Monday, October 31, 2011

The Power of Vatnhus

This year's speech schedule is all kerflooey.  Speech teams have been disappearing steadily thanks primarily to budget cuts.  As a result, it's been trickier than usual to schedule a full season of meets.  I started off with 11 on the calendar, but we're now down to 8.  The sparse pickings are why I broke two of my Rules of Sanity this year:

1) Don't schedule meets the same weekend as Drama plays, and
2) Avoid meets that are really far away.

The Advanced Drama class did indeed perform Much Ado twice on Thursday.  Both shows went well, and the biggest issue was that one kid didn't show up.  Fortunately, it was my technical director, which meant that I could step in and run the lights and sound after recruiting one of my non-class theater kids from the audience to take over my seat at the follow spot.  That's a much easier role for me to fill than if, say, Claudio hadn't shown up.

My Intro to Drama class were mostly terrified by this production, since it brought home the reality of their own show in two weeks.  "What if someone doesn't show up from our play?" they asked, wide-eyed at the thought.

"Then we'll figure something out," I said.  They still looked terrified, so I added a reassuring, "It'll work out."

"But how will it work out?" they ask.

"I don't know," I shrugged, "It's a mystery."

Being newbies to theater, they don't know how true those words of Stoppard's are.

Friday morning was the traditional Celebration of the Glory That is Us.  This was even more of a love-fest than usual, with students requesting a turn over and over again to give kudos to their fellow actors and techies.  I think this was because they were still running on the euphoric fumes of the night before, rather than having a weekend to cool off as they usually do.

Those fumes kept a lot of us going as I and half the class got on a bus immediately after classes Friday to drive to a speech meet three hours away.  When we picked up Paula, she quickly noticed how exhausted I looked and offered to have the bus drop me off at the hotel while she took the kids to dinner at the nearby mall.  It was sweet of her, but there was no way I would be able to sleep while on chaperoning duty.

(Side note:  I never understood why my mother would wait up for me or my siblings to get home.  I wanted to stay out late, and she would say that she needed to get some sleep.  I would tell her to just go to sleep, then, and don't wait up; but she always protested that she simply couldn't sleep until we were home.  If it's any retroactive comfort, I get it now, Mom.)

We took the kids to the mall and tried to give them two hours to play.  They protested, saying they needed more time to practice that night given that I was taping them in at unholy hour of 9:00 PM.  We settled on 90 minutes and sent the children on their way while the other chaperones and I headed to Joe's Crab Shack across the parking lot for a leisurely (but not quite as leisurely as we had hoped) dinner.

We got to the hotel a little after 6:30 and threw the kids in the pool.  They splashed and flirted and swam for an hour or so before putting on pajamas and regrouping in the lobby to practice their pieces.  Thankfully, Paula spotted the number of trips they were making to the hotel's free coffee pot and summarily cut them off.  "You will sleep tonight!" we told them.

At 9:00, as promised, we did room checks and taped their doors.  I wound down in my hotel room with some dessert I had gotten to-go at the restaurant before settling in for a few fitful hours of sleep.

By 5:30 the next morning I was making the rounds of untaping and wake-up knocks.  We had a quick breakfast and were on the bus by 6:15 to drive the additional 50 minutes to the meet.

Despite its distance, it may turn out to be my favorite meet of the year.  The hosting coach did not offer debate due to a lack of judges.  As a result, we actually finished 90 minutes early!  We were out of there by 3:30 and Paula and I made a quick and non-too-difficult executive decision to not stop on the way home.  The kids protested a little, and I had a flurry of text messages about 2.5 hours into the drive.  The "zombies at the back," as they called themselves, pleaded with me to stop the bus because A) they were hungry, B) they needed to use the facilities, and C) one of the senior boys had brought along a cat-shaped keyboard that "meowed" each note and he had apparently been playing it non-stop for the last 2.5 hours.

I texted them back saying that we were too close to the pick-up point to stop now, to cross their legs and squeeze, and I sent a message to the offending senior commanding him to cease and desist lest the wrath of Vatnhus descend upon him/the keyboard cat.  (Vatnhus being another new nickname of mine.  This time it's self-appointed, as I had written that week's speech letter in the form of a Norse myth/Bible-speak and therefore created a new translation of my own name which I and the children all quite enjoy.)

