Archives For Teaching

I thought I’d write a bit about Harry Potter, because everyone else is today.

Over in London the new stage production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child officially premieres, although previews have been running since before I was there last month. I badly wanted to see the show, but tickets were long sold out before I had made my summer travel plans.

Tomorrow the script version of the two plays (yes, two) is published, and it’s being treated as quite the event, bringing back the magic (sorry, got a better word for it?) of the midnight release parties that occurred ever few years during the first decade of this still-young century. I went to quite a few of those and they were a lot of fun. My own professional career as an educator and theatre director is bonded heavily to the Harry Potter series. The first book was published during my first year as an elementary school teacher, my students would beg me to read the books aloud in class, and summers doing theatre with Limelight was often paired with a release of a new book. I shared the love and enthusiasm of Harry and Hermione and Luna and Snape, Snape, Severus Snape with students, actors, fellow directors and teachers, and friends.

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Oklahoma! and the Half-Blood Prince, Summer 2005

It is probably the last great series of epic, youth-oriented stories that I will fall in love with, as I slide deeper into middle age. Well, save the Marvel Cinematic Universe that is currently knocking it out of the park with each and every film they release. But that is based in a childhood (and a lot of my adult years) spent reading a lot of Marvel comics.

So a lot of articles floating around the internet today are asking questions about the Potter franchise and nostalgia and whether or not we need any “new” Harry Potter stories, and if this will simply tarnish the brand.

(Ugh. I just used the words “franchise” and “brand” in that last paragraph, and that’s not what this article is about. Go elsewhere to read that kind of story.)

I think it’s important to be aware of what today and tonight are not: this is not the eighth novel, and this is not written by J.K. Rowling. It is a two-part script written by playwright Jack Thorne. And so it is foolish to try and treat this as a case of nostalgic time travel to those moments from a decade or so ago. We had seven books (and eight films), and that was it. After you make that midnight purchase, remember that you are reading a play script, based on an idea by Jo Rowling, and that the experience is going to be a little different. You may not be able to hear the bell anymore, to reference another classic of youth literature.

I think the real magic (sorry) is happening to those people watching a new Harry Potter story be told on stage, something that has never happened before. The reviews of Cursed Child have been overwhelmingly positive, and my Twitter feed has been filled with gushing fans walking out of the shows excited and amazed. It’s a shame we all can’t experience that together in one great shared moment like we did with the books, but that’s what makes this 2-part play special. They are trying something new, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Harry and Ron and Ginny and Draco are now middle-aged, stressed and tired, and for the first time I will probably find myself identifying with them more than I did in the past. (I was always a Remus Lupin man, that kind, lonely teacher of Hogwarts.) But it will not be a case of going back to the well of nostalgia, and I reject this notion that writers are putting out there. This is not the Star Wars prequels, or even The Force Awakens. And it is certainly not the travesty and outright-lie of Go Set a Watchman. 

Harry Potter is not “back,” because he never went away. It’s only been five years since I saw the last film with my niece. Harry Potter marathons on cable still stop teens and twentysomethings in their tracks. Every Halloween my school is filled with boys and girls dressed as Harry and Hermione. My fourth graders spent an entire school year writing their own Harry Potter-esque play for a creative arts assignment.

What J.K. Rowling created is a story for the ages. It is Star Wars for the generation or two that came after me. And yes, franchises aren’t allowed to end anymore, and so what? I’ll read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child mostly to find out “what happened next” after the epilogue in Deathly Hallows, knowing it’s not the full story, and you better believe I’m getting ready to head back to London to see the story the way it’s meant to be told. And I hope I get to share that experience with some of you.

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Must Be Nice

February 22, 2014 — Leave a comment

Let’s just come straight to the point: I’m a teacher, and I get my summers off. And not everyone is as lucky as I am to have that much time off.

This is not going to be a screed about how we teachers “deserve” that time off from all the extra hours we supposedly put in, nor will it be an itemized comparison of salaries, job benefits, or a whine about how we’ve become corporate America’s favorite whipping boy. I’m not interested in that argument right now, because it’s not an easy one to win on either side. We get our summers off. Must be nice. ‘Nuff said.

