Saturday, June 6, 2009

School's Out...School's Out...Teachers let the....

Last week, I delivered several boxes of books to Valders High School where I spent many years teaching theatre, and a variety of English classes. The curvy, twelve mile journey on JJ let me slip back to the days I travelled that road daily at 7 A.M., and then again at the end of my day.

My morning routine included going over my day, class by class, scheming and dreaming of new ways to present material no longer fresh to me, but surely new and challenging to my students. Going home my thoughts opened with either, "That didn't go so well," or "Pretty good. We had fun, and we learned something." Then I'd hum along with whoever was in my CD player.

My life is still marked by an internal educational calendar. I cannot shake it. And so, as the end of the year approaches, I breathe a sigh of relief along with my friends who continue to honor the profession with their presence. They stay in touch - those friends from my former life - and, along with many new friends and acquaintances who also teach, allow me to share in their successes, their failures, the happy moments, and the frustrations. Of this group, I can honestly say that not one has ever complained about the long hours and poor pay. I wonder where the public perception comes from that all teachers are underworked, overpaid whiners. Sure, they are concerned about the state of economy and how it will impact their students. They worry that they will have too many students to do justice to them all. They worry they will send some students into the world with a little less math, or English or science than the students before them. Teachers worry that each and every student may not get the best of them each and every day.

Despite the economic challenges facing schools, school boards and teachers and support staffs, the educators I knows will continue to inspire and to motivate. They will celebrate successes with their students, and brush off the dust of failure and try again. They will remember their students when they see graduation pictures, engagement announcements, or the uniformed portraits of those who choose to serve our country. Classes move on; they graduate, but teachers keep them close, fitting them into hearts and minds already grown full from years of chalk dust, red pens, and planning. Teachers teach forever- every hour of every day - and when the final bell rings on the last day of the year , I say, at that very moment, each one of us who has ever been taught, should stand, raise a glass of wine to a favorite teacher, and shout out a valuable lesson learned.

My glass would be raised to Karyl Enstad Rommelfanger and Paul Ingvolstad. For Karyl I would shout "Yikes! Ich kann meine gummischuen nicht finden." Not sure if the spelling is right, but I am quite sure that means "Yikes! I can't find my boots!" For Paul, my high school theatre director, I would holler a phrase I find myself using with frequency and conviction, "Hey, don't sing so loudly, someone might hear you!"

My favorite book teachers aren't teachers at all, in the traditional sense. Atticus Finch, in To Kill a Mockingbird, oozes with integrity. He is noble, honest, and strong. He is haunted by the wisdom of his decisions, yet brave enough to make them. The Miracle Worker highlights a slice of time in Helen Keller's life . Annie Sullivan was hired to teach Helen who lost her sight and hearing at nineteen months of age. We all know the story. Yes, Annie did teach Helen, but Helen also taught Annie. She taught Annie that to teach you must open your heart. Helen taught Annie that teaching is not only a science, but also an art. She taught Annie that to learn, one must see the world through new eyes, and listen to life's murmurings with patience and persistence.

The picture at the top is from a production of The Miracle Worker I was fortunate to direct many years ago. That's Sheila Hansen as Annie Sullivan, and Katie Shaw as Helen Keller.

There are many fine books about teachers and teaching including old standbys like Up the Down Staircase, Good Morning Miss Dove, and Goodbye Mr. Chips. Remember Harrison High ,that steamy Peyton Place type novel for the junior high set!

Among my favorites are The Art of Happiness by the Dalia Lama, and Dr. Seuss' Hooray for Diffendoofer Day. This little know Seuss piece is an ode to creative teachers and the silly things they do each day... with marvelous results.

Just a few more notes before I get back to reading....

Steve Olson sent me this cool picture of the Heart-A-Rama gang singing themselves silly with pride as they end the final show for 2009. That's Steve in the white shirt and black tie, surrounded by the lovelies - Corrie and Kim. They're all dressed like Tom Cruise in "Risky Business" cuz they kicked up some dust in a song and dance number called "The Underpants Dance." Just guess what they're wearing in the part of the picture you can't see. Thanks for the picture, Steve-O.

My friend Mary tells me that Johnny Depp's birthday is coming up. How shall we celebrate?

**********What am I reading?

***Finished The Reader and plan to watch the movie. The book is dense, slow, and suffocatingly sad. Amazing characters, provacative plot, universal themes...yes, there is artistry amid the melancholy.

***I watched Doubt over the weekend. The movie lacks the subtelty of the stage play, and that disappointed me. In my mind, the movie leaves no doubt about the answer to the posed question. The play on the other hand...well, two people can see the same production and leave the theatre feeling they had seen totally different scenarios. However, the movie cast is brilliant, and the plot covers miles of challenging territory.

***I just started Spencer Quinns funny little mystery, Dog On It. Chet, a police dog who flunked out of canine school, helps his detective pal, Bernie, solve whatever cases come their way. Chet tell the story. That's right, I said Chet, the dog, narrates the entire book, making for a lighthearted blend of those doggy habits that defy expalnation, and some solid, intutive sniffing about for clues.

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