They were dutifully quiet, enough so that I heard a mewing version of the Harry Potter theme drifting up from the back of the bus.  I stood up and walked to the back of the bus (oh! the powers of Vatnhus, the only being who can walk while the bus is moving!).  When he saw me coming, Paul immediately started shrieking that he would save the Keyboard Cat, while curling his body around it.  I calmly stood over him, and asked if he could play a song for me.  "I haven't had a chance to see it in action yet," I said.

He tentatively uncurled himself, then handed the keyboard to the girl sitting in front of him.  "Here, Maya," he said.  "You play something."

Maya took the proffered instrument and picked out a melody on the keys.  "That's pretty cool," I said.  "Can I try?"

Maya turned it around to face me.  I picked up the keyboard, then marched back to the front of the bus amid cheers from the tormented-no-longer students and one long, agonized "Nooooo!" from Paul.

I only had to wait around for one kid's parents after our arrival, and by a little after 7:00 I was back at the condo.  I quickly threw everything and Natasha into my car and drove down the mountain so I could sleep in my own bed for the first time in a week.  I was absolutely bone-tired, and as I fought to stay awake on the drive I vowed to never again do a speech meet immediately after a play production.

At least never again after I do it again next week.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Well, Flock Me!

"Ms. Waterhouse, we're like your family, aren't we?"

"Well, no.  I appreciate the sentiment, but you're very much not my family."

"Okay, fine.  Then we're like... your flock?"

"My flock?"

"Yeah!  We're your flock!  And you're our flockmother."

One of the pieces I tried to write for Making Waves that never got off the ground was a piece about all of the names and titles I've been called as a teacher.  I can honestly say that "Flockmother" was not a name I'd ever imagined for myself.  I can also say that I was quite touched this morning when my Advanced Drama class coronated me as such.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Snow Day

Snow Day

Yes, today was the first official snow day of the year.

I was resolved to it early yesterday morning and not that sad, despite the subsequent cancellation of opening night. We all knew a big storm was coming. As foretold, it started raining around the time I left school last night after our dress rehearsal. I stopped in the local gas station to get some groceries and by the time I left, my car wa covered in heavy slushy snow. So really, it was a relief when I finally got the call at 6:00 this morning. One of my students texted me almost immediately: "Would the telephone lie, would a teacher lie? Hence from her, let it snow! No school!"

I laughed, texted her back, then went back to sleep for a few more hours.

I had forgotten how quickly the time flies on days like today. I made cookies for my students, did a lot of computer work, vacuumed, cleaned up cat vomit, and watched almost all of Firefly while doing the other tasks. I was surprised when I cleaned up from dinner and discovered that it was time for bed. Early, yes, but since I need to be at school by 6:30 tomorrow for our in-school performance first period, it is indeed time.

Two performances tomorrow, then I can cross another show off my list. Hurrah and adieu!

Monday, October 24, 2011


That's how much I've spent on this set.  I stopped by the hardware store in town today to buy staples for my staple gun.  Aside from tacking down some foliage tomorrow, the set is done thanks to a handful of kids who came by after school to put the finishing touches on everything.  And thanks to my pack-rat tendencies resourcefulness, the only thing I had to buy for this set was the staples.

We used the same platforms that I use in every show, painting them black this time with crazy coloful hippie swirls and patterns all over the tops.  We raided the school's butcher paper supplies and cut out over 300 hippie symbols (peace signs, hand peace signs*, flowers, hearts, happy faces, and yin-yang symbols) in various colors which we then stapled to 14-feet-long sections of yarn.  Borachio and Ursula hung those garlands from the top of the cyc using duct tape and a very tall ladder for me today in class, both of them shouting their lines from the top of the ladder when their scenes came up.  Meanwhile, Balthasar and Watchman #3 were out on the loading dock behind the building making one more small platform for me with the tools Watchman #3 brought in from home since the only tools we have in the shop is two hammers and a screwdriver (the aforementioned staple gun is mine).  Don Pedro, Donna Joanna, Watchman #1, and Beatrice all decorated the set with our stash of fake flowers and vines while Antonia and a girl from my speech class made Hero a wedding bouquet from the same stash.

It's a very psychedelic set.  I love it because a) the kids did 99% of the work, b) they love it, c) it's done, and d) it only cost me $3.49.

Even if you add that to the $30 I spent on fake candles for the funeral scene; heck, we're almost guaranteed to turn a profit on this show whether or not we get a snow day Wednesday!

