Friday, May 6, 2011

“Those who can’t do, teach”????

Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Stacy Davidowitz.

NYC Teaching Artists have taken the saying “Those who can’t do, teach” and flushed it down the toilet. For the sake of teachers and artists everywhere, I’m going to net-swoop that theoretical turd of a statement out of the bowl and do some exploration.

As OOB artists, we don’t all have the luxury of earning a full income with what we love to do. So we waiter or nanny, tutor or temp to support our theatrical endeavors. It’s essential to have a job with no strings attached—check in, check out. If we care too much we invest too much, compromising the very art we’re working this crappy job to finance. But we don’t want to hate our job either—it’s exhausting to be miserable and that doesn’t exactly breed creativity.

Moral of the story: Avoid all money jobs that will suck your artistic energy. It’s not worth it.

Except if you’re teaching.

I guarantee working as a Teaching Artist will take it all out of you. You’ll put 100 percent of your energy into lesson planning and teaching (imagine Saved By The Bell’s Jesse on caffeine pills) until you’re sucked dry and need to do absolutely nothing but sprawl out on the couch for at least five hours to recover.

Teaching can be tough. On any given day, a kindergartener could karate-chop your thigh in the middle of Merry Old Land of Oz or a gang fight could interrupt your Linklater Zoo-Woah-Shaw Ladder exercise. You could locate your glue sticks littered on the playground outside the third story window or you could find yourself answering to “Ms. Deena” because consensus says you look like the new girl from Jersey Shore. Maybe you’ll have a 6th grader doodle swastikas at you, ask you if you have a boyfriend and then sneer, “What kind of woman are you?” Also, the Principal might up n’ quit on a random Monday in April. It can be horrific.

But for as many bad moments as there can be, the positive ones always outshine the negative. And no matter how tired I am or how much I’m dreading teaching six long classes in a row, I’m also wholly satisfied, proud of my students, and thankful for the opportunity to be doing something worthwhile.

I’m currently teaching in eight schools a week, working for a variety of after-school and in-school programs and camps. The school I spend most of my time in is a middle school in The South Bronx, one on a tight budget where a handful of my students are living in temporary housing and 96% receive government lunches. Most of my 6th and 7th graders are holdovers, and on average, read on a third grade level. I’m there two full days a week to teach grammar and literacy using visual art and theatre-based approaches – Graphic Novel Making & Playwriting.

It’s always a struggle, even on the most miraculous of days. But the reason why being a Teaching Artist is truly worth it for me is because getting kids—particularly these kids who are self-conscious about their English Language Arts abilities—excited about writing plays and performing is indescribably rewarding.

Nevertheless, I will attempt to describe:

Early on in the playwriting session, I had one 6th grader—a student who had been suspended the day before for swearing and assaulting his peers and teachers—volunteer to improvise a fellow classmate’s story. He was brilliant. SUPER STAR. I pulled him aside after his improv and affirmed his talent (he had an idea based on the roaring laughter of everyone in the room) and told him if he could somehow write the way his character had just spoken, he would make an incredible playwright.

So then this kid who has NEVER completed any work in the class whipped out paper, and based on his own improv with a few of his classmates, wrote a 2-page play. I’m not saying it was grammatically and structurally perfect—it was essentially a block of text with minimal punctuation—but this student successfully transcribed his own performance, maintaining the distinct voices and humor from stage to page. Coming from a child who is kicked out of the classroom more often than he’s in there learning, this was out of control awesome.

By the time the bell rang, I had every student in that class on their feet, listening to each other, doing fantastic character work, and writing with such vigor, eagerness, and focus I thought I was going to explode with excitement. The next day, I received two emails from students asking for feedback on song lyrics and short plays they had written on their own time.

Being a Teaching Artist puts things in perspective. Of course creating theatre and art is essential—we as OOB artists know this—but being in the classroom provides me with reassurance that working in this field as an actor/playwright is neither expendable nor self-indulgent. Creating art stimulates the imagination, triggers emotions, inspires us in our every day lives, and what I’ve learned from teaching: can help, reach, and change kids in the most surprisingly wonderful way.

Happy National Teacher Appreciation Week, BT Dubz.

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