“Sorry, I’ve got rehearsal.”
“Sorry, I’m building the set all weekend.”
“Sorry, I can’t. We’ve got improv that night.”
I spend a lot of time telling my friends and community, “I’m sorry, I can’t.” I don’t like it, but we all know that this is a part of theatre. Beyond my eight hours of teaching, I am also a director, designer, carpenter, coach, stitcher, stage manager, curriculum writer, master-electrician, blah, blah, blah. Oh yeah, and I’m a daughter, friend, wife-to-be, volunteer, activist, blah, blah, blah. I’m the type of person that wants to do everything, but my job requires me to limit a lot of what I do. I don’t like that part of my job, but instead of focusing on the negative, today I’m going to focus on all the things I GAIN because of the reasons I have to say “I can’t”
- I gain time with students. Few teachers are as lucky as I am to spend quality time with their students. Not only do I spend roughly 20+ hours a week in rehearsal with my students, I spend roughly 15-20 hours on the weekend building sets with my kids. I get to know these kids really well. They share with me their dreams, fears, goals, and jokes. We talk about current events, art, the play we are working on…or sometimes just trade Alan Rickman impersonations. I’m so grateful for this time to learn about who my students are beyond the rehearsal hall and classroom. It helps me be a better teacher and director to them. I don’t take for granted that I spend more time with them than many of their parents do.
- I gain new skills all the time. Each play is a new adventure. When I started teaching high school over twelve years ago, I didn’t know how to build much at all. So, I cracked a few books, watched a few videos, and learned how to build a staircase for a show that needed it. I also learned how to frame a door that year, but not well. I still struggle with doors, but I’m learning. With the help of a dear friend and the father of one of my students, we put a pool on stage one year. Sometimes we have to learn American Sign Language, or a traditional folk dance, or a new way to dye a fabric. There truly is never a dull moment.
- I am constantly entertained. My students are really funny. I get to laugh constantly. I do my job because I love it. The kids are what make it so fun.
- Everything is new again. Each year we put on four different shows. It’s always a new experience, with new content, with new students. It’s very hard to get bored.
- I witness transformation. I see my students through personal and existential struggles. I get the honor to see the moment when the lightbulb “goes off” and they begin to think for themselves, have an artistic breakthrough, or finally realize what other people think, doesn’t matter.
- I have hundreds of reasons to get up in the morning: When I was going through a tough time in my life over a decade ago, I realized that in a time of need, I need to be needed. When I had dozens reasons to not get out of bed, my students presented me with the hundred reasons why I need to be there. I had kids waiting at 7am at my door ready to have their morning chat. This time was sacred to them. It helped them get in the right mindset for their day and allowed them a moment with an adult that would hear them out. I’d like to think I did a lot for those kids, but honestly they saved my life. If not for them needing me to be there, I’m not sure what would have become of me.
- I am a positive force in young people’s lives: This is the most important thing. I am very honored when my students trust me to help them through the challenges of their lives. I’ve been luckily enough to be chosen to be a listener, counselor, friend, parent, coach, teacher, and director. I’ve helped students find the right college, find the right friends, find the right activities, and find their path to happiness. I will never have to doubt that my life had worth.
Overall, I do this job because it gives me so much back. I wish I was completely altruistic, but sadly, I’m not. A lot of my identity is wrapped up into what I do for a living, probably because the amount of time I spend doing my job. If I’m not a good theatre teacher, then I feel like I’m not a good person. Happiness in my life really depends on happiness in my career. Being a theatre teacher allows me the great privilege to say, “I made a difference.” No weekend or weekday evening is worth giving up the chance to be important to someone else.
So…sorry, I can’t. I’m trying my best everyday to be a positive force for change in young people’s lives. You should join me. I promise you’ll be entertained!