- work at the reception desk of my city's biggest theater from 8:30 to 12:30. This is my "stable day job". It balances out my "project-based-career" in many ways.
- short break to grab lunch and make sure materials are in order, call the local theater academy to discuss workshops over the next few weeks
- teaching for an after-school program, "Theatre in Our Community (topic: Freedom)" at an under-served school where the students would rather not be in the room
- hopping a bus as soon as I can to make it out to a well-supported, suburban public school where I'll be making final acknowledgements and handing out certificates to a forensics team of 65 students
.... this schedule is what kept me up last night. That plus the major questions floating around in my head. I kept dreaming that I was in class with my Theatre in Our Community program and everything was going wrong, or that I was up in front of all the forensics parents and students and trying hard not to forget to thank anybody. I woke up 15 minutes before my alarm and decided to get a jump on the whole day. Bought myself a complete breakfast that I've been munching between answering phone calls.
No, what's really keeping me up is this classroom full of kids who just don't want to be there. They don't want to listen, they don't want to apply themselves to a creative task, they don't want to cooperate with each other. And I don't know how to function in this world as "teacher."
"AM I YOUR BABYSITTER?" I had to yell. "ARE YOU BABIES? You are better than this. I expect more than this." I was yelling this at them a week ago. Yelling is what they get all day. Yelling is what they respond to. Yelling is not what I want to be doing.
I've recently had to be told that I cannot be "Super Teacher." I've been losing sleep over stretching myself too thin, I guess. Not just with my schedule. But, as my best friend had to yell at me last month, "YOU HAVE TO LET YOUR BEST BE GOOD ENOUGH." I guess I only respond to yelling, too.
I haven't been getting better answers than that. I guess I'm not asking the right questions to the right people. I've come up with an analogy to help explain myself a little better...
It's as if my regular teaching methods are like a picture frame. I build this picture frame, I bring it to class. I tell the kids to paint a picture.
Most of the time, kids figure out how to paint.
Some of the time, I get to encourage and empower students to realize that they really do have painting skills.
Less often, a kid paints outside the frame and then I become the student - maybe my frame will change next time I teach.
We get to sit back and look at the painting we made together and talk about it. We get to feel good about what we've done together.
With this class, they've never seen a frame before.
So I explain what a frame is.
I equip them with paint brushes.
And only 30% put paint to paper. The rest of them are just kind of stunned, or afraid, or they actively resist understanding. If I over-explain what the frame is, they feel insulted. If I under-explain what the frame is, I haven't equipped them far enough. They don't know how to tell me what they need because they do not feel they have the agency to ask me. Even if they do, self-awareness has never been a necessity like this before. I'm asking them for more than just a pretty picture.
So 30% of them make an attempt and we get to encourage, empower, analyze. And then one student will take a sharpie and draw something obscene over the work - because that is what this one student knows. It is what he feels he has control over in his life. He is trying to self-express outside the lines, when really he's hindering the experience of others. Because he doesn't care. Because the empathy isn't there.
So I start over. Again and again.
I take this frame with the 30% of a picture with an obscenity written over it, and I show it to my boss. One boss says "Oh, we can afford a more expensive frame for you. Tell me what you want your frame made out of. Gold? We can do that." No, I don't need a gold frame. Another boss says "Oh your frame is too big. These kids need smaller frames. Also you need to fill it out halfway for them so they understand what the finished product should look like." I don't KNOW what the finished product should look like - THEY do. THAT'S what teaching is to me. Not a means to an end. The product is right there in the classroom every day, immeasurable and invisible. Personal growth, private light-bulbs of discovery, new friendships or new ways to reinforce old ones. "But the parents/government/fundraisers/authorities need to see measurable product," my boss says. "So just give them something easier. Something rudimentary. Don't hold your expectations so high."
My expectations of my students are, yes, higher than "fill out this form."
I don't think that's unreasonable.
I don't think asking a student to think creatively or critically is outside the boundaries of a classroom. Any classroom.
I haven't even gotten into my insecurities around how much agency I have to "fix" things in their environment without imposing ethnocentric behavior. All my fears about being a progressive white savior trope are constantly in my head, thrumming like a bass speaker's feedback. I'm learning about how to catch things like, while playing charades, someone writes on their slip of paper a cruel slur about another classmate. "Just look at the papers before they go in the hat," it's suggested. I want to start fostering an environment where my students don't want to do that to each other.
It can't be impossible.
I lie awake at night dreaming up ways to do it.
Maybe some day I'll figure it out.
I think I just have to build my own program.