I haven't written a blog in two years. The last time I wrote one was the end of September 2013. I was twenty five and just starting out on an adventure I knew nothing about. Since then a lot has changed. Two years ago I attempted to video document snippets of my first year of teaching and then reality hit me. I got swallowed up in a big fish. I'm not quite sure about this but I think I may have been recently vomited out onto the beach (hurray gross, random Jonah imagery!) I think this will happen every summer as I get a break for a few months and let myself reflect through the fog of the previous year. This is me doing that.
When I look back on what we've accomplished I have to double take because it all seems so unreal. I have directed two musicals, and four full length straight plays. I have managed several budgets spending tens of thousands of dollars and have come out each year in the black. I have taken half a dozen field trips with crazy teenagers--two of which were overnighters. I have taught five beginning theatre classes, three theatre II classes and two combined advanced theatre classes. I have led two technical theatre classes and worked with three students on their independent studies. I have helped almost 300 playwrights develop their voice (some of who had never written a play in their life). I had the privilege to bless six different families with $3,000 in college scholarships. I have helped twenty three young directors write and produce their own plays, and (most importantly) I have met a lot of amazing people and built relationships with hundreds of students, parents, and teachers and staff. Mind blown.
Though I am at the very beginning of my career and my little post-it-note resume would look silly compared to some of my colleagues, it still feels like a lot to me and also quite humbling because I don't know how I survived any of it. I don't know how I am alive right now because pretty much immediately during my first year (and second year) I felt like an actor without his script. Exposed. Incompetent. Alone. I knew there was no use looking around for it because nobody told me this in college but...there is no script.
The strangest part of it all is the fact that I've had to be an adult in a real way with young teens (some of who look older than I do--yes I still get stopped in the hall and asked if i'm a student) looking to me to know what the heck i'm doing--the terrifying reality that I am learning to embrace is that it's all improvisation. Simply put, life has no script.
You don't know what you know until you have to teach it back to someone else.
With the demands of being the only theatre teacher in a public high school I have quickly learned my limits and have caught intimate glimpses into the gaps of my own abilities and knowledge. I've learned that decisions I make won't always be popular and that I won't always be liked (at times I will make kids cry--and sometimes they will make me cry!) I've learned that my motives will be questioned and that at times my students will be unforgiving and hold me to impossible standards. I've learned that it's okay to say, "I don't know." Mostly...I've learned that I am human and my own brokenness will cause some drama (why can't we just keep the drama on the stage?)
I like saying, "I don't know," but my students don't like hearing that because I think there is a perception that teachers are the wellspring of all knowledge--I am supposed to know everything about theatre. I am supposed to have read every play and have seen every broadway musical. I am supposed to have all Tony award winners (and nominees) memorized--as well as the Pulitzer for dramatic lit. I am supposed to be an expert in tools and how to make a set not look like poop. I am supposed to be everything for everyone--to "fix" kids and solve all the problems they have (parents seem to think I can do this).
I am here to loudly and proudly proclaim that none of that is true! And I couldn't be happier about it.
When I really think about it most of those "supposed to" expectations really aren't coming from my kids and their parents. In fact, to place the blame where it truly lies, most of that comes from me.
One of the most helpful things my wife Katherine constantly reminds me (to my aggravation) is that this is "just high school." But I want the best shows! I want the best classes! I want the best theatre program in Kansas City! I want the best technology and the best everything! I want, I want, I want. Building my silly little theatrical empire isn't the point of what I do and certainly not why I get up to work ridiculously long hours.
I need to remind myself of why I got into this crazy business in the first place. Why did I become a theatre teacher?
It's the relationships. It's what they teach me and what we learn together while telling stories. It's bringing a story to life and watching their sense of accomplishment along the way. It's about making a difference and making their time in high school just a little more meaningful. It's about inspiring them to want a little more out of life and to push through adversity. It's about helping them to discover their creativity and that they can do things on their own--they can solve problems and work together.
And that's what I have to tell myself when I am in crazy show mode. Do I REALLY need to be at school till 11:34 PM on a school night painting the set and making the lights "perfect." No I don't. I don't and I shouldn't because that is a recipe for burnout and kind of misses the fact that it is just a job--not my whole life.
Looking back at the last two years I am saddened by how I aligned my priorities. Whether it was a mad dash to prove myself and seek the approval of everyone, or the fact that I just had no idea what I was doing, I didn't really let it be a job--I made it everything.
In the process of making it "everything" I lost touch with a lot of friends. I gained ten pounds. I missed out on quality time with my family (mostly my beautiful wife). I didn't let myself write or reflect on what was happening which is super important for an external processor like myself. I just sort of...went. Now that things are stopped and I am looking back I am hoping to make some changes for the next few years to get back some of what was lost along the way. Please know that I am not seeking your sympathy nor seeking other employment. If you are a former (or current) student of mine please know that I have no regrets and still absolutely love what I do--I am just learning and hoping to dance with a bit more grace next year for the benefit of everyone!
I think my third year will be easier because I know a bit more of what to expect and I'm okay that there isn't a script. Once you figure it out that it's all improv and that there is no script, it makes the journey far more enjoyable. If I really do embrace that belief the practical returns could be amazing--I stop trying to be the best and I stop trying to control everything. I let go. I roll with the punches and keep things in a healthy perspective...because it is "just high school" and it is just a job.
Some of the practical returns I am praying for are being okay with saying no and leaving school to go home more often. Being okay with not knowing what i'm doing all the time. Being okay with doing my best and being satisfied for what we accomplish with limited time and resources. Being okay with not being perfect--or having the "best everything." And letting it be just a job and not where I place my hope and my final identity.
I have really enjoyed these past two years and look forward to what's ahead--I know God has a lot in store and there will be many more entertaining adventures just a bit down the lane...No doubt I will have a lot to write so I hope you enjoy the read.