(Knock on wood!)

* Per my instructions, both fingers of the hand peace signs are securely stapled/taped lest the index fingers "disappear" leaving us with a set of hands flipping the audience off.  Always one step ahead of the teenagers, I am!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Weekend!

This week's speech meet was on Friday, and while I don't love taking the team out of school for the entire day for a meet (let alone having to set up for a sub for myself) I LOVE that a Friday meet provides a Saturday off for me.  To celebrate, Friday night I switched off my phone, took a dose of sleep drugs, and slept for 12 hours.  It was delicious and much needed after a week of far-less-than-stellar-sleep.

Saturday consisted of running errands, including the traditional pre-show prop shopping.  I also bought groceries for the week ahead and did a lot of laundry.  With shows Wednesday and Thursday, 8-12 inches of snow predicted for mid-week, and an overnight speech meet Friday/Saturday, I hauled myself and my cat up the mountain after we were home taught today.  You all are really missing out on a beautiful night here, by the way.  The sky's perfectly clear and the stars are outstanding.  It's absolutely gorgeous out there.

Oh!  I also got a new calling at church today - Relief Society Teacher.  They're having me do the fourth Sunday of the month which means a) the lessons are based on Conference talks, and b) I won't actually teach until the end of January since I'll be in Paris at the end of November and the fourth Sunday in December is Christmas.

I'm glad for it.  I've enjoyed having a purpose for practicing the piano each week and, frankly, most of the time lately my piano-playing calling has been the only reason I've stuck out the full three blocks of church; but callings that involve teaching just feel so right and natural.  I know it's a direct result of the talk I gave last month (the bishopric told me so), which is a big part of why I was so eager to speak in Sacrament meeting.  I needed to raise my profile in the ward, and it's worked out for the better.  On top of this new calling, I was also invited to join a book club.  Lisa, a feisty member of the ward and a middle-school English teacher, invited me to join a club she started years ago with a melange of her friends, both member and non-member.  She warned me that the books they pick "aren't always church-approved."  I took as a good sign and gladly accepted her invitation.  We read A Discovery of Witches for October, which tries to be a grown-ups version of Twilight.  Next month's book is The Hunger Games.  Sadly, I'll have to miss that because the club is meeting the same night as the Drama 1 play.  I will definitely clear my calendar for December, though.  I enjoyed the outing and the company.  It was a little strange, since most of the women are old enough to have daughters my age (and, in fact, do.  Two of the women were moms to two friends of mine in the singles ward), but they're educated, smart, opinionated, and literate.  So, woot!

Now that I'm settled up here at the condo with food and clothing for a week, a cat sniffing all around, and internet (plus my new laptop!), I'm actually rooting for a snow day.  I wouldn't mind losing a performance since they'll still do two on Thursday, and a snow day up here mid-week sounds perfectly delightful.

Which guarantees the storm will blow right over us, right?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Reckoning

Now we are 32!

I am typing this entry on my new Macbook! Yay! It's shiny and has a huge memory (so I can laugh in a few years, it's got 500 GB. For perspective, my old one had 80) and really, who could ask for anything more?

Yes, that is what was in the FedEx box and is what I so patiently waited five weeks for. It's so worth it.

I celebrated/checked the speakers (they're louder than my old ones!) by watching the latest Vlogbrothers video. I'd watch a show, but I'm old and tired and am going to bed soon.

Speaking of old, I picked up a platform today to clear the stage for the (surprise!) assembly after my drama class and my back seized up and shrieked, "Oh, no you didn't!" all sassy-like. I want to take it as a sign that my injuries from the summer's car accident are still not mended because I don't like the alternative explanation that I'm just getting old and now I have back problems soon to be followed by bifocals, gray hair.

I had a lovely but mostly normal day. School, practice, then dinner at Damascus Grill and dessert at Yogurtland with the Masons. I've gotten many kind wishes today in person, by phone, and by the internets - thank you all for those! It was delightful to hear from you!

I'm torn at the moment between trying on the new dresses I ordered for Paris that arrived in the mail today, playing with my new shiny toy, and going to bed.

