Teaching is a never-ending opportunity to touch a person’s life, make a difference (to invoke a cliche’), do something good for the world.
Teaching is about giving one hundred percent to students and then draining whatever reservoir is hidden within and giving even more.
But, sometimes in teaching, I forget that I’m not the only person who can make an impact.
Last night, I was impacted.
I was changed.
Last night was opening night of the play, The Curious Savage. A play I had no intention of doing. One hundred percent NO.
But I couldn’t say no to Joey, the student who really wanted to do a spring play.
I couldn’t say no to the other students who looked with hope at the possibility, the slimmest and most fragmented of possibilities that this might happen.
I took on the role of “Assistant Director.” Meaning I really didn’t do much because I had never directed a play before. But I learned and I gleaned and I tried to make an impact.
I did give some pretty good suggestions.
I don’t think that I made much of an impact.
Last night was an unfurling of anxiety, an unleashing of terror, an unveiling of incredible, raw talent. Last night was watching stars fall out of the skies and land on the stage as students became actors who became their characters who became the puppet masters to people’s emotions.
Last night was drawing out one breath and having it replaced by tears, by laughter, by the hiccuping joy that could only be created by people who passionately cared about what they were doing and passionately cared about one another.
I keep on thinking about how much my life has changed.
A year ago, I was gifted with teacher of the year, and my confidence in myself lurched forward. For once, I didn’t see myself as the colossal failure. And, yes, I do see myself as that. Sorry if you think I’m giving myself a pity party…I’m not. I didn’t bake cupcakes.
And then, a year ago, I was gifted with my new position. And I mourned my loss of seniors. I mourned this transition because I was so damn afraid of failure. I had just felt like a success and this change meant that I might screw everything up and end up being asked something like:
- What in the hell were you thinking?
- What led you to think that was even the right thing to do/say?
- What kind of a teacher are you?
Or, worse, being told….What were we thinking of letting you into this position in the first place?
I currently teaching gifted-and-talented students. But I’m not that smart. At least, I don’t think I am. And people keep on telling me that I’m very intelligent, but I don’t see how. I didn’t go to a high-end university..or college. I went to a very nice college for the very average students (at least, I think I am the very average type student). In high school, I was in the average classes. I had to fight to get into AP English.
I made middling grades.
I was never that great at anything other falling down or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and hurting everyone’s feelings.
But I was given this job and fretted about it up until a week or so ago when I sat down with a small group of students and talked with them and analyzed what I was doing.
And then, last night happened.
Sure, some of the lines were messed up. A couple of actions which were supposed to happen didn’t.
But the show went on. And on. And on. And at all the right times the audience laughed. And then they laughed at points for which we weren’t prepared but we still shared in and relished the laughter.
And they cried. At all the right times. And at times we weren’t expecting. And I wanted to leave my seat and walk around and give out tissues.
I held one student-actor’s hands and prayed with her because she was literally fluttering and shaking just before the show started. I frantically (and quietly) ran around to find a picture that needed to be onstage but wasn’t….and then turned out to be onstage but I hadn’t seen it.
Whew…one disaster averted.
I chose to do this play because I wanted to give the students the opportunity to experience what could be a life-impacting experience.
But what I didn’t realize was that it was going to hugely impact mine.
Day after day, I have seen the play performed and rehearsed. I have memorized half the lines and know a lot of the blocking. I know the tone and tenor of the emotions. I can strum the words and make them sing, but not nearly as richly as the actors did.
Last night, the audience rose and gave the actors a standing ovation. And I rose with the audience and clapped and clapped until my hands hurt and my fingers throbbed. And I couldn’t stop because, in doing so, I would lose control of my hands and they would fly to my face and start rubbing away the tears that were pounding at the edges of my eyelids.
I have no idea if the students’ lives were impacted.
But mine was changed. I am in the beginning of March, the point at which I start considering retirement or counting the years to retirement, and, instead, I am mentally blocking out next year’s play (if we do the one I really want to do).
I am voraciously reading the literature for today. I have planned out great lessons. I am ready. I’m behind on my grading. But I’m always behind on my grading.
But I’m not dragging through the days, feeling the razor blade edge of a potential depression threatening to drown me.
And it’s because of so many different things.
But two of them I can list right now.
- The cast and crew of the play/the entire play experience.
- My students.
Moving to this new position has changed how I feel about myself. I am still holding onto that sense of maybe I’m not such a colossal failure after all. And my tenure as “Teacher of the Year” is coming to a close. The new Teacher of the Year will be announced in ten days and I look forward to celebrating that person’s accomplishments.
The play is coming to a close. Sadly, Saturday will be the final performance…and on Monday we will strike the set. And I will weep as the students and I pack away the furniture, take home the props we had donated, clean up the stage one last time. We will start going our separate ways, even if it is only until next December when we hold auditions and return to the process of telling a story.
Graduation is fifty something school days away. Which is when my sophomores will become juniors and will move into the room next to mine. And I will have a new group of students.
But I won’t have this year again. This incredible, beautiful year of learning and trying and inventing and exploring and experimenting. This gorgeous year of uncertainty that led to me realizing that I was doing the right thing after all.
I have loved this year, not with as much intensity as last year. But that was because I was hesitant and scared. I didn’t understand my students, didn’t know how to relate to them. But, because of how I related to my students who were also actors in the play, I came to find that the rope bridge separating us was not as scary as I had imagined.
Last night, I left the green room area and said “Love you; mean it” to the actors. I know I wrote about this last night. But I was also so tired and so exhilarated from last night’s performance that I don’t know if I captured what I was trying to say. So I’ll try again.
One of my sophomores, an actor who had NEVER been in a drama before, was sitting on the lockers, one leg tucked under himself. He was staring at his phone, texting, looking for a song. I have no idea.
But he heard me.
And he said back to me, “Love you. Mean it.”
And with that, the performance started. And I sat in different seats and went from being an assistant director to a mom to a member of the audience.
And I watched a story unfold on the stage.
And I felt all the knots and tangles within me that had been fiddling with this year just…relax. And release their ends. And open…
I guess, in a way, I think I found my sense of home. And sitting here in my classroom, my books face-down next to me, my activity open and ready on other tabs, I am home. I am home. I am home.
I went into teaching to make a difference in other people’s lives.
Instead, other people made a difference in mine.
They changed mine.
And, for that, I am a much better person.