The Author

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I am a high school English teacher, and mother of two charming little ones of my own. I teach in a high poverty urban charter school, while I live in a typical American suburb that has frequently been rated one of the safest cities in the country. It is a paradox I struggle with constantly, but it is my life.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Why I Love Teaching Theater Arts

At the beginning of the semester, I was informed that the purpose of the new buildings was for a career-based program at our school, and that they would like to use my theater program as the basis for a performing arts career pathway, considering I have like 10% of the school involved in my program. This was more than fine with me; in fact, I commented that theater is probably one of the most practical programs we offer.

It is just so true.

I love teaching theater because of all the practical skills that students learn. Since it is now considered a real class (last year, we were more like just a drama club), I am doing my standards-based planning from the California Standards for Career Education in Performing Arts.

One of my standards says that students will:
"Develop competencies and creative skills in problem solving, communication, and time management that contribute to lifelong learning and career skills."

 Boy, that couldn't be a better description of what actually happens in my classes. 

Problem solving: 
Student: "Mrs. Mohr, we still don't have a bed for Alice's bedroom."
Me: "You are in charge of set design. That is the centerpiece of this set. You have had two months. Figure it out by Friday." 
Student: "Yes, Ma'am." 
Two days letter... five teenage boys walked the multiple pieces of a bed down the street from his house, and voila, a bed appeared on the stage. I am fairly certain the student slept on the floor for the next two weeks, but he solved the problem. 

Before I have even taken roll at the beginning of rehearsal.
Student: "Mrs. Mohr, we are missing (fill in name of random missing student)." 
Me: "Someone call him." 
Multiple students whip out cell phones and dial. The first one to get an answer then says (in a fantastically stern voice): "Where are you, dude?!  Rehearsal is starting! (pause) No! Not Act 2! We are doing Act 1 today- it is on the calendar! Besides, you are in both acts."
I smile. Missing student appears by his scene. 

Time Management: 
Student: "Mrs. Mohr, can I be excused from rehearsal tomorrow? I have a group project due Friday that my group wants to work on." 
Me: "No. We need you here. Invite them to rehearsal. You can work between scenes."
Student: "Okay, but can we borrow your laptop to do the research?" 
Me: "Sounds like a plan." 

These are regular occurrences in my program, and just a few examples of how these students make me so proud. They all take some training at first, but they truly develop the responsibility and mindset of career professionals. It is funny, because by the end of last year, I had sort of forgotten what it was like at the beginning of the year, when all of these skills and habits very much still needed to be learned. This year, I have about half returning students and half new students. The new students are just figuring these things out, but what is so fantastic this year is that the returning students are so with it, so helpful, such problem solvers... and have NO mercy on the new kids. One of the new kids did not show up for rehearsal today. A returning student looked up his cell phone number in my index card file and discovered his number was no longer in service. A returning student who was not in the scene agreed to fill in for this rehearsal, while the rest of the students vowed to kick his butt upon his return. About 30 minutes later, as we were wrapping up his scene, one of the students yelled, "Hey, there he is, walking home! What the heck?" This then prompted the entire cast to run out the door and up to the fence to catch him walking down the street, where much scolding was done. Meanwhile, I sat in my chair and waited for them to return. :-) I super love that the kids are now learning from each other. 

Some of the freshman do need some coaching. I had to explain to one girl today that she can figure out when she has rehearsal by looking at the rehearsal calendar (novel concept, right?). Earlier in the rehearsal, I had to explain to the same student that she actually has to read the information in italics to know where to enter and exit. 

I also learned today that Christmas carols do not cross the cultural barrier quite as well as I thought, and surprise, surprise- they don't know "Joy to the World" or "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." Oops. Who would have guessed. But they will learn....

I love my job.

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