Quickly, then, let's review the past year:

Number of Books: 84 (which is weird!)
Number of Movies: 34
Number of Attended Plays/Concerts: 19
Number of Produced Plays: 8
Number of Blog Entries: 234
Number of Visits to the ER: 1
Number of Smithsonian Museums: 18
Number of Miles Above Sea Level: 16, 109
Number of Llamas: So many llamas!
Number of Trips: 14+ - they are as follows:
  • Lots of Speech Meets
  • Salt Lake City
  • Grand Junction
  • Boulder
  • Seattle/Mt. Vernon/Bellingham
  • Vancouver
  • Grand Junction encore
  • Grand Junction encore encore
  • Washington, DC
  • PERU!
  • Charlottesville/Monticello
  • Rehoboth Beach
  • Grand Junction encore encore encore
  • Pacific Beach, CA (I can't believe I forgot this one!)
  • Boulder
  • And again more speech meets

A good day, a good year, and many good times to come. Bring it, 32!

Thanks for the hat!
(In a beret made by ma mere, which came with the instructions that I wear it while doing something very touristy in Paris. If you have suggestions for what I should do, do tell!)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

When in Doubt...


Loaves 1-3 of 6

I'm making pumpkin chocolate chip bread for my classes tomorrow because

A) It's nice to be in a district that doesn't ban homemade food,
B) I want to celebrate my birthday somehow,
C) Baking is one of my favorite stress releasers, and
D) It's October and while I've been bookmarking things that pop up on my blogroll like this, this, and this, I compromised with something that I've made before and that is more reasonable time-wise.

And it is also delicious.

I am also excited about playing with this after school tomorrow:


I received it a month ago, and while I know exactly what's inside and while the givers, i.e. my parents, insisted that I could open the gift early; I am resolved to wait until my birthday proper to play with it. Having a birthday in the middle of the week in the middle of a month of speech meets doesn't allow for much celebrating, and I really wanted to make sure I had something to look forward to tomorrow.

And I am very much looking forward to playing with what's inside that box!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Speaking of Truths and Shared Experiences

I listened to the Mormon Matters podcast about Intellectuals and the Mormon Tradition and I very much appreciated hearing this:

"I was sitting in church years ago with a friend who is a trained musician, a very accomplished musician and in a very jovial spirit she leaned over and she said, 'You know, sometimes Church is really painful because the music is so bad?' And I'm like, 'Yeah, I kinda understand what you're talking about because a lot of Sundays are very painful as someone who loves language and ideas.'  They just aren't great!  It's like when a foodie goes to McDonald's sometimes.  I mean I'm not saying that Church is McDonald's, but let's not underestimate that Sundays can be difficult for people who love ideas and words.  So let's acknowledge that we go through that discomfort, it's okay to feel that, but that what happens on Sunday is not a total Mormon universe."

In My Dreams

I didn't sleep very well Saturday night.

Some of it was an inability to decompress after the speech meet.  My schedule was all thrown off and I was having a hard time dropping out of teacher/chaperone/coach mode.  That and the late-night-fast-food-dinner are what I blame for my succession of bad dreams.

I dreamed I was at a party and saw a truck hit my car.  There were plenty of people around who should have seen it happen and should have helped me get the info of the perpetrators, but I wound up chasing the truck on foot to get the license plate number when all the witnesses turned back to the party.

I woke up stressed and annoyed, flipped to a different side of the bed, and fell into another dream.

This time I was on a bus in some foreign country.  I was sitting against the window with my stuff set out on the seat next to me as I sorted through my purse.  When the bus pulled over for a quick stop, a guy snatched my camera off the seat and took off running.  I jumped up and followed him, trying to get my camera back.  I lost him in a crowd, and when I returned to the bus all of the rest of my stuff was missing and there was another couple in my seat who claimed that they didn't see anything.  Everyone on the bus must have seen where my stuff went, but when I asked them for help they all ignored me.

Over and over again I dreamed of needing help, of being surrounded by people, and of being completely on my own.  I finally got up early Sunday morning and just got ready for the day because I didn't want to deal with any more of those dreams.

I have a new visiting teaching companion, and we met outside one of our assigned people's homes at 10:00 for our monthly appointment.  My companion was dressed in jeans and a sweater and she commented (in the necessary self-degrading way) on my being dressed in Sunday clothes.  I brushed it off, not wanting to explain that I was all dressed up because I had been awake for hours because of nightmares.

I like my companion and the lady we visited.  They know each other well, but neither really knew me so they asked a few getting-to-know-you questions right off the bat.  Which, of course, led to me saying how much I like to travel. 

"Ooh!" they squealed.  "Where have you been that's interesting?"

