"Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustable source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it."
For the summer I am working at Alley Theatre in Houston as the Education and Community Engagement Intern. It has been a whirlwind. In the first two weeks, I worked with 4th and 5th graders at Playmakers Camp. It is exactly what it sounds like and SO MUCH MORE. For two weeks, they are stretched and challenged to dig deeper into their imagination, find their biggest most resonant voice, move with intention and work as an ensemble. At the end of the two weeks, students performed a play they generated about scientist Marie Curie.
I've learned so much observing and participating in classes. From classroom management skills to fun games that fosters focus and ensemble connection. I am also witnessing the devising process which I find incredibly fascinating. I was nervous about how 4th and 5th graders would handle the process but it was beautifully fascilitated by the teaching artists. With my BFA in theatre, emphasizing in Original Works, I made playmaking into this sophisticated process in my mind. That piece of paper that cost thousands made me forget that the creation of a play is throwing things on the wall and seeing what sticks.
In these moments I remember how much I miss the writing process and the creation of a characters on a page. But I digress...
These kids jumped in, many with no previous exposure to theatre. What blew me away the most was their ability to say "Yes and..." with openness and sincerity. As they worked together to create the movement portion of their play. All of them had so many great ideas. Now, sometimes when you get into a room like that, people tend to talk over eachother and those who aren't assertive are left with their hand in the air. However, I got to witness 10 and 11 year olds share their ideas without fear of judgement and with the full attention of their ensemble. The ending result reflected the beautiful atmosphere witnessed during the creation of the play. It was an exciting two weeks!
For the next 5 weeks, I am working at the Alley in downtown Houston with older teenagers as they merge the worlds of Orwell's 1984 and Romeo and Juliet. I am already soaking in as much knowledge as I can from the teaching artists and the students. I'm learning how I have changed since leaving college.
What am I better at?
What didn't I get enough of?
Where can I challenge and stretch myself?
How can I bring these experiences into my own classroom?
More to come....
When we moved to Houston, I needed a job and I needed it fast with bonus points for flexibility. I found myself applying for KIPP Houston as a substitute teaching. I loved their mission statement, the demographics they serve and their college graduate numbers (50%), but mostly I needed a job and it fit the criteria. I had no idea that my first day on the job would lead to working in a 2nd grade class room for the next 8 days with no lesson plans and no clue what I was doing. As the week ended I got the kiddos down to a routine, gained a little self confidence and managed not to pull out my hair, which was no small feat amidst the constantly moving children and tears of "I miss my teacher."
Flash forward to end of April when I finally have a small grasp on classroom management and how to enter the room, depending on the age group (you don't come in smiling and cartoon voiced with the high school aged kids.) The last week of April my supervisor calls and offers me a 5 week position as the art teacher for a middle school. It sounded very daunting but knowing I would only be making intern money this summer, I though this would be a good way to pad my bank account for the summer. "How hard can it be?" I thought.
You will probably see where this is going.
It was so fucking challenging. Everyday.
Sometimes it felt like the gates of Hell.
I was told there were lesson plans and quickly found out that there were outlines for in class assignment norms but I would need to fill them in and add a weekly project.
I'm pretty sure the teacher was expecting an art teacher as her replacement. I knew about art and I had some a slide show detailing the fundamentals of art classes have already studied so I went from there and with the help of admin, betterlesson.com and the AWESOME, AMAZING enrichment teachers I was able to develop a plan for the next 5 weeks. Of course things don't always go as planned especially in the last month of school with testing and field trips every week. Still, I persisted. I had to be flexible and patient with changing schedule and with the students.
Yes, the students.
Each grade level (5-8) had it's challenges some more than others and those challenges for most schools were multiplied because I was mostly working with Black and Hispanic at risk youth who are suffering depression, have a terrible home life, have experienced and are experiencing more than they should at their age. Many have a hard time trusting. Attitudes, talking back, disrespect and the boundless energy of 5th graders were a part of my day to day life. Luckily I always had the horticulture teacher to sound off to when I was frustrated. Her understanding and advice was invaluable and it wasn't all the students. Many were just happy to be back in art, creating and using their imagination. My first day in every class I was asked "Do we get to do art again?"
I knew I was where I was needed.
That was reaffirmed at the end of the day as my 8th grade artists came in and became an hour of sunshine; mature, respectful and just happy to have their art class back. I taught a young man who will be a neurosurgeon in the future, a incredibly talented young woman who shares a love for Hamilton and hopes to do an art internship this summer and a quiet girl who does breathtaking things with paint at just 14.
Every day was a challenge, sometimes every hour, but I don't regret the last 5 weeks one bit because it has reinforced and strengthened my mission as a theatre artist. It was the perfect jumping off point for my work with The Alley this summer.