Monday Rules (Part 3)

The Winter's Tale, 1995, Newnan Community Theatre Company

The Winter's Tale, 1995, Newnan Community Theatre Company

I know, it's not Monday.  Sue me.

Rule 3: (General duties as a teacher) Pull everything out of your students.

As you may or may not know, I was an educator for 37 years, at the high school and elementary level, plus at the Georgia Governor's Honors Program. Even more, I found myself teaching in every other area of my life: as theatre director, artistic director, choir director, and of course as a father.

Even as I was doing it, I was aware that I was pushing the idea of Making the Thing That Is Not on my students, actors, choristers, and child. Stop thinking you can't do something and just do it.  Do it wrong, fix it later.

Thirty-odd years ago, at Central High School, I taught students how to write a non-fiction piece by assigning them rather random topics, coaching them through the research/writing process, then having them create a bulletin board "magazine" out of the best results. (Outline for the MUNDUS Project lesson plan available on request.)

At East Coweta High School, when the literary magazine was thrust upon me, I ditched the end-of-the-year mausoleum publication and had my staff creating six issues throughout the year.  Rather than the expense of printing it, we merely photocopied it, and I taught the kids the radical idea of grid layout.  The Line Creek Review immediately won best literary magazine in the state for three years running (until everyone else caught on).

Twenty years ago, at Newnan Crossing Elementary, I had fifth-graders create a museum-style exhibit on the five (or is it six?) kingdoms of life, then invite other classes in to learn from their exhibit.  The kids had to design and construct their own freestanding exhibits (with our assistance, naturally).

At the Newnan Community Theatre Company, I would regularly push our ragtag bunch of amateurs into shows that stretched the limits of what such a company ought to be doing.

For example, I directed a production of The Winter's Tale in which I dragged 20+ amateurs and one professional into a show that required we make 60+ Elizabethan costumes on top of engaging with one of Shakespeare's more difficult texts.  (Normally we costumed Shakespeare in easier periods.)

The result was actually quite good, holding audiences rapt even as the Atlanta Braves were winning the World Series in the bar next door.

At the cast party, the Equity member who had sneaked down to Newnan just to play a coveted role looked at all the happy actors partying and said to me, "They don't know they're not supposed to be able to do this, do they?"  And no, they didn't know. They just did it.

And they did it because I asked them to.  Teachers, don't cheat your students by letting them play it safe. Pull everything out of them.