Friday, May 18, 2012


We're sitting in a circle, as usual, and doing some end-of-the-year-style Checking In.

"I'm surprised I never got written up in this class," Jacob comments.  "I deserved it, like, twenty times."

Everyone agrees, chuckles.

"I'll tell you the reason if you want to know, Jacob," I comment.  "It's no secret."

Jacob sits up.  "Heck yeah I do!  Why?"

"After check-in," I say, gesturing for the next person to continue.

The moment I say, "And that's us!" Jacob's hand shoots into the air.  "Why didn't you write me up?" he asks.

"There's actually two reasons," I say.  "First, a big part of being successful in theater is being able and willing to take risks.  You have to put yourself out there to be successful, and you have to be okay with trying new things and being noticed.  If I punish you every time you act out, you'll be a lot less likely to take that risk anywhere, including on stage.  Yeah, it would be great if you were mature enough to realize that there's a time and a place for you to be the center of attention, and that acting out in class while I'm giving instructions is not the best thing to do.  But until you figure that out, if I have to choose between telling you to be quiet over and over again and punishing you for cracking a joke or doing things that will make you more successful on stage... well, to me your success as an actor wins."

The students are nodding.  They get it.

"What's the second reason?"  Jacob asks.

"It's tied pretty closely to the first one," I continue.  "A lot of what I do, a large part of my teaching philosophy, is grounded in creating a good classroom community.  Because you need to take risks to be successful at this work, you need to feel like this is a safe place to do that.  You're doing something that scares most people in the world, standing up on stage.  You need to feel like you're in a group of people who will support you no matter what you do.  That's huge for me, and that's why we do a lot of the 'weird' things we do, like Check-In.  It's also why I get so upset when anyone's absent."  They nod.  They've seen me react to discovering who's missing each day.  "Absences mess with our group dynamic - we're not the same if any one of you is gone.  So if I hate it when someone's absent for reasons like being sick or whatever, you can imagine what it would do to the group if I was the one who sent them away.  I don't want to say to any of you, 'You're not allowed to be a part of this group right now.'  I will do it if I need to.  I've sent kids out when their behavior is so disruptive they really can't be part of the group that day, if it's unsafe or inappropriate.  But I hate it when they put themselves in that place."

Jacob nods, somber.  I look around at the group.  "So, knowing those reasons, tell me: Should I have written Jacob up?  Should I send people out of class more?"

I ask this, knowing that a lot of the students in this particular group are the good, smart, well-behaved kind.  They're the ones who complain to the administration about teachers who don't get rid of the kids who disrupt their learning.  They're the ones who never get office referrals.

"No," they say collectively, shaking their heads.  "That makes sense.  Your classes are different."

And, in fact, they are.

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