"Um..." I said. "A lot of places?"

"Name them!' they insisted.  I dutifully listed a few of my recent bigger trips.

"You're so lucky," they sighed.  "You don't get to do that sort of thing when you're married and tied down with a husband and kids.  I'm so jealous!  Good for you!"

It's a comment I get a lot when I meet members of the Church.  It's definitely not meant to be spiteful or patronizing, and yet it always makes me uncomfortable.  I don't like the grass-is-always-greener platitudes.  Our lives are all made up of the duality of choices we've made and things that are out of our control.  I want to be married, and I'm not.  I love to travel, so I do.  It's not so remarkable, but I get so many comments in (pat pat) "Good for you!" tones that it gets hard to keep smiling and make the correct, polite responses.  Of course, the proverbial wound was salted when the Relief Society lesson that afternoon turned out to be all about this April Conference talk.

I realized that I'm overly sensitive to the issue of marriage in the Church.  I wondered whether this entry would be worth writing because it seems like this is a theme I've been stuck on for so long without variation.  This morning, though, I came across this essay at C. Jane Run.  Yes, it's about infertility, but there was so much truth in it about my experience as a Mormon old maid.  And I suspect there's truth in it for other issues too.

There are a lot of comments at church that sting without malicious intentions, barbs that stab right through the chink in your armor.   Most of the time I can take a few deep breaths and turn it off, but it's getting harder and harder to maintain hope and faith when I've gone so long without evidence to back me up.  And it certainly doesn't help when my not-so-subconscious invades my much-needed-sleep.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Of COURSE It's a Competition!

While driving down the mountain late last night I did the math and figured that I had worked 76 hours this week.

I was disappointed.  I didn't win for working the most, nor did I win for being the most healthy.  Each of the good habits I'd built up over the past few months (cooking my own meals instead of getting take-out, actually eating breakfast and lunch during the work week, exercising every day) disappeared as the work demands rose.  On top of that, I have a cold that hit while at the hotel Friday night and a vicious double-cold-sore that erupted at the meet Saturday.  I am not healthy, nor do I win the dedication-to-the-job award.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Just for Fun

A couple of sophomore girls came running up to me after lunch one day earlier this week.

"Ms. W.!  Ms. W.!" they said urgently, "We told Ezra and Jake that they have to be in dress code to go swimming at the hotel pool!"

I laughed.  "That's excellent!"

"Yeah!" they said, "You know, shorts to your knees, a t-shirt-"

Just then Jake and Ezra walked up.  "Ms. W.?" Ezra asked.  "Is it true that you have to be in dress code to go swimming at the hotel pool?"

The girls hid behind me, barely containing their snickers.  "Of course it is!" I said.  "It's a school activity, and you know the rules."

"Legitly?" Jake said.  Ezra just stared at me, opened mouth.

"Yes," I said firmly.  "The student handbook says that school dress code must be followed at all school activities.  So, you know, shorts to the knee, you must wear a t-shirt-"

"That's so unfair!" they exclaimed, walking away.  I heard them discussing it as they left, still wondering if the rules could really be so impractical and unjust.  So I sent the following email to our administrators:

Our principal came to find me after school.

"I got to Jake," he said conspiratorially.

I clapped my hands in glee.  "What did you do?"

"I pulled him out of his math class and said, 'I heard you have an issue with school policy.  What about the dress code confuses you?'  He was practically shaking."

(Note:  Our principal is also our football coach, and he looks the part - a big, intimidating guy.)

"That's excellent!" I said, "I can't wait to see what they do at the pool tomorrow."

"Yeah," he agreed as he turned to go.  "Okay, I'm off to find Ezra."

Hey, other jobs give bonuses or company cars as perks.  Me?  I get to mess with teenagers.

Sunday, October 09, 2011


When I left for the school at 5:30 yesterday morning, there was at least an inch of wet, heavy snow on the ground and it was coming down in thick, giant flakes.

Two of the five registered schools called by 7:30 to say they had made it halfway and had to turn back around due to the storm.

Three of the schools actually made it, as did all of my students and most of my judges.  We held a tiny but thorough meet, my kids won a lot (which should be no surprise, since they made up over 60% of the competitors), one school left before the third round because the snow was still coming down thick and giant, and we got everything cleaned up and were out of there by 1:30.

