:

Are you an amazing Shakespearean actor, both in tragedy and comedy?

Can you juggle?

Can you do and teach light design, make up, sound design, and set design?

Can you krump, stomp, step, do ballet, break dance, and spit sick bars? Can you sing?

Can you do stage combat and sword fight?

Can you get reluctant painfully shy people confident enough to make fools of themselves in front of vast crowds while also projecting their voice? Can you get the spotlight hogger to actually work as a not crazy but supportive member of an ensemble?

Can you speak eight languages, play four instruments, write music, film good video and edit it?

Can you write a play? Something they’ll actually liiiikkkkeeeee

Can you get them to stop talking while you are?

Can you find a way to have everyone being an engaged angel even though every scene you’d like to rehearse doesn’t always have every one of your thirty students in so that when administration comes in they are not angry and disappointed with you even though they have no understanding or experience with the creative process?

Oh I forgot, can you make masks, Balinese shadow puppets, sew, and do the type of acrobatics where people hang from the ribbons that are somehow attached to the ceiling?

Oh, no? Not all of that. So be humble. But play to your strengths.

Here is good news: You have experts on many of those things in your room. Elevate them to the status of co-designer, collaborator, coexpert. They’ll rise to the occasion and you will not be let down.

Also, don’t be snobby. Sure, teach them Shakespeare and get them to love it, but a scene about a boyfriend and girlfriend breaking up or a student’s own spoken word poem in ALSO theatre. Start with the fun easy stuff. Get them to love theatre and then hit them with Shakespeare and Antigone and character analysis. They’ll be addicts at that point and they’ll be much more obliged to oblige you.

Start with being the director. Tell them what they are doing and give them a script. Assign the parts yourself and tell them all the blocking and why. Then give them the reins to create devised theatre. They will have more conceptual knowledge and you’ll get more out of them than strange looks.

If you are the only thing the program has, start out small. Scenes from a play rather than a whole play. A short one act, improv. If you are entering a place with a rich tradition and lots of support, go big, they’ll get swept up in the challenge and won’t feel like you’re dumbing things down for them.

If your friend starts a sentence with, hey my job is getting rid of a bunch of stuff… stop her right there. Ask her when you can come and get whatever it is. Props man! Costumes, man! Be a hoarder!

It’s ok to drink, to weap, to pitch a fit. Don’t do them in front of your students. Everyone thinks jobs teaching in the arts are easy and fun! They are not. Just let people be dumb. They always are.

Go big or go home, tell them theatre and all of the arts can be life changing, and have grand social impact, is worth every sacrifice imaginable. Tell them you will start small and let them lead the rest of the way. Tell them this course is only the beginning, but theatre is magic! It can take you to Hogwarts or Middle Earth or to Africa with Simba or wherever that cute little town in Gilmore Girls is. Theatre is amazing. Don’t down play that.

To be honest, these pearls of advice mostly come from my own screw ups this year.  I’ll keep you updated on how well I take my own advice.

You can never shut the teacher off

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We rented Guardians of the Galaxy last night and I loved it.  Rocket, the wise ass genetically modified raccoon was my favorite.  He gets angry at all the heroic-self-sacrificing-non-logical-thinking friends of his and pitches a fit.  You.  Are.  Making.  Me.  Kick.  Grass.
I died.  So funny.
I quickly decided the next time my class drove me crazy I was going to do exactly the same thing.  There I go, found a tension splitting classroom management technique from a quirky space movie.
Ok, I lied earlier.  Groot was my favorite.  Such a beautiful, really innerly beautiful concept.  (Maybe I didn’t lie.  Maybe Rocket is the devil on one shoulder and Groot in the angel on my other.)  Throughout the beginning of the movie all Groot can say is “I am Groot.”  Through the middle of the movie he says this but Rocket, his bestie, can actually understand and responds to his friend although all anyone else gets out of it is “I am Groot.”

So, bam, theatre improv game called “I am Groot.”  I shall share it with you.  Someone is Groot and can only say “I am Groot.”  They are given a situation: Groot is your bestie and is asking you why you are sad today.
Or, Groot is a police officer and you are getting arrested.  or reverse those roles.
The other person needs to respond to Groot as if he or she is really having the conversation.

It can go like this:
Situation:
Regular person:  Police officer
Groot:  Getting arrested

Reg:  Excuse me could you please pull your car over?
Groot:  I am Groot.
Reg:  That’s nice, pull over.
Groot:  I am Groot.
Reg:  Do you know why I am arresting you?
Groot:  I am Groot!
Reg:  Yes, Arresting you.  DO you know what the charges are?
Groot:  I am Groot?
Reg:  A ticket?  There is no ticket for this offense, sir.  You evaded police in this stolen vehicle.
Groot:  I am Groot.
Reg:  This is not your grandmother’s car.  This car belongs to a 23 year old man.
Groot:  I am Groot.
Reg:  Well, gosh, I’m sorry you had to find out this way.  I guess finding out your grandmother is a car thief can really put a damper on your day.

