Outside my comfort zone

By , January 31, 2011 4:18 pm

Right now, I’m prepping to teach a theatre class on the near southwest side of Chicago. This is class two of a fifteen week sequence, and I’m still feeling a little unsure of myself. Chicago is a racially segregated city, and the workshop is definitely located outside of my normal stomping grounds. Likewise, almost all of the students are young people of color, and many of them have names I’ve literally never heard before, and have trouble remembering and pronouncing.

In some ways – from a “what doesn’t kill you” standpoint – I think this class will be good for me. It’s definitely testing me as a teacher; the kids do want to be at the class, and are having lots of fun (two of the most important things) but they don’t necessarily have the impulse control that I’m used to with my white, north shore, Jewish, middle/upper class students. I also feel somewhat weird about going to my usual bag of stories and fairy tales, since I don’t want to be bring in texts that have no relevance to them. I also don’t want to be racist by not bringing things in, and providing a less complete class than I otherwise might.

I had some good conversations with some co-teachers, and I do feel like I’m better prepared this week. I need to remind myself that having fun and getting them interested in theatre might take priority over some of the more ideological or process-oriented goals I have with students who I already know want to be there. And there are a lot of great stories or chunks of stories – the kids running to touch Boo Radley’s house in To Kill a Mockingbird, playground fights and Battle of the Tops from the author who wrote A Christmas Story (let me know if you have the title…), generic scenes that they can really get into and explore – that I can use without feeling like I’m either not providing as good a class experience as I can by not using good, quality, texts.

I’m also going to focus more on scene and dialog than I usually do, something I’ve been thinking about anyway as my regular class approaches. One of my big notes from my 7th and 8th grade students last session was that they wanted more scenes, more scripts, and more ‘real ‘theatre. (For the record, story theatre – with narration on stage – is real theatre. Neener neener neener.)

But I’m still worried about filling up the whole 15 weeks. I’m learning that these kids also aren’t able to focus quite as long as I’m used to (or maybe, aren’t able to focus yet) so I need to have more material per class and can’t expect to go as deep with any one game or activity. But I’m staying optimistic, and hopefully I’ll come out the other side of this a better teacher.

3 Responses to “Outside my comfort zone”

  1. RadDyke says:

    Could you have like, an arsenal of improv games to pull out if you need to kill time? Like the question game, or one word character scenes? Oooh, or birthday party!!I find that working with that age group, sometimes you just need to take a break and play the question game….

  2. Natasha says:

    Good luck, Rebecca! I teach Theatre to a similar at-risk demographic here in Phoenix and sometimes it can be very hard to engage them in some of the more traditional kinds of work. I recommend training them in how you do things rather than seeking to adapt how you do things too much (you have to make some accommodations). Once they understand your system of teaching, they’ll buy into what you have to give them.

    xoxo

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