School starts on Monday. I am a teacher. I teach theatre arts. This is my third year as a teacher, and it is my second year at Sterling High School. I must admit that it's the first time that I've ever actually felt like a teacher and not a imposter or an outsider. Teaching was not my first choice as a profession. I think in the back of my mind I always imagined teaching in some capacity, but the further into college I got the more I was caught up in the idea of being a professional theatre artist. Then I fell in love with writing plays and imagined that it would be my life. But the real world can hit a guy like a ton of bricks. I loved college. I wasn't even the best student, but I graduated in four years because I didn't want to leave what I had. If I'd not been in school I was coming home. I really think that this is the a major reason that I was able to muster up the tenacity to stay in school even when the course load and the rehearsals and the extra stuff all seemed to pile on top of me at one time. I loved it there and I wanted to stay. Even after four years I wanted to stay. But there was nothing for me in Abilene anymore. For one thing, my girlfriend was in Fort Worth, but also most of my friends were moving out. It would have seemed wrong and pointless to stick around after I'd finished. I needed to move on to the next natural progression in my life.
That next year was a tough one. Probably the toughest year of my life from an adult mindset. I really missed my friends and my life as a college student. Even though many of my friends were still within a twenty minute drive, or less, I worked a lot, they worked a lot, and none of us worked within the safe, family professional company that we had within the ACU theatre department. I hoped that I would be able to capture some of the same friendship and camaraderie with my fellow interns at the Dallas Theater Center where I was employed during this year, but that didn't happen. I had less in common with those people than I would have thought I could have with other people who loved theatre as much as I did. I realized that I had something very special at Abilene Christian University and with the friends I had made throughout the theatre department. The more time I spent with the people at the DTC the more I wanted back. I was homesick for the first time in my life, but not for Baytown, and not even for Abilene or ACU, but I was homesick for my friends.
I quit the internship early telling my boss that the final performance of A Christmas Carol would be my last day. I sited money as the primary reason for leaving, saying that I just couldn't afford to get paid minimum wage. That was actually just a lot of bull, seeing as that I've gone into debt or accepted near poverty to do things that I love in the past. I've never cared about money. I just didn't feel like I was doing any good there and I didn't feel like my experience there was doing me any good. Which, I see now, is a complete falsehood. I learned an awful lot about professional theatre while at the Dallas Theater Center. I met people and made relationships that, while not lifelong, were helpful at the time and positive. But, I had to leave and began existing. I knew less of what I wanted to do at this point than I ever had before. I began substitute teaching because I had heard that it was a good way to make money and still have the flexibility to do other things. I thought that it was a great opportunity to begin my writing career and audition at local theatres. But, I dropped the ball. I did write some things, and even won my first playwriting contest, but I sat around doing nothing much more. I auditioned at the largest and most prestigious theatres in Dallas and of course, didn't make anything. I had a lot of time on my hands. Time I could have auditioned for plays at community theatres, just for the experience, but my arrogance told me that the degree in my back pocket meant I had to get paid. I could have been writing everyday and getting an agent and subbing everyday instead of just whenever I felt like it.
The best thing that happened that year was my engagement to Amanda. While this was a very happy time with many happy moments, I was pretty sad. I lived in Dallas and she lived in Fort Worth, which is not a long distance to travel, except it might as well have been a different continent because I couldn't just pop over or she couldn't see me every day. It was torture to the lovesick young couple that we were. The attempt to move to Fort Worth was thwarted by an evil landlord and and the matter of several incompetent roommates. There was my buddy who abandoned me with the smokers and the potheads and the 43 year old deadbeat, and.... Well, I don't really want to get on that rant.
So the question and the point of this uncharacteristically sloppy post is how did I come to teach in a high school. The idea was planted by the prospect of a job in Mesquite that fell through and then a certification program that ended up being a waste of time, while working two low paying jobs, which meant better pay, and being sick and tired of not being able to pay credit card payments, or take the burden of my car payments from my parents. Or maybe it was the fact that I had not practiced any theatre besides the few rusty auditions or writing in the dark of my own place dramas that reflected my disengagement from that old life that I had such fond memories of. The sheer knowledge that with a theatre teaching job came the theatre was really all it took to convince me that I could do this.