In the spirit of sharing theatre resources with you, I will also share the rules of improv.  These are the rules “I wrote” and how I explain them to my students.  Disclaimer:  I did not come up with these.  They are simply a mix of rules I’ve been taught by many directors and I am sure are published in many books on the subject.  They are commonly known rules, this is just how I put them to my kids:
1.  Always say yes.  This means, go with the flow, don’t make someone else feel stupid if they bring up an idea.  Say yes.
2.  Do not think.  Thinking doesn’t belong here.  This is car with no breaks, baby!  If you think before driving this car you never will.  So don’t think.
3.  Don’t say disrespectful things.  Don’t use this as a chance to pick on someone.  Don’t use it to be offensive to any group of people.
4.  Don’t say/do things that will get me fired if an administrator walks in.
5.  Feel free to fail, for the scene to flop, maybe you get out there and you can’t think of any thing funny or anything at all.  No tickets were bought for this show, no one is going to demand their money back.  The important thing is that you walked into the scene and you tried.
6.  The rules matter.  Listen and pay attention to the constructs of the scene before you start.  To mess up is to be forgiven, to have not listened all class is to now make a fool of yourself.

How I scaffold things for my students:  They see improv youtube videos.  Then they do improv writing where they have to write things without thinking on the spot quickly.  It shows them they do have ideas in their heads.

I will share with you how this goes over in my classes when I try it.  It may have to be until after the semester switches over but I am very much looking forward to trying this out!

How do you prepare for class on Monday when you know a student has been shot?

I began this blog wanting to have resources for other teachers.  I didn’t want it to be this type of resource, but my school has gotten better at handling these type of crises.  This is not our first student we have lost to gun violence.  We have a very caring and even sensitive staff that is rocked by this event.  We are also smart and we are here number one for our students so we are walking in on Monday prepared.  I hope no one ever needs this perspective as a resource for their school.

By knowing you can never fully prepare. Expect odd behavior, a completely sucky negative day, be prepared for your classes to behave like nothing is wrong. Most of the kids who are really grieving will be with counselors all day and some of them will simply be in shock. They may react a week later. Our principal sent us a message on what we call an All Call phone system the day after his death. She told us what happened, told us there would be a voluntary meeting at 7:00, and told us to check our emails for interventions. She said the student’s name twice on the message and it felt strange, his name seeming to echo or reverberate or something… In our email were the interventions: Guidance has extra people from our district’s crisis team and guidance will be available all day for grief counseling. We will have advisory and will share with our students a worksheet on grief. Counselors will be going into all of his classes to speak with anyone who may need it. I feel that is an incredibly important step considering the impact of sitting in a class with that empty seat. I plan to cry if I need to, right in front of them, and on being honest about my feelings. I plan to check in on teachers throughout the day since so much support will be given to students, I want to make sure my colleagues get it too. I plan to go on as planned with the lesson if that’s what they need and I also plan on cancelling our class performances that are set for Friday if that’s what they need. I plan on talking about it and doing a whole play about it if we need to. I plan on having mundane worksheets just to keep us all busy if we need to. Or watching a video. I plan on being patient with crazy behaviors but reminding everyone, including myself that I’m human and I may say the wrong thing, all day long. I plan on going to the guidance suite or staying in my room during prep and just being there for whoever needs it.

At A Loss…

Sudden, violent murders, especially those of the young, bring about the worst combinations of knee jerk reactions and feelings.

A student who used to go to my school was shot New Year’s day. (That is one the first horrible things to adjust to, what tense is the proper to use?) My mix of first reactions went immediately to my surviving students: how will they react and what will they need?  And it ranges to, I’ll admit how guilty I feel for the selfishness, relief he was not a student I personally had or had a connection to, to avoidance, can we just have a snow day Monday? Monday is going to be hell. I set my mind straight pretty much right after that thought. I know my students will need routine and a place to get the things they need. Part of me can’t wait to get back to them, to give them the support they need.

2015-01-02 19.35.35 HDR

After a day of sitting with these emotions, I oscillate between trying to plan what I will do Monday and how I will support others, and completely compartmentalizing. My year is going to be great, this vacation has been restorative and I will go back to school and rock shit. I have been having such a good time, a nice time. I have hope and feel right in my brain where I haven’t for a while. I can’t balance these feelings so I keep them separate.

There was a news posting on our local news website before they released the name of the boy. People’s reactions were disgusting. It was all about our town, a small urban dysfunctional city. The comments were all about how it “took no time” and that this place is “a cesspool.” I just kept reading and kept looking. Was someone going to say who this was? Was this one of my students? Who? I wanted to know who because this was about people, not a place. This town, my town, is not some Stephen King epicenter of evil like Dutch Hill. There were people, people in the black SUV that decided for WHATEVER reason to pull up to a curb, reach their arms out, and pull the trigger while pointing it at other HUMAN LIFE. They were people, a father and son who were walking on the street together.  To be that father who survived when he son did not…to be that eighteen year old who has done and known and seen everything he is ever going to…to be that kid at school who I know won’t find out until that first bell is about to ring on Monday…

So, if you don’t live in our city, stfu. If you do, don’t be a part of the judgment let’s actually start to be a part of the solution. And if you are judging, you are probably white. You are probably sitting in the nicer white part of town. You are probably assuming this man and boy were doing something wrong because they were out at that time of night in that neighborhood. I’d like you to realize something. YOU have a choice to be in that part of town or not. You have money for a car and gas to quickly get home from wherever you were celebrating the New Year. This neighborhood you speak of is not the streets you travel every day the house you always glance up at on your way home, the place you remember falling off your bike when you were twelve. It’s not normal to you. Therefore you live a different life and be humbled by that. Be humbled by the fact that you don’t know everything.

And what is the solution? I don’t know.