What I mostly noticed this time was how easily things came to me.  People asked me questions and I knew the answer, just like that.  No second-guessing, no combing through the Speech Handbook, no faking my way out of mistakes with "Oh, well, we did things differently in Utah...."  It's so nice to know what I'm doing.

I stuck around the school for about 30 minutes while two of my students waited for belated parental rides.  By the time I left, the snow had moved northward towards the city.  The roads were not bad at all, though, and the snow turned to rain as I exited the canyon.  I ran a few errands, then everything started to suck.  I realized that I hadn't had any water that day (let alone lunch).  Two big glasses of ice water later, I was in a good enough mood to join Rachel, Ben, and Jack for an early dinner at Olive Garden.

Then I fell asleep sitting on my couch at 8:00 PM.

I moved to my bed sometime around 11 and slept quite soundly.  Today has been quieter - some housekeeping, practicing the piano for church, church itself, and I read two books.  I had been sorely neglecting my book-reading this week, so it felt nice to literally catch up (get it?  Literally?).

This week will be a crazy one, too - I have a travel club meeting for NYC, CPR training, a non-field-trip to see To Kill a Mockingbird, midterms and end-of-the-quarter grading, the PSATs, and an overnight speech meet in Vail.  Sadly, the last part means I have to miss a family-get-together in Salt Lake for my brother's birthday.  Since Rachel and Jack got to run home this week for a mini-trip too, I'm feeling a bit home- family-sick.  I'm very much looking forward to Christmas.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Home Speech Meet

Tomorrow's the Home Speech Meet.  Naturally, after weeks of beautiful, sunny, 60-80 degree fall weather, the forecast is this:

Of course.

I'm sleeping up at the condo tonight, so I'm not so worried about my commute.  The other schools coming, though, are coming from grand distances - from Strasburg (way east) to Gunnison (way south) to Branson (so far away I bet Ben didn't even know it exists).  I've got my fingers crossed for them.

Paula, my assistant coach, showed up at 9:30 this morning and said, "What can I do to help?"  How awesome is that?  Thanks to her, we got everything done before school let out, which meant all we had to do after school is set up the classrooms, post signs, move food to the various locations, print off the registrations, and hand out the speech hoodies.  Most of the team showed up to help and we had the whole thing ready to go within 30 minutes.  A handful of students stuck around to run their pieces, then I booted everyone out until tomorrow.

I'm at the condo now.  I didn't get a chance to eat today, so I just had a Subway sandwich from the local gas station for dinner (at 4:30!) and I'm currently wrapped up in a furry blanket while the condo heats up, trying to figure out what to do about my back.  See, I woke up this morning with the muscles on the left side of my neck and the right side of my back completely seized up and sore.  They've stayed that way all day despite painkillers, stretches, and a lot of kids laughing at me for not being able to move very well.  I've named the upper ache "Speech" and the lower ache "Meet," fairly certain of the cause.

Come hell or high snow drifts, I'll be done with the meet by 2:00 tomorrow afternoon.  That will be very, very nice.

P.S.  The hoodies are pretty good this year.  The students picked the slogan "I choose you, Speakachu!" on an ash-colored hoodie (apparently Ash is a Pokemon character), and one of the freshmen did a nice spinoff "Speakchu" picture for the front logo, complete with a cool monkey.  Because why not?

Thursday, October 06, 2011


Rachel was right - I am being unfair.  Not everyone loves Shakespeare.  Not everyone loves Cafe Rio.

To clarify, though, my students go through that complaining phase with every tough play we've done - Inherit the Wind, Importance of Being Earnest, even the scenes from Funny Thing we did a few years ago.

I told my students about her comment, though, and more than I expected said they liked the tough stuff (and Annie's Organic Burritos).  They were the ones who have taken my Advanced class before - they know the rewards that will come.

They also all liked the fact that my little sister said I wasn't being fair.  They did not miss that irony at all.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Sibling Rivalry

"What play is the Intro to Drama class doing?" my first period class asked this morning.

"Harry's Hotter at Twilight," I said.  "It's a mash-up of Harry Potter, Twilight, Lord of the Rings, and a bunch of other stories."

"That sounds awesome!" they exclaimed.

"It'll be funny, but it's a pretty stupid play," I said.

"Why can't we do fun plays like that?" they complained.

"Because you're the Advanced Drama class," I said.

