Sunday, November 24, 2013

Another One Bites the Dust

We were just starting our after-school dress rehearsal on Wednesday when one of the students mentioned that T. had gotten suspended that afternoon.

I got the other students going, then ducked out to call our administration.  They verified that yes, T. was suspended for the entire day on Thursday.

T. had a fairly large part in the play that was opening Thursday night.

I wish that this was a rare occurrence, but it's not.  I've had far too many last minute drop-outs over the years, enough that I've come to expect it and in the days prior to shows I'm placing mental bets on which kid is going to flake out this time.

Is it flaking out when the kid is suspended because he threw a milk carton at a passing semi truck during lunch?

T. beat the odds.  There were two others ahead of him on my "close watch" list.  They both showed up, although they did skip the last two rehearsals and arrived 40 minutes after call.  T., however, was definitively out.

Inevitably I get the question from the cast a week before the performance - "What if someone doesn't show up?"  I always answer, "Then we'll deal with it."

And we do.  I hung up with the admin and went back to my cast, calling them together into a circle.  I explained the situation.  I didn't have to do any more than that - two other boys immediately volunteered to take over his part.  They divided up his lines on the spot and vowed to be memorized by the performance.

And they were.  In fact, they did a great job.  That's the flip side to this coin.  A student makes a bad choice and lets everyone down.  The other students rise to the occasion and make it work.

We had three performances - Thursday night, Friday morning for the school, and Friday night.  T. showed up right before the bell Friday morning.  Everyone else was dashing about in costume, getting ready for the curtain going up in 12 minutes.  T. strolls in, no costume in sight.  Those who spot him give me the "Oh, no!  This is awkward!" look.  I just cross to T.  "You're not performing today," I say.  "You can have a seat in the audience."

"Okay," he said.  It didn't seem to be a surprise, nor should it have been.  He left with the audience at the end of the performance, and I didn't see him the rest of the day.

My mistake was checking my email after school.  There was the message from T.'s father: "Why wasn't my son allowed to perform today?" he asks.  "Why should his grade be affected by your excluding him from the performance?" he asks.  "Why is he still being punished?" he asks.

I don't handle criticism well.  Oh, I can process it, respond to it rationally, and act professionally.  I just can't let it go.  An email like this gnaws at me for days.

Should T. have been allowed to perform?  Absolutely not.  He missed the final three rehearsals and the first show.  Based on his performance at the rehearsals earlier in the week, he wasn't memorized nor did he have a costume yet.  I hope he was disappointed to be kept from performing - that would show some awareness of consequences.  He made a choice that negatively impacted twenty four other students and myself, let alone endangered the life of the semi truck driver.  I hope he was at least disappointed that he didn't get to perform.

Should his grade be affected?  That's trickier.  On one hand, he did not complete the cumulative assessment for the term.  However, if a grade is meant to be a measure of his knowledge of theater, then no.  I should find another way to evaluate his current level of knowledge and performance to make up for the examination he missed.

But if that's what grades truly are then the kindergarden-level 20-year-old in my other drama class shouldn't receive the same grade as my other students.  But he will.  I'm legally required to adapt the curriculum to fit the special (and officially diagnosed) needs of students.  And so the student who can barely talk will receive a grade as if he delivered the Shakespeare monologue I know he didn't.  Grades are currency.  Some students get welfare checks while others earn every penny.

Grades are one of the few tools left for schools.  In a society where schools are expected to teach students citizenship, manners, morals, self-esteem, psychological coping mechanisms, nutrition, exercise, finance, how to get a job, how to hold a job, and how to be a decent human being in addition to the core curricula; we need as many tools as we can get.  If this grade is a reflection of his knowledge of theater, then perhaps T. shouldn't fail for missing one day.  If this grade is a reflection of his behavior as a member of our society, then he has absolutely failed.  Let him receive that mark and learn from it.

I wrote T.'s father a polite response.  I didn't mention any of these thoughts, of course.  I didn't discuss T.'s lack of preparation leading up to the show, his complete lack of demonstrated interest in the welfare of the show or his fellow cast members, his nonchalant attitude in the midst of a crisis he caused.  I just said that removing him from the cast at that point would be standard policy in any theater company, then threw in a sports comparison to help get the point across.

School policy and my administration will back me up on giving a grading consequence, but I hope the weekend gives his dad time enough to cool off so I don't have to argue the issue.

Unfortunately, the weekend wasn't enough time for me to cool off.

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