Archive for Teaching

No Child Left Behind? Well, how’d they get behind to begin with!?

Posted in LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , on September 13, 2008 by erikball123

An under-advantaged young adult with “issues” finds inspiration in something they never knew they had a talent in and uses their talents to extend themselves far beyond what they ever thought they could possible offer. They are inspired by someone they care about, and in the end persevere over extreme adversity.

Their stories are told at every motivational conference. Devotional books and Lifetime specials are chuck full of their stories. Oddly enough, they are also the plot structure of nearly every Adam Sandler film I ever watched! But I’d like to talk to you today about “No Child Left Behind.” Not the Federal law about increasing standards in the public school systems. Rather, the concept of always offering that second chance.

The Bible says that through Jesus we a forgiven of our sins. (Act 10:43) It also says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7) I like that verse a lot. It reminds me that I continue to be a student every time I step in front of a class as a teacher. And without getting too specific, you can probably drudge up some personal reference of a teacher you’ve had or a boss…or neighbor…or friend, who simply “did their job” everyday. They showed up…checked in…and did there job. Not much more than that.

I have the privilege of teaching over 135 students at Faith Lutheran. I direct onstage more than that in a year. That’s a lot of impressionable minds….listening to me! What power! (I can even write detentions!) But, if you think about that….what POWER. These are students who arrive everyday with preconceived notions, varied backgrounds, and wild opinions. These are the same people that will grow up to become my boss, or your superior, or the next world leader. (Cliche’s aside.) Who knows what will happen, but for now, their focus and attention is all mine. I can crack open text books and pour out words from publisher after publisher. I could have “free time” and allow them to rest or exercise their opinions in whatever way they like. I could even lean in close…and talk seriously about what I believe…and if I’m persuasive enough, motivate them to begin thinking for themselves. What POWER.

It’s like driving a car. Here’s an expensive, powerful, and forceful luxury item that has been entrusted to me so that I may make travel more convenient. It has the capacity to move fast or slow…manipulate through traffic…and honk to ward off danger. But it also has the capacity to kill people. It all depends upon the driver. Teachers are “driving instructors.”

School is far too concerned about a student’s progress and behavior to worry about things like “are they interested” or “do they care?” It’s sad really. I can’t recall a single time my high school History teacher or Math instructor leaned over and asked me if I liked what we were doing. Imagine that! “Um, not really.” What then? I think it is every teacher’s job to not only instruct…but to make sure that the student is engaged enough to want to re-approach the next period. After all we only have them in class for 1.5 hours every other day. (We have block scheduling people. I don’t know how public schools do it!)

Students are not statistics, and I don’t care how badly Nevada’s SAT scores are, nothing reflects WHY students did poorly. (And don’t even get me started on standardized testing content!) Shouldn’t we be concerned about that? After all, isn’t high school supposed to prepare students for the real world? If there was a team working around the clock every single day for four years to pin-point HOW you learn best…put it into practice…challenge those boundaries so that we can exceed our own personal expectations…and then foster a supportive environment to nurture that type of learning…wouldn’t the secondary education world be producing MORE leaders…and fewer teenage mothers and overly confident jocks with nothing to fall back on but their own overloaded testosterone. (Probably not the best example. And while it’s certainly not the norm…especially at Faith….it’s true, isn’t it?)

Strong statement there. But that’s what a school should be. Sports are great and I support them 100%. They are certainly appropriately part of the high school experience. But they need to build a student up so that they can coach themselves later. While Faith nurtures every teenage pregnancy issue, the bottom line still remains “are the students interested in that care?” And if so, my biggest question would be, why weren’t they that interested BEFORE they found themselves making a life-altering decision?

We need to take two giant steps back and look at High School. We have specialized fields of study that we offer. I teach Drama…does that mean I should prepare student’s for Broadway? Heck no. It means that I should PREPARE STUDENTS…by using the tools and fundamental techniques that Drama demands…in an appealing and acceptable way. (And that’s the important part.) Once we tear ourselves away from the ultimate objective…once we make a student’s failing grade in our class personal…then we’ve compromised why a student SHOULD be attending school altogether.

