Allowing my students to fail

As I type this I am sitting in the first day of tech rehearsals for the Thespian play. This is the last production of the Kearney High school year, and it is traditionally completely student produced. It is directed, designed, acted, and constructed by students. Tonight has been a tough rehearsal so far. Two actors didn’t show up, the gaff tape fell off some of the flat seams, a few actors don’t know their lines, and little publicity has gone out. My role has been simply to set deadlines for my student directors, be present to guide them if they have questions, and facilitate set build. You might assume a theatre teacher would enjoy the break in responsibility, but in truth, it terrifies me.

Matthew, one of the two student directors, is frustrated as he finds himself still on book on the first day of tech.
Matthew, one of the two student directors, is frustrated as he finds himself still on book on the first day of tech.

Why? Because I’m scared for my students to fail. The educator in me knows this is actually the best thing for them. The possibility of failure allows for the greatest opportunity for growth. Directing a show is hard. Directing your high-school peers is really hard. I know all too well what it is like to deal with kids missing rehearsals, not memorizing their lines, breaking character, and no one showing up to build the set on the weekend. Because of that, I want to spare them the feelings of frustration and hopelessness.

Cheryl and Connor rehearse a scene

On the other hand, I know I need to step back, let them problem solve, and find their own way. If I try to micromanage every aspect I am robbing them of the ownership of their production. If through their hard work and hours they find success, I want them to be able to own every piece of it.

Andrew and Ben rehearsing
Andrew and Ben rehearsing

And even though there are lots of problems tonight, I can see the growth and I know they will be proud of their success.

  • I see kids navigating the tricky diplomacy that comes with leading their peers.
  • I see beautiful pieces of furniture students have worked tirelessly on. These are the same students who didn’t know anything about set construction at the beginning of the year.
  • I see young directors problem solving to get the most out of their actors
  • I see young adults dealing with stress and developing coping mechanisms
  • I see performances from kids that have been truly inspired by their peer directors
  • I see kids that care about this show and institute positive peer-pressure to get others to care.
Thor and Andrea rehearsing Wait Wait...I Can Explain
Thor and Andrea rehearsing Wait Wait…I Can Explain

I also see kids that are stressed, worried, and living in a bit of fear. They are wondering if their friends will come through: Will they get work off tomorrow so they can attend the full rehearsal? Will they work on their lines? Do I look awkward up there? Am I good enough?

Little do they know, these are some of the  questions that are asked at every age and experience level. Little do they know this little play might be their best theatre experience of the year. Not because of the complicated set, lights, costumes or brilliant performances, but because they did it all themselves. Failure is possible, but it is also just the First Attempt In Learning.

Fail-First-Attempt-In-Learning

I’m proud that they haven’t let that possibility keep them from continuing to creatively problem solve and work hard…and I’m pretty proud of myself for not meddling and trusting the process.

trust the process

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