Friday, May 23, 2014

Last Day of School

Last Day of School. That is one of my favorite phrases in all the world, along with “summer afternoon,” and a new one I just heard, “stubborn gladness.”

It is the end of my second full time year here at my beautiful high school, and while it has had its ups and downs personally… professionally, it has been outstanding. I am pleased with the work we did, I am proud of how the kids grew, and I am excited that the numbers in all of my classes have significantly increased for next year, which means that I am achieving the goals for which I was hired. Next year, I have two Shakespeare based shows: West Side Story and Twelfth Night, both of which make me ecstatic. I got to fill a giant virtual cart at, so I have all kinds of summer reading books on their way, with titles like The Second City Almanac of Improvisation and Will in the World and West Side Story and the American Imagination and Story, by Robert McKee which is about script-writing and Will Power: How to Act Shakespeare in 21 Days.

Guys, they actually pay me to read this stuff. Un-freaking-believable.

Back in the early days of the blog, I wrote a great deal about my middle school teaching life. I loved it, and worked hard, and felt such a sense of purpose and pride and investment in it. But it was tiring. I wanted this new job so very much for a million reasons, but not the least of it was that I hoped that it would mean I could work just a little bit less hard, for fewer days, and have a little bit more head and heart space left over to do other things…like write that novel, or another play, or follow whatever other creative urge might come along to tickle my fancy. Well, I didn’t anticipate that my head and heart space would need to be used for other more pressing matters in these two years of transition, but in retrospect, the Universe sure knows a thing or three about timing.

This new job was my saving grace in these past two years, and while there are still challenges – namely teaching a subject that I have only encountered as a student, never a teacher – it is, in fact, easier. More weekly hours, but less brain time. More things to do, but fewer pointless things to do. Higher payout (though not financially,) and lower stakes. I’m not impacting kids lives to the same extent, because they have much more of their own stuff going on, and more of a sense of the world than my little guys did. I am a lesser influence, and I feel so much relief in that.

That being said, however, I do have the advantage of having kids year after year. I will have students next year that I will have taught in the classroom for three years in a row, sometimes twice a day. Those are very rich and connected relationships, and I love that. And it’s nice to know that when they graduate, we can actually be friends in the future, instead of many more years between us before they grow up. In three years from when they leave, we could potentially be drinking margaritas together. And have. There are always one or two in a year who write me beautiful letters, and I take them so much to heart. I feel very valued and appreciated, which I know many teachers don’t, and I never take that for granted.

I used to have a whole burning ritual on the night before the last day of school, where I would light candles and set little scraps of paper on fire and say all sorts of incantations and release ceremonies. It was indispensible in helping me let the intensity of the past year go, and leave a clean space for summer to fill. And for the next class to fill in September. I don’t feel the need for that ceremony any more. It’s less burdensome to carry these students with me. These are gentler goodbyes for all of us, because they are more…see you soon’s.

So, while I feel less stress, I feel equally purposeful in my work. I know I get to create communities, little artistic families, transient but profound. Kids feel less alone in the world because of it. I make the platform where kids find their wings…not because I “give” them to them, but because I hold up the giant mirror and go… “Pssstt…look what you got there…wings. Now let’s sing a song about it.” I feel like the art of theatre is a noble one, and teaches people to listen and hear each other. Oscar Wilde said, “I regard theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” I believe that, and I know that I am teaching humanity and connection. It matters. And beyond that, I get to fulfill my own creative self. I wrote two little plays this spring. Nothing earth-shattering, but they are little hats where there were not little hats before. I have another simmering inside me, getting ready to bubble over onto the page. And when it does, I will have a world in which to bring it to life. All while earning a living and supporting my family.

I am excited for those beautiful words: Last Day of School. But I will be equally thrilled to say one of my other favorite phrases: First Day of School.

But first, rest, parties, game nights, camping, Kidspot, star-gazing, beach-walking, journaling, and an epic trip to Europe in August. My first time. I will look forward to sharing my adventures with you.

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