I was a bit mystified, though.  I don't understand why working on a mindless play would be more appealing than performing Shakespeare.  Shakespeare!  It's so much more engaging and funny and smart and human.  I understand why someone would want a burrito from Taco Bell in dire circumstances, but if you are given a choice between Taco Bell and Cafe Rio, why would you pick the lesser fare?

I think they lose sight of the value of the process, let alone the pleasure that comes from working hard.  They're past the novelty of the initial rehearsals and into the grind of it all.  There's always that stage where they don't like the play so much anymore - it's hard and it's too much work.  And there's their younger class playing with the shiny new toy that everyone's talking about.

They'll get over it.  They'll love their play again when performance week comes, and they'll be proud of the work they did.  And then, a few weeks later, they'll go see the Intro to Drama class play, and we'll talk about it the next day in class.

And they'll wish they had gotten to do that show, too.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Taking Responsibility

One of my seminary teachers in high school used to flip his tie over his shoulder when he went "off-book."  It was his signal to us that he was explaining something from his point of view as opposed to the CES/GA/Official Church Doctrine point of view.

I've wondered sometimes if I need a similar signal with my students.  Not to indicate informational sources, but rather to indicate when I'm angry.

I yelled a lot as a first year teacher.  Then I figured out that my students only took me seriously when I yelled because that's the signal their parents taught them.  I wanted to teach them to recognize the nuances of emotions beyond the black-and-white I'm-Happy-I-Like-You/I'm-Angry-I-Hate-You.  Plus, it always confused them when we were in the auditorium.  Our stage at DPJH was so huge that I had to project loudly to give directions, and the kids often misread my volume as anger when it was simply volume.

So I worked on not yelling, going in the complete opposite direction by training myself to go silent when angry.  I came up with some signals, too - looking fixedly at my watch a la my high school drama teacher, drawing a Box of Doom on the board, sitting down and waiting silently until then shushed each other, etc.  It saved my voice and it made for better classroom management.

This morning I didn't quite yell at my students, but I did raise my voice.  I was frustrated, I was trying to explain my frustration with their behavior, and they were laughing it off.  Not because they're mean - they just didn't understand that I was being honest about my frustrations.

I was annoyed because of their flakiness.  Last Tuesday was a semi-Day-of-Remembrance at our school.  Students have the option of missing school for the day in order to volunteer for service projects of their choice.  I like the idea quite a bit, actually, and am happy to support it.  What annoyed me was that more than 50% of my class was absent that day, and not a single one of them had thought to give me a heads up.

"But it's an excused absence!" they protested.

"But you knew in advance that you were going to be absent and you didn't have the decency or the courtesy to let me know beforehand," I explained.

They looked confused.  They didn't recognize that that choice made a difference to me.

"We had rehearsal scheduled for that day," I said.  "You knew that.  And because so many of you were absent, we couldn't rehearse.  If I had known in advance, I could have made plans to accommodate.  But none of you bothered to tell me."

Really, it wasn't that big of a deal.  I knew that.  But then on Friday my assistant coach drove all the way to school to work with the eight students who had signed up for after-school practice, and not a single kid showed up.  Yes, there was a pep rally and I know that sort of thing empties their brains like Etch-a-Sketches, but I was frustrated that not a single kid thought about the time and arrangements Paula and I had made to be there for them.

To top it off, I've been fighting to get this New York trip off the ground.  I need 10 kids to sign up for the trip to happen.  After a lot (a LOT) of asking and pushing and prodding, I had firm commitments from 12 students by the deadline on Friday. I had halted the registrations because the company would not refund any deposits from registered kids, even if we didn't get enough students signed up.  I didn't want anyone losing $100 because our group was too small, so I paused all the registrations until we had more than enough committed.

Friday was the deadline to register.  I refreshed the trip website over and over again Friday night, watching to make sure the students all got registered.  Midnight came and went, and the group enrollment stuck at 9.

I compared lists, figured out which students were missing, and hunted them down via texting, email, at Homecoming, and at school today.

Each one said their parents changed their minds at the last minute.  Each one looked sad, but not too bothered.  So I explained to each one that we were short students now and 9 of their friends were going to lose $100 each because they made a commitment and then flaked on it.

To their credit, they looked abashed.  I talked to each one about their options, about ways to talk to their parents or come up with the money.  I made a lot of phone calls and talked the company into extending the deadline.  I hope at least one of them steps up and honors their commitment.

