It’s that hectic time of year again. Two days of teacher meetings, uncovering cabinets, hanging posters, printing “Welcome Back” letters, making seating charts, setting schedules. And that first peek behind the names on our class lists.
It’s hard to know where to begin when you haven’t met the most important part of your classroom yet. Before we meet our students, there are so many who need special consideration and attention from liaisons, medical professionals, paraprofessionals. Every year I am introduced to students who live with psychological, developmental, neurological, or physical challenges (to varying degrees of success). Every year I learn the name and features of some new challenge that was, until now, unknown to me. Two days before I meet my classes, I begin a crash course in some special need that must be handled with professionalism and compassion.
One of my friends said, “I have so much respect for teachers. I don’t know how you do it.” That got me thinking. She, like me, is actively involved in community theater, so I explained it this way: it’s like being a director.
When you direct a play, you take a script and interpret it with the performers you have in the cast. Each cast will bring out different nuances in the lines. Perhaps the lighting or costumes or set design is different. In many ways, the same director can bring the same script to life any number of times and never create the same experience twice. Just think about all the various interpretations of Romeo and Juliet.
When it comes to teaching, the curriculum and rhythm of the school year provide the script; the classroom and spaces we explore together are the set; we turn to our imaginations to provide the props; and we use the subtle effects of lighting to approach subjects that might leave students “in the dark” otherwise. Every good director knows how to encourage a good performance from an actor, but that director cannot do the work. Learning the lines, the blocking, and bringing the performance to life takes the investment, effort, and heart of the ensemble to make the script live, breath, and affect those who are lucky enough to see the performance.
As a director, I work hard to prepare my actors for success and my favorite moment is when I get to turn over the responsibility for the success or failure of the performance on the cast, secure in the knowledge that they have all the tools they need and that they are ready to shine.
Unlike the theater, when the director is often heavily involved in selecting the cast, my cast of characters comes to me without auditions, at random, and are entrusted to my ability to lead them into creating a performance that will change them and help them grow. There is no rehearsal period. We perform as we go.