A great deal of my adult life has been spent in the field of education: teaching, advising teachers, teaching teachers, talking to teachers, and writing about education and educational practices. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that a key element of Helen is about that “world” and what it means to be a teacher. I find the “art” of transferring knowledge from my brain, to the brain of another person to be fascinating. I find teachers fascinating. I find children fascinating. I wish that every person who has ever said to me, “I don’t know how you do it,” could have the experience of teaching for a day-- preferably in a New York City public school (but, that’s a whole other book, let alone a blog entry). When you are one of those teachers who throw 150% into the job like I do, you are living life (both the good and the bad) to the absolute fullest.
This morning was the first of three sessions I’m moderating for the Broadway Teacher’s Lab. I get to lead and facilitate two-hour “Idea Exchanges” with passionate, hard-working theatre and music educators from across the county.
So this blog is a shout out to all of those teachers I worked with today, the ones I have worked with over the years, and the ones I’m sure I'll work with in the future. There were so many interesting things that came up in our two hour exchange that I think I’m going to add another section to this website that is specifically dedicated to teachers. Since I’m too tired to do that right now, I thought I'd share a few interesting ideas that struck me:
- As arts educators, we are not just teaching students how to sing, dance and act, we are teaching them life skills (commitment, compromise, collaboration, and discipline, among many others) that they will take with them and use for the rest of their lives.
- As arts educators, we are not just teaching students life skills, we are teaching their parents life skills. Many times, Suzy isn’t going to an orthodontist appointment during dress rehearsal because Suzy really wants her braces adjusted. It’s much more likely that Suzy’s mom wants Suzy’s braces adjusted, or for Jimmy to score the winning goal in his soccer game, or the family vacation to be during off-season (which happens to be during dress rehearsal), rather than high-season. It’s up to us, as educators to try and teach the parents to value the process of putting on a show (rehearsals) as much as they value that moment during curtain call when Suzy comes out for her bow. (One person solved this problem by making her first parental meeting a “rehearsal” and making the parents do an hour of choreography, singing and blocking. Needless to say, after being put through such a drill and seeing how hard it was, the children were brought to rehearsal regularly and on time.)
- As popular as “Glee” is, school arts programs (theatre, dance, music) are still a long way off from getting the same respect and support that the sports teams get.
- Being a teacher is a lot of hard work that you often don’t get recognized or compensated for. So, why do it? Imagine how you feel when your child takes their first steps…then multiply that by forty or two-hundred. (Yes, there was one teacher who did a double-cast version of High School Musical Jr. with 200 kids.) In those moments, when all the elements of music, dance, theatre, collaboration, blood, sweat and tears come together; when Suzy smiles, braces glimmering; the pride and gratification a teacher feels is priceless.
I started off our “session” by asking the teachers to turn to the person next to them and share the most valuable thing they had taken away from the Broadway Teacher's Lab thus far; the thing they couldn’t wait to implement when they got back to school. The teacher next to me told me how the previous evening, when they got to meet Sean Hayes after the performance of Promises, Promises they attended, Sean mentioned that one of the most valuable things he’s learned in his career came from one of his high school theatre teachers. This teacher looked at me, with pride, and maybe a twinge of hope in his eyes, and said, “out of everything he’s experienced in his career, he still remembers what his high school theatre teacher taught him.” I have no doubt that this teacher will go back to Ohio or Oregon, or wherever he was from, and make a difference is the next Sean Hayes' life.