Once a colleague of mine argued that it’s not our job to be liked by students. I beg to differ. That IS our job. It is our job to be that student’s BEST FRIEND. By definition, a friend is a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.  That’s what a teacher should be. Someone who is not only invested, but attached by FEELINGS.

Which brings me to my final point. Students are kids. Young people…with wild ideas, and stupid notions. They cannot be treated like adults. They shouldn’t have the same expectations as adults. They come from all walks of life…they possess passionate feelings that they will suppress/express….they love and hate…and they all will have an opinion. (If you prick them, do they not bleed?)  They will make mistakes…they will fail…they will graffiti the walls…they will overextend themselves for the sake of another….they will hold hands and make-out in dark basements…they will over indulge…and they WILL listen to you. That is, if you give them something to listen to.

I have a huge problem with people who hold grudges. My wife leads Chapel service at Faith and the topic last week was forgiveness. Her students offered this very clever skit using Veggie Tales characters and leach-like grudges that attached themselves to the miserable “un-forgiver.” These grudges suck out a person’s joy and leave them empty and shallow.

I don’t ask…I plead with parents, teachers…anyone who has the great fortune to work with young adults…forgive them. They’ll test you, and you’ll want to ring their necks sometimes…but you need to forgive them. Secondly, believe in them. There is good in everyone…and if you ever look at a person and say that they are beyond hope…well, perhaps your close to  being right. But do you wonder why? Do you care? Should you? If not…aren’t you just as “hopeless?”

No Child Left Behind means something different to me. It’s my own personal law. It enforces me to forgive. It enforces me to leave the judging to the ultimate judge, my Lord. It enforces me to keep my eyes on the prize….excuse me….keep my eyes on my students’ prize. Because in the end, don’t we WANT them to persevere over extreme adversity? (Even if it is their own?) If not…why?

*Special thanks to Lauren Nichole for the photograph.

Go the Distance.

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2008 by erikball123

These pictures are from the set of the motion picture “ROCKY BALBOA.” I was an extra in the final fight scene.

There’s this moment in the movie ROCKY where the timid Adrianne looks at her love in the eyes and says “why do you want to fight.” Rocky says simply, “because I can’t sing or dance.”

“Those who can’t….teach” is a common saying. I hear it often. Usually it is presented by someone who has never stepped in front of a class before. Usually it’s said after someone presumes they know what it’s like to be in the field of education…”and those amazing three-month vacations, where teachers relax and walk the beaches…nurture rich, dark tans…and live in Never-Never land until August!”

Give me a break. Granted, my particular position is nothing to complain about. I work in a beautiful school, with amazing students…and the faculty lounge coffee?…..It’s not so bad. But, anyone who says that teaching is a field where lazy, wanna-be professionals go to die…they need a gigantic bite of reality pie.

Rocky is probably not a prime example. But I like the fact that this boxer continues to fight against insurmountable odds, because he truly believes he is destined to do so. “Because he can’t sing or dance.”

This school district in Las Vegas is not a good one. Even the superintendent agrees. But, I refuse to believe that ANY educational environment is beyond hope…and likewise, I refuse to believe that every teacher is “lazy” by the saying’s insinuation. Teachers are forever students, always wanting to grow as providers. I’m not saying we’re all alike…some are short…some are tall. Some graduated with a 3.9 GPAs….some barely graduated….yet all teachers get the same opportunity: “To mold and shape the future leaders!”

