Since I am a huge fan of using theatre to help students empathize and humanize the world around them, I thought I'd lend my voice to the process. This year is a challenging one for me in many ways. Our anti-bullying piece is getting more and more requests from other school districts. The message contained in it resonates with young people and adults. And yet, my own administration is somehow frightened of the power of the voices of the young people. We say we want to hear what they have to say, and even when they speak within culturally acceptable standards, we are afraid. Of what, I wonder... Meanwhile, I move forward with the anti-bullying year long campaign here at the high school. And the students' perceptions of what makes a bully, what makes a victim, how do we help (or is there any solution to this issue) continues to perplex me. Even in my own classroom, where I struggle to keep the young people from treating each other and themselves poorly. What messages are we as adults teaching them that their immediate response is to denigrate one another?
And then there is our self-esteem piece. I have close to 500 surveys sitting on my desk these days. I have to read them in small chunks.
"I feel like after I lose weight I'll be 100% confident all of the time."
"Sometimes when I look in the mirror all I see is disgust. I see all my flaws immediately."
"How I feel depends on if I have my mask on or not. (My make-up.) I mean I love myself but I don't feel pretty. I would change my body. My self-esteem really took a hit when I went to a store and no clothes fit... The perfect person? Skinny. A size 0 because that's what size the models are."We use theatre to remind the young people that we are all human. Flaws and all, we are all unique and special. Theatre is especially forgiving to those students who struggle in other classes. You don't have to be good in math or science or even in reading to do well in theatre. There are ways to make it work. If you are willing to try. If you are willing to work with others and try to find ensemble moments. If you are willing to take a risk... Ah, there's the rub, right? Taking a risk. I constantly battle to create a safe environment for my students. A place where they can fail and still get up and try it again. We talk about my failures (and goodness knows I have had many) and my successes in my career. But if I hadn't tried, I never would've succeeded or failed. I just would've "been." My students (I hope) feel safe to try crazy things onstage, knowing that they might fail ... but they just might be brilliant. Unless they are willing to try, how can they know?
The fact that they have won theatre competitions empowers them. They fact they wrote an award-winning, published play... empowers them. The fact that their voice gets heard through their art - through theatre and music and dance and video... makes them feel like they have something to say. And when they feel that someone is listening, they become more passionate, more involved, more committed to all aspects of the educational experience. Too often we plop students down, gravestone style, in perfect little rows and talk at them. In the dynamic classrooms I work to emulate, the students are moving, they are talking with the teacher and with each other, their ideas are up and presented everywhere for everyone to see. They use technology to further their education. Our literary club will soon have its own blog. Our video students create, write and produce their own television show. The theatre students write, direct and perform their own one act plays. Their voices are being heard. In our year of respect, the social studies students are putting together a plan of action for the school. Their voices are being heard.
At the end of the day, that is what makes us human. The need to connect. The need to have our voices heard. The need to listen and communicate and share with each other. Real education MUST be human.