In my fifteen years of teaching, I’ve taken a total of one summer completely off from working: 2012, when I packed up everything and moved to Dublin for six months to study theatre at UCD. Every other summer was spent working very, very hard for my theatre company I started. That usually wrapped up in late July/early August, and then I’d take my summer cash and travel overseas for a couple of weeks before returning to start another school year.

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Directing “All These Will Be Worthless”, Limelight Summer 2010. Photo by Amy Weiland.

Last summer I worked for Northwestern’s Center for Talent Development, a program for gifted youth offering classes in everything from advanced math and science courses to the playwriting course I taught. The program gears more towards the STEM realm of study, and so they’re not offering my theatre course this year. There is a possibility of me teaching a documentary film class, but I haven’t heard from them in over a month about this, so at this point I’m ready to start thinking of other plans.

And those plans involve heading back to Dublin for a while. Things haven’t really been the same for me ever since I headed back, and I’m finding it harder and harder to get excited about The Future over here. Some in my profession are getting excited (or are at least preparing for) all of the Big Changes that are coming, but I am afraid that I am not one of them. Certainly not from a desire to keep doing everything as I was fifteen years ago; I’m not one of those teachers who fear change or progress. I guess I’m one of those educators that looks at it this way: we’re just swapping out one set of rules and instructions for another, and we teachers love our rules and instructions. I’ve always been one who takes a casual glance at the instructions, then works from my instincts the rest of the time. This works for some, but in a profession that tends to be populated by rule followers, it means I’m also one that exists on the margins of things, as my habits can be frustrating to some.

I had my turn when I was the guy on all the committees, the one deemed worthy and important by the Ruling Gods, the last time we had our Big Changes come through. We made new rules and new instructions and those lasted a few years until the Old Gods went away and New Gods arrived. And now we’re dancing to a very familiar tune and it’s a song I never liked much the first time I heard it. I’m dreading all of the “here’s how you do it now” memorandums that are coming.

But anyway. For now I am presented with a summer free from youth theatre, free from responsibilities, free from committees and summer school and recertification demands. I will make sure that I am ready for the Big Changes that are coming for next school year, but I am more interested in following my instincts and a desire to chase that side of me that craves wandering and creating. This is a rare gift to have, this time to myself, and I am aware of how lucky that makes me, in a time where so many are struggling.

I’ve carved out a deeply-important second life over in Dublin, and so I’ll return there to catch up with old friends, explore old places and new ones, and always, always to search for some sort of guidance or inspiration for whatever I’m going to do with the rest of my life.

You know, like always, with me.

This is Halloween

October 30, 2013 — Leave a comment

Halloween is almost here, and my sister’s going nuts over on the social media sites. The woman apparently loves Halloween almost as much as I do! She and her family live out of state, so I don’t think I’ve ever seen my nieces and nephew in full costume, like…ever, I think? At least not on Halloween. My nephew will occasionally transform into Captain America at the drop of a hat, and one of my nieces likes to impersonate my mother from time to time.

Work is always crazy this time of year, so putting together a good costume can be a real challenge. Today report cards went home, and I had to learn the new online system on my own, so naturally I forgot to enter their “Handwriting” grade. Honestly, I forgot we even bothered with that, since it’s been years since anyone has bothered teaching cursive where I work. And I’ve felt terrible all week again, with my third round of sore throat/hacking cough taking over my life. Went to see my doctor yesterday afternoon and he gave me a tougher antibiotic. Hopefully I can get rid of this before next week when we start parent-teacher conferences.

But enough about my failings as an educator. Since no one wanted to hear me talk about Peter Brook yesterday, let’s check out some Classic Mr. Fauth Halloween costumes!

This is from my first year of teaching, Halloween 1998. 4th grade, East View Elementary. And I went as Groucho Marx in Animal Crackers. Hooray for Captain Spaulding!

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Hello, I must be going.

Can’t talk about that class without mentioning Liz’s fantastic Halloween costumes. Here she is as a basket of dirty laundry.

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That werewolf sure hates neglected laundry!

(I have lots of pics of other former students, and would gladly feature them as long as I knew they approved. Or their parents approved if they’re under 18. Them’s the rules. Liz and I are still close, so I know she’s cool with being practically a supporting character on this site. So if you’re reading this and are itching to be featured in a future post, drop me a line.)