In general I'm opposed to the idea of character education in schools.  I don't like the expectation that public schools are responsible for teaching students ethics and morality in lieu of parents providing such lessons and examples (let alone the lack of regulation for what defines "good character").  Yes, I know they're teenagers and forward-thinking isn't a strong skill yet.  And yes, I know that it's good for them to get in these situations so they learn about responsibility and the consequences of their actions.  I'm just tired of taking the brunt of the negative consequences and of the extra work I do to teach them lessons that have absolutely nothing to do with Theater, English, Humanities, or Speech.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

A Week of Drama

Last night was the Homecoming Dance.  It's held in our school cafeteria which sounds lame until you see our school's cafeteria.  It's pretty sweet, what with the giant stone fireplace, pinewood beams, and the floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over the forest, mountains, and stream.

I was put in charge of the pictures.  Since we only had five couples get their pictures taken, that meant I had a really slow night (as you saw from my bored blogging).  The special ed teacher was assigned to the task with me and we passed the time chatting about students, her pregnancy, and flipping through the stack of bridal magazines she pulled from her purse.

Since each teacher is required to chaperone one of the three annual formal dances, I actually don't mind the Homecoming job since 1) I get my chaperoning duties out of the way early in the year and 2) I get to see a lot more of my kids (i.e. freshmen as well as recent-graduates-who-are-still-dating-high-schoolers).

Per tradition, we also had a pep rally Friday afternoon.  These are not the most exciting affairs - usually it's a 1/2 hour spiel where the band plays a song, the fall teams are all called up to introduce themselves with no ceremony whatsoever, and some sort of game is played.  They always make me miss the fun assemblies we put in at DPJH (especially the haka!).

The game this year was dodgeball.  In groups of six the classes sparred off against each other two at a time (freshmen v. sophomores, juniors v. seniors), then the winners (sophomores v. juniors) played against each other.  When the sophomores won that round the student council adviser announced that they would get to play a bonus round against the teachers.

She had asked me if I would play before the assembly started.  I told her I would only if she was desperate for teachers.  While it wouldn't be the first time I've revisited my P.E. days for the sake of the children, I am definitely not any better at nor have any fondness for such things than the last time I played dodgeball back in... middle school?  Elementary school?  I don't even remember.

When the teacher team took their places, though, they were indeed short one teacher.  The adviser looked my way and, sighing, I took off my keys and sunglasses and crossed the gym in front of the bleachers.  As I did, all of my students cheered and started chanting my name.

Have you ever heard a couple hundred people chant your name and cheer?  It's pretty awesome, no matter what demons you're going to face.

Fortified by that, I took my place in line with my colleagues, facing the sophomores who were both grinning and growling at the prospect of hurling medium-sized balls at their teachers.  The class president called, "On your mark, get set, GO!" and everyone raced to the line of balls in the middle.

Everyone except me, that is.  My strategy, carefully concocted, was to stay behind the other teachers and not touch the balls.  The plan worked well up until most of the other teachers were knocked out of the game.  Down to just me and the gym teacher, I tried to help for a while by collecting the balls that missed us and handing them to the gym teacher to throw while dodging the ones begin thrown at my head.  Ultimately, I had to defend our honor by throwing a ball myself, which a sophomore promptly caught thus eliminating me from the game.  The sophomores won, much to their (and all of the student body's) delight.  And thus ends my dodgeball career for time and all eternity.  I hope.

In other types of drama, I took my Advanced Drama class on a field trip this week.  We missed the entire day of school on Thursday in order to visit the Denver Center Theater Company.  We arrived just in time for our scheduled acting workshop (but not in time to visit Starbucks, much to my students' disappointment), then saw a matinee of The Liar.  I gave them 20 minutes to grab a quick lunch on the 16th Street Mall (they all went to Goodtimes, I went to a deli) before we got a backstage tour of the workshops and techwork that goes on at DCTC. 

The kids loved it all and were perfectly polite and intelligent-sounding.  I had given them a crash-course the day before on 17th century France, Aristotle's Poetics, and the Holy Trinity of French playwrights (Moliere, Racine, and Corneille).  I drilled them on the information again on our bus ride down, and when the actor leading the workshop mentioned that he was "excited to see this new production of Corn... Corn... Cornelly-"

"Corneille," my students said simultaneously in the French accent I had made them practice.

"Nice," the actor said.  My students smiled, pleased with themselves and their smarts.