Love Note #12: Coming up for air

Apparently, it has been 3 months and counting since I last wrote a love note. I kept meaning to write one but every time I got some free time I found it more appropriate to sleep and/or watch Netflix. Now that I'm on a self-elected three week winter break, I finally have the time and energy to write/reflect. Last summer, I took a similar much longer (3-4 month) break. I had to spend some time reevaluating what was important to me in terms of what kind of work I was doing and more importantly who I was working with. I did want to teach again but I wanted to be more exclusive to ensure that the organizations I was affiliating myself with really shared the same values as me. By October, however, I was ready to get back into the classroom and back to the classroom I went! 

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It started with getting a gig through Arts @ Large teaching two 4th grade and two 5th grade classes at one school one day a week. Last year, I had a residency with Arts @ Large co-teaching with my friend Mikal so I was both equally excited and a little terrified to lead my class solo this school year. And let me tell you, it has been quite challenging. Luckily, the school is pretty awesome and the staff and teachers I work with are really supportive. That being said, I still have to plan lessons and teach 26-32 students per class every week. My first 5th grade class is amazingly well-behaved but as the day goes on, each class gets progressively more out of control. I've broken up a fight, I've banned a student from my class for throwing scissors at another student and I've literally lost my voice yelling at these kids. And while I'm being compensated well for contact hours, I spend so much more time gathering and prepping for my class every week than I'm being paid for. And I start to resent kids being kids - misbehaving and not understanding that art time is precious time! And then just when I'm about to lose my patience and sanity, one of my students will tell me how I'm so much better than their last art teacher. Or I'll get unexpected hugs when students enter or exit the classroom. Teachers show their surprise when I show them certain student's work. Another student who is notorious for acting out, tries extra hard in my class, continually asking if he's doing well. I saw one student outside of school and she was so excited to say hi to me. Her mother made a point of telling me that she said I was 'the best art teacher in the world.' And all this pulls at my heart strings and I wonder if all the stress, effort and unpaid time I put into these four classes is worth it...  And I think the answer is complicated. Living in the gray space in between yes and no. 

Quickly after I landed the Arts @ Large gig, I was very excited to land two different teaching opportunities with Milwaukee Repertory Theater. For those who really know me, my love for theatre goes wayyyyy back. My only good memories I have from high school revolves around my involvement in the drama club and school plays. The only reason I showed up to high school my senior year was I had theatre class for 2 hours at the end of the day. I went on to college thinking theatre was probably going to disappear from my life only to fall more in love. When I transferred colleges, it was between the directing program at Fordham or my dream choose-your-own-adventure program at NYU where I could study theatre AND art both through the lens of cultural and gender identity. I chose the latter and while theatre wasn't my sole focus it remained something I was truly passionate about. I taught my first drama class to elementary school aged kids the summer before my senior year, I co-directed a Guillermo Gomez Pena play, I took a directing course and directed a rare but stellar one-act play by Tennessee Williams. Upon graduating, employment was more important than my passion, so theatre took a backseat but by the summer of 2008, I found myself in South Africa teaching the first ever drama class to amazing high school students. Nearly 10 years later, this is still by far one of the most magical and influential experiences of my life. I've had many teaching experiences since South Africa but it has taken me this long to get back teaching performance/theatre. And I have to say, I can't believe it has take me this long. 

Before I talk about my teaching with Milwaukee Rep, I think it's worth noting that I've worked for the Rep in the ticketing office since November 2016. It didn't occur to me to look into teaching until one day I was watching The Incredible Jessica James and then I realized I needed to be teaching theatre again. Whether my influence from film and television is normal or not is debatable but I am sure glad that as the credits rolled, I got my resume together to send to the Rep's education department. The following week I had an incredible interview and soon after I started to teach an after school program to high school students and three in-school 6th grade classes. Let's talk about the 6th grade first. 

For the 6th graders, I am teaching them about Animal Farm so they become familiar with the play before they go see it at the Rep in February. I also teach them different theatre/improv techniques and general theatre appreciation. I was really apprehensive teaching 6th graders but a job is a job so I figured I'd give it a go. I have been pleasantly surprised at how much fun I'm having with my students. It's awesome to have them act out scenes from the play and have discussions about what they read. I've been impressed with how much they understand and remember. We haven't read the play in total but each week, we peel back different layers of the story. It actually is pretty complex stuff but I think coupled with fun theatre exercises, it really does sink in with the students. To be honest, I've always been afraid of middle schoolers. And you know, some students, at times, have their moments, but so far, the experience has been far more rewarding than I imagined it would be.

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Now, on to my amazing high school students. First of all, after a short two months with these kids (and honestly after the first 2 hour class), I must say, I was totally in love. It also solidified what I have known for years, that I am truly passionate about working with teens and allowing them to find their voice through creative expression. I think it's because I am still so grateful for my arts teachers at that age. They encouraged me and my talents and I think I have this impulse to give back that gift. Also, teenagers are hilarious and I love listening to them talk - I always walk away with a new word or phrase to use and this simultaneously makes me feel super old and young at the same time. Anyway, for this particular class which met for two hours on Wednesday evenings, we were focusing on the theme "community heroes" and each week we explored that theme through different art mediums. I definitely got lucky with this group. On day one they came with excitement, intelligence, open minds and A LOT of personality. The culmination of this program was for the students to create something to showcase at the Milwaukee Rep's Stacker Cabaret Theatre and my group decided to do spoken word. I was excited for them to choose this, as almost all of them were incredible writers but only a few had experience performing. It was so cool to lead them through the process of bringing their voices/ideas to the stage. Of course, they did an amazing job and I was incredibly proud of how hard they worked, how well they worked together and how serious they took the class and opportunity. The week before the showcase, they met two additional times with me and another time without me to ensure they were prepared. Their dedication was inspiring. If I wasn't already bursting with pride, they impressed me even more at the showcase by demonstrating respect, attention and support for the other student groups that performed and shared work. Basically, I could go on and on and gush about these students. And I would probably be balling crying now just thinking about how this program ended BUT it looks like I'm going to continue to work with these amazing students when I return from my much needed hiatus from all things teaching. So stay tuned for more gushing and bragging about how I get to teach the best students ever! 

So yeah, that's what I've been up to the last few months. Completely consumed with ensuring the world continues to have amazing artists or, at the very least, people who appreciate art. You're welcome. ;)

xoxo