Under the Big Top

The end of a school year is a circus.

As teachers, we can fight it or we can embrace it.

A circus costume!

I am now embracing the big top and all of the eccentric things that can happen under it.

Students?  They are the audience after all. If it wasn’t for them, there wouldn’t be a show in the big top. Some do not like the show and are vocal about it. Some sneak out of the show never to be seen again. Some are there because they are waiting for the circus treats. Some are there to socialize with the animals – who may, in fact, be other students. Some cheer, some yell, some cry and some are silently waiting until the circus comes to a close.

The animals are ready.

Teachers?  They are the performers.  Some are masters at walking the tightrope.  Some are clowns, laughing and making the last days seem like a hilarious joy ride.  Some are the lion tamers.  They make sure all is well under the big top for the final performance, and navigate all of the hoops with ease.  There is the bearded lady who is counting down the minutes to summer and a good facial.  There is the strong man who willingly holds down the audience and makes sure they stay in their seats until the end of the show.  There are the trapeze artists (like me and The Captain) who feel as if they are on solid ground and the next moment feels the rush of the floor free-falling beneath them.  Swinging and balancing in the air until the final details are complete.  And lastly, there is the tired ringleader, who is hoping for a smooth and serious ending to a lengthy run.

Staff?  They are the tireless crew.  Some make sure the big top is successfully taken down, some clean the big top after the audience leaves and some ensure the big top will rise again.  Without the crew, the circus would not go on.  They are the planners, and the ones in the background who make things run.  Even though they are out of the spotlight, they make things happen.

Circus dogs are a must have.

All that is left is the circus dog, and a good trapeze artist always has one of these at home.

The circus will return, the performance will resume with a new audience, new faces and new tricks.

And that is the power of the big top.

***A brief side note:  This post is dedicated to one of the crew who has made my life as a teacher in my district wonderful.  He is the behind-the-scenes in all areas dealing with technology, and has taught me more than I can ever repay.  He is making a career move, and he will be greatly missed by me and the rest of the circus we call a district.

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The Bard, Field trips and Nail Biting

Each and every year, I embark on a perilous journey.  One that defies all things known and makes the impossible possible.  One that is a black hole with a narrow escape.  One that encompasses magical powers beyond the scope of nature.  What is this odyssey?  Why, it is taking students on field trips to see a Shakespeare play.

This year, I enlisted the help of my trusted friend and confidant, Brainvomit40.  She and I gathered all of the courage and tenacity we could muster to organize this massive undertaking.  She is the reason I made it through the day.

Let me back up in time and explain the path of the most recent journey we were destined to travel.  It was year 2002, and I was summoned to a grand place in the land of Cleveland known only as The Great Lakes Theater Festival.  From this moment on, I was entranced by their powers.  Enamored by their gently use of The Bard’s great words.  Encased in their sheer talents.  I was, to put it mildly, hooked.  As Juliet would say, “This bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath, May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.”  Yes, indeed.

From then on, I took students to see these incredible works of art each year.  It was a time to develop young minds, and show (not tell) them how important and timeless the plays of Shakespeare really were.  It was mystical.

But not always.  Many times there were alien students among us.  One particular one did the worst thing possible – he tripped an actor.  According to E.T., his legs needed “extra room” so he put them in the aisle.  Bad, bad alien student.  Another Alf-like creature listened to his iPod through Act I, Scene II of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  His excuse?  “I don’t understand what they are saying.”  My response, “We covered it in class.”  One Mork actually fell into a deep slumber during Twelfth Night.   His rebuttal after other students woke him up with furious tapping and shaking?  “The girl is dressed like a guy and it creeped me out.”  Classy.  These are the villains of my days with The Bard.

But, alas, I have held true to my word and provided the non-alien youth with the best gift of all: the gift of live theater.

The cover looks like Twilight meets R&J.

This year’s presentation was Romeo and Juliet.  I was ecstatic for a few reasons.  First, this is actually one in our literature books, and second, I teach it every year.  Double score!  Brainvomit40 and I got crazy-eyed with happy thoughts and reserved not the usual 40 tickets, but a whopping 80 tickets with visions of Romeo dancing in our heads.

Yikes.  But we had high hopes. Maybe too high as Mercutio states, “True, I talk of dreams, which are the children of an idle brain, begot of nothing by vain fantasy.”

Let me just state that, for the days approaching the trip, it was as if “the mad blood stirring” was a reality.  Everything that could go wrong, went wrong.  Brainvomit40 wrote an excellent post about how asinine the entire process was.

