I recently read the post about whether being a classroom teacher is how one envisions themselves. It is a challenging question. When I was the age of my students, if someone had asked me, “Do you want to be a teacher?” the answer would’ve been an emphatic, “Good God, NO!” I never wanted to be in the classroom. My parents are both professors, my sister is a teacher, my other sister is a professor – I’ve been surrounded and immersed in education my entire life. I never thought it was my “path.” I was going to be a “Star!” Capital letters, of course :-) So, I ran off to California, studied theatre and music and began pounding the pavement of fame and fortune. I chased the brass ring for nineteen years, traveling the world, wearing characters and costumes like someone else’s life. I had a blast. And they paid me to do it. I made it all the way to Broadway and film and television. I went to the opening night gala’s; worked with the “stars;” had a fan club; slept during the day and worked all night; saw myself on television and the big screen; didn’t have fortune but had plenty. Perfection, right?
One day, I woke up and thought, well… now what? I had this huge epiphany that although I had a great career and life; I wasn’t sure I envisioned my life… here. So at forty, where do I go? And I started thinking back. Back to the awkward, shy, bullied adolescent that I was in middle school. When a funny, caring science teacher who also doubled as the theatre director noticed a kid in trouble. He reached out and rescued me. He introduced me to theatre, to friends, to a community who accepted me for who I was and gave me a safe haven. And it suddenly occurred to me, that it was time to return the favor. Pay it forward if you like. I figured I had survived the politics of professional theatre and film; education should be a walk in the park! So I went off to be a theatre teacher…
It’s been seven years since I joined the ranks of fulltime teachers in public schools. I love the kids. I hope I reach one or two along the way. Maybe give one or two the safe haven that Mr. Williams offered me. But as I work, as I go along, I wonder. When did education become about covering your ass and protecting your job? When did education become about politics and political parties? When did our young people become pawns in an economic battleground that seems to imply our jobs as educators is to turn out “workers” in a global economy? When did we decide that creativity equaled wastefulness? That resourcefulness and independent questioning equaled rebellion and disrespect? That questioning how the material impacts daily life equaled misbehaviour?
I keep getting told – this isn’t theatre – this is education. I get it. In theatre, it’s pretty simple. We may not like each other all the time and we may not always get along but there is a simple goal. Everything needs to focus on the “show.” It is the MOST important thing at all times. If the show succeeds, everyone succeeds. If the show fails, we all fail and are out of work. So, if there is a problem, you can’t waste time with committees and debates and discussions, arguments and endless meetings – you have to solve it quickly. It that isn’t the best long-term solution, put it in place today, figure out the long-term solution tomorrow and implement it. The show goes on and is top priority at all times. You don’t like your co-cast member. Who cares? You do the show together. You cover each other’s back onstage. You make each other look good at all times. And at the end of the night, you go home and forget about each other. The show is top priority.
You see, I thought education would be similar. That the kids were the “show.” They would always take top priority. We would put aside petty differences, politics and divisions and focus on them succeeding. If they succeed, we succeed. If they fail, we failed – ergo – we have to fix the problem. Not fix the kids, not kick them out of the system – but fix what we are doing so that the kids “go on.” I was wrong. Things can work and get thrown out. Why? They’re too expensive. Things that aren’t working require meetings, committees, review, more meetings, more committees, more review. Endlessly with no action in sight. Meanwhile, the kids, every more resilient and strong, move forward despite our best efforts to screw it up.
So, when I envisioned myself trying to be a classroom teacher, I didn’t envision this. I envisioned making a difference. Helping someone as someone helped me. Working in a community where everyone focused on the students and their success. Instead the endless battles seem to be about blame and greed. Firing teachers, kicking out students, passing mindless standardized tests that prove…nothing, punishing schools who lack resources, and using education as a grand political tool to divide an already deeply divided country.
And no one seems to remember the simple rule. Everything needs to focus on the “show.” It is the MOST important thing at all times. If it fails, we’re all out of jobs. We all go down. If our young people don’t get our best, the show closes … for good.