Friday, June 25, 2010
I've long considered classroom teaching a form of live performance. Certainly, as in any theatrical experience, certain elements are essential: Strong source material. Assiduous preparation. Bold confidence (sometimes faked). A willingness to rework a line, a scene, a whole piece of repertory. Because you do it over and over again, teaching, like staging a play, is a game of percentages. You aim for improvement -- or, at any rate, consistency -- without ever taking for granted that you're going to have it on any given day.
There's one other element that will make or break a show that's never entirely under your control, and that's your collaborators. Collaboration can take a series of forms, ranging from the silent, but nevertheless palpable, presence of an audience, to active participation (or, in some cases a conspiracy). As a professional, you should never assume the pieces are going to fall into place by themselves. But you'll never succeed if there's no space for spontaneity with a cast of characters. You can't teach if you don't learn.
The great privilege of teaching at Fieldston lies in the quality of the collaboration. Fieldston student never fail to surprise, even astonish, in what they're willing, and able, to do. And it's the ones at the edge of the stage who are often the most interesting. What's her story? What makes him tick? What will it take to get them to see? What am I missing here?
As a teacher, I get to work with kids all day. Hey: thank you for being there.