Finally the big day arrived.  We herded 80 students into two school buses at the blistering early time of 7:35 a.m.  We ventured on the hour and a half bus ride to Cleveland.  We gathered all of the students and promptly got them seated in the theater.  We smiled as we sat down in our seats, breathing a collective sigh of relief.

The set. Taken without a flash before the show began.

Intermission came.  Our students deserved halos for their amazing behavior during the first half of the performance.  Brainvomit40 looked at her watch: 11:39.  The buses had to be back by 2:25 for their routes.  Would the show be finished and we be out the door before 1 p.m.?  Enter nail biting.

Throughout the second half (and I must say half, it was technically Acts III, IV, V), I couldn’t focus.  All I could think about was what was coming next.  Here is a look into my mind:

“OK.  She is getting the sleeping potion.  Finally.  Good.  Now she is going to have a monologue and drink it.  Fine.  Now Romeo is going to find out she died.  OK.  We’re good on time.  Crap.  Romeo still has to fight and kill Paris and there is dialogue.  Darn.  OK, he took care of Paris.  Now the death scene.  Geez.  Totally blanked that the Friar’s so many lines here.  Come on already and bring out the Prince to wrap this up!”

By this time, I have no nails left to speak of.  I would be lying if I didn’t confess that Brainvomit40 and I were about to cheer when Juliet said, “O happy dagger!”

The play ended, and we made it on the buses by 1:06.  We made it back to the school by 2:22.  Whew.  I should have been feeling down because it was over, “Parting is such sweet sorrow,” but instead I was thinking thank goodness this is once a year.

I still love the Bard, and I appreciate the opportunity to showcase how incredible his words come alive in a live performance.  “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep; the more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite.”

To Shakespeare!

Here is another post I wrote about the Bard.  Enjoy!

To let go of To Kill a Mockingbird

In my past zillion nine years of teaching, I have mainly taught freshman. Freshman are unusual creatures. They usually still like some aspects of school and they are easily entertained through humor – or what I refer to as my stand-up comedy teaching routine. This works when we read my ultimate favorite novel of all time: Harper Lee’s amazing To Kill a Mockingbird. Each year I have perfected my Mockingbird teaching like when I performed a podcast reading of the first chapter with a Southern accent. Or when I took a super-cool (to me, that is) informative slideshow and turned it into a video introducing the novel.  That novel and I are soul sisters and teaching it gave me an excuse to shout it out to the mountaintops (well, to the ninth graders) and make them love it as much as I did.  Some did.  Others did not.  Some didn’t read a bit of it.  Still, this was the book I loved teaching.  Until this past year.

For some reason, the class of 2014 did not take kindly to the book.  Some had a lot of trouble with the dialogue, some were confused with the parallel story lines and some were just breathing in oxygen.  I started getting random questions as we were nearing the end of the novel.  The straw that broke the camels back was when a young dude wearing a LeBron James traitor to the Cavs jersey asked why the narrator was so smart for a six-year-old.  There needed to be a change.

So, I held my quivering chin up and discussed the situation with my amazing colleague.  She suggested moving the sophomore novella, Of Mice and Men, to the freshman level and my beloved To Kill a Mockingbird to the sophomore level.  The only heartbreaking thing is that I don’t teach sophomore English.  So bye bye to TKM.  Sniff sniff.

I went into panic mode.  It was October and I hadn’t read Of Mice and Men since my sophomore year many moons ago.  I think I was also in a class behind the cutest guy named Tim and I don’t think I even concentrated at all on the class discussion.  I believe my sophomore year was The Year of Tim, and one where I didn’t even realize my hair was burning (hey, silly girl with major Crush on Tim, meet the Bunsen burner!) until I smelled it.  Yeah, Tim was in that class, too.  Sigh.

Needless to say I was in panic mode.  Severe.  My super-dee-duper colleague came to my rescue like Superman to a runaway elevator.  She gently led me through activities, discussion topics, study guides and helped me find some much needed courage.

Amazingly enough, it has worked out well so far.  My freshman love Lenny and George, and even want to get up in front of the classroom and read the dialogue from the novel – which is a great use of oxygen!  Hooray!  I even got a little teary-eyed at the part about Candy’s dog (let’s be honest here – who wouldn’t?!)  And I was lucky enough to have an excellent teacher helping me through this transition.

As Atticus Finch would say, “It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.  You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”  Ah, Atticus, my hero.  I am really going to miss you. But, I do think I will refer to you now and again AND I think I may use that quote tomorrow when I teach The Scarlet Letter for the first. time. ever.