I suppose it’s just like saying all lawyers are sharks…and all doctors are quacks. Sheesh. Is there anything nice to say about people out there? Is there any positive reinforcement? I know there is, somewhere. And I’m not just talking about the superficial nonsense that accompanies those denim vests with sparkly reindeer or “Happy Holiday” flowers that elementary teachers wear. Look beyond the Christmas Tree ornaments that say “Teachers are Special”….and remember, before anyone can scrutinize a teacher’s motives…a teacher’s philosophy….a teacher’s effectiveness….you have to agree that at LEAST all teachers have one thing in common….like Rocky Balboa, they keep getting up when knocked down. Everyday is a build up…and test of endurance. Everyday teacher’s must file away their personal lives and allow their student’s personal lives to take the forefront. They must go the distance. In a sense…they are the ultimate student. I can’t think of another job where the goal of the job is to purposely plant yourself in the seat of the target audience and simply…endure….transform….regroup….and engage again.

My wife once said that teaching is the only job where your job description changes EVERYDAY. No two days are the same. Ever. Think about it. A fireman knows that either they will or will not put out fires that day. Teachers put out fires….start fires….talk about starting fires….prevent fires….fuel fires….or catch on fire! They are the only people that plan for the un-plannable. It’s a tough job.

It’s also the most refreshing and rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life. I continue live with the stigma of having to live up to a Private Lutheran School Teacher expectation. Is that too bad? Nah…but it’s an expectation. And in or out of the classroom, attempting to ALWAYS exceed that expectation gets tiring sometimes. Sometimes it feels like a never ending battle. Sometimes it’s a thankless, never ending battle. Sometimes it’s a losing….thankless….neverending battle.

It’s no wonder my colleagues at Faith Lutheran are such amazing people. I know I roll my eyes at the stodgy-ness of some of their philosophies. Perhaps the philosophy that needs to be under the microscope should be mine! My rolling eyes never seem to think that though. But, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t have the freedom to go to my Lord in prayer every day. In a school that not only embraces that….but encourages that….well, it makes the un-plannable approachable. It’s makes fire feel bearable. It helps the weakest fighter go the distance.

Alright…I’ll go there. Why am I not working as an actor on Broadway? Heck…working as an actor anywhere! Why? I don’t know. God’s plan, I guess. I can tell you this. Ten years ago, I sure wouldn’t have told you that I was going to be a high school teacher. But then again, ten years ago I was pursuing an acting career…and I was in a self-loathing, self-indulgent, self-ish…pit. My ambitions consisted of landing that commercial audition and feeling the warmth of the spotlight on my face in front of a crowd. Sounds okay for the novice goal-setter! But for the ambitious, A.D.D. actor….nope. It wasn’t enough. I was so scattered…I didn’t know what was around the corner. All I knew was that when I turn that corner, I didn’t really know where I wanted to go next.

Today…I turn the corner and find myself inspired by the shy wallflower in my 4th block class whose eyes sparkled when I used her example in class. Or the tough-guy jock in 1st block who actually made eye-contact with me today and….listened. A milestone? Maybe. A goal reached? I wouldn’t necessarily say that. But I do know that every morning…I put on both of my socks…I shave my patchy face….I eat my Apple Jacks….and I dust myself off, and start all over again.

Those who can’t…teach?

How about: “Those who have faith…teach.”

Without the grace of God…the support of my God…the wisdom and strength of my Lord…I could not even get out of bed. I’d be spineless, scared…and lazy. I’m not the example of a good teacher. Shoot! Not by a long shot! But I’m the example of an average student. One who lives, breathes, prays and learns with my classes everyday. I wouldn’t change that opportunity for anything in the world. Funny thing is….for a silly starry-eyed wanna-be actor….I never even saw it coming!

I don’t agree with Rocky. “…because I can’t sing or dance.” Eh…what does he know. I’ve seen Rhinestone! But I admire the character’s determination. I admire the fact that he knows what he NEEDS to do, whether or not he WANTS to do it. I can’t explain WHY I need to be a teacher. But I do know this…it’s not because of the teacher’s lounge coffee or the promise of a juicy red apple at the end of class. It extends so far beyond that. I can’t tell you why! I don’t know myself.

Instead…I’ll take my summer breaks, thank you! (Or as I call them, “scrimmages.”) Because if it wasn’t for those long runs up the stairs of the library, and the punching bags…and the desire….Rocky would have never gone the distance. I just continue to hope to last the next round….with faith.

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