Some of my readers are educators and right now they are thinking, "What about the kids? It's all about the kids and if you're not in it for the kids then you shouldn't do it at all." There is a lot of truth in this but there is also some myth behind it as well. Teaching pays really well for a kid just out of college, or more specific to my own situation, a kid who subs in the day time only to rush over to a restaurant at night to hope for decent tips. The truth is that I didn't know if I liked working with high school students or not. I knew that I cared about education, but my experience as a sub was not sufficient evidence because I wasn't teaching theatre, or teaching at all really. It was babysitting and it was easy. The kids didn't bother me and I didn't bother them for the most part. I now realize that I was more nervous than I should have been, seeing as though most teachers expect that their students aren't going to work much when there's a sub. That's just laziness all around, to be sure, but it's the truth. I was not into subbing for the kids anymore than I was waiting tables for the rednecks who took up my section for 3 hours and sent me running rampant for food they didn't like and wouldn't pay for and then didn't tip me because I wouldn't let their minor friend drink alcohol. I think that the kids aspect has to grow on you. And it has.
So, finally, I'm offered a position as a teacher in Channelview with a friend I'd known growing up in Baytown, Texas, a place I never thought that I would live again. But, now I was moving back home to accept my first job as a teacher. Did I like it? What I told people who asked me this over and over was that I did and I didn't. People think that theatre is like band in that the kids who take it know how to do something that most other kids can't do. Kids in band know how to play an instrument because they are taught how in Jr. High band. Kids in theatre are there because they have to take a fine arts credit. This is only true for 80% of the kids, but it was more than enough to make me dread going to work on some days. I am a very positive person, in that I truly believe that I can do anything if I work hard enough at it. Unfortunately, I am also a procrastinator and a tad lazy. I also don't have a great fear of failure or disaster. I generally believe things will work out in the end. Long story short, I'm a horrible planner and organizer. (BTW, if asked what one of your weaknesses is don't say organization, even if it's true. And if they ask about organization, lie, lie, lie.) The thing that teachers are taught over and over and over again is that planning and organization are key to good teaching and a well managed classroom. I believe it, too, because my first classroom was not well managed or very well taught, for that matter. Luckily, my strong suit is communication and forming those relationships that we are being told now are so important. So, I had half of the equation right. But, the main thing that I learned from that first year as a teacher was that, despite being able to dupe my appraiser, I was a pretty lousy teacher. My mentor was on to me, however, and she never pulled a punch. (Thanks Kathryn, btw.) She believed that I could be better, and I really did too.
The next year brought a new school and new problems and new classes to teach. It was certainly better than the previous year, due mainly to my resolution not to yell or lose my temper, but there was still that issue of organization and planning. So now it's the beginning of my third year of teaching and how do I feel? It may surprise you to read all of that bitterness and frustration and now hear that I'm really excited and happy to be returning to school. The truth is, I couldn't wait. At the end of the school year this last year, I was itching to get to this year. I so wanted to start over, kind of the same way I wanted to start over when I went to college from high school. I was excited at the prospect of students who don't have a preconception of who I am or what my class is, and I can correct the things that I had done wrong in the beginning that haunted me all year long. Will I still make mistakes, you bet, but I'm confident that this year is going to be my best one, and it even may convince me that I do like kids (all kids; some are easy to love) and I may want to do this forever. My mom has said to me time and time again that if a person thinks they might want to teach they need to give it at least three years. If they don't like it after three years it may not be for them, but if after three years the teachers wants to continue then they are going to do great. I want to be a good teacher now, even if I don't do it forever. So I challenge anyone reading this to pray for me to be a better teacher and to work as hard at teaching as I do at writing these blogs.
I discovered over the last two years that to be a successful theatre teacher you have to be a teacher first and a theatre artist second. I still think this to be true. Being an "artist" of any kind has an inherent selfishness to it and a teacher can be nothing if not selfless. I used to say, and still think to an extent that I am a theatre artist first and foremost. But I feel the teacher in me catching up.