And here is my last East View costume from 2003, ten years ago to the day, practically. When I wore this hardly any of the kids knew who Speed Racer was. I don’t imagine the Wachowski sibling’s film did much to change that.

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The shoes I found were spot-on, but man, did they hurt my feet!

Last year I wasn’t doing anything for Halloween, and the year before I had a just-okay, slapped-together Neil Gaiman costume, since I was reading The Graveyard Book for Read Aloud. Goofy wig and a black suit. Not my best, not my worst.

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This year one of my teammates suggested we all dress in a theme. Usually I just do my own thing, because I’m always looking to do something interesting and original and “clever,” and group costumes rarely go that way. (Expect LOTS of Minions this year…sigh…) But I like this team, and I wanted to make a gesture. So we’re going as the four seasons. (When I mentioned this in class, one of my kids shouted out, “You could be Frankie Valli!!!” Bravo, kid. Bravo.)

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Here’s a sneak peak. I got autumn. But I’m channeling it via Alan Moore. So either the kids will think I look cool, or terrifying.

Some Kind of a Day

October 25, 2013 — Leave a comment

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I started off the day wowing my students with my amazing ability to type without looking at either the keyboard or the screen. Then I told a story about an ancient device called a typewriter, before getting them psyched up to practice their not-so-great typing skills. All those important assessments that are coming our way are going to be typed on a computer, so they have to get cracking now if they want to say everything they want to say in the prescribed time limit.

Walked ’em down to the computer lab only to be turned away. My Favorite Fundraiser had taken over without telling anyone. So it was back upstairs…and I told a quick story instead and then we started Math.

Copier was down so I didn’t have the stuff ready I wanted, so we had an all-class chess lesson instead. (I’m further along in the curriculum than I need to be, so we could afford the Friday Fun Day.) Robbie got the rare chance to play Mr. Fauth in chess, but I had to cut my game short in order to talk to a student about motivation and being-in-the-world. ‘Nuff said on that one.

Three boys volunteered to stay in during lunch and we sorted the huge bin of chess pieces. 15 years’ worth of chess sets have gotten all mingled together, so we did the yearly sort ‘n bag. I was very happy to see one student in particular really engaged with what was going on in the class, joking with the other guys, and generally happy to be there. It wasn’t quite that way back in August, so he’s come a long way.

Then, during recess, while playing football he tripped over his own feet, smashed right into the side of the school, and (most likely) broke his arm.

Everyone stayed cool, and he was the veritable “trouper” and dealt with the pain like a man, until we could get him into the office. His dad rushed right over and took him to the hospital. I called later to check up on him, but all I heard was that he was heading in for x-rays.

I was down to the last 15 pages of my read-aloud book (which is the BEST part of the job, by the way), and Meggie had just read out The Shadow. J (the student with the busted arm) often moves his seat up close to me so he can listen properly, without distraction. The kids had earned a double session of Read Aloud today (and it’s Friday, so they can draw!), so I was going to finish the book. Instead, when we got back from recess, I told the kids we’d wait until Monday so J wouldn’t have to miss the ending of the book.

Despite all of THAT, today was a pretty good day, actually. Kids were in a really good mood, had some time to have a little fun and be creative*, and got to leave without any homework over the weekend.

It’s after 9:00 on a Friday night and I’ve been to Naperville and back twice tonight, amidst laundry and dinner and trying to get the house picked up. Having the folks over for Mom’s birthday on Sunday. Grades are due first thing Monday morning and I’ve barely entered anything into the computer, a system that I’m learning for the first time this year. AND I just figured out that my heater is turning itself up to 70 degrees at odd times, even though I reset it the other day. So that’s Saturday, apparently.

Time for a relaxing beverage and a bit of a read. And then to bed and then to bed!

 

*I like to feature some of their artwork on here, and one of the unique things this class likes to do is create “cards” that get passed around the room. There’s the Fox Card in honor of this obsession, two Mr. Fauth cards, one of which is designated as The One That Someone Threw In The Garbage. So far I’ve created the Huzzah! card, which means when you get it, you have to yell “Huzzah!” before passing it on to the next person. (Duh.) Today I created the Mark of Shame card, where the perennial mock-shame punishment I give kids has become sentient and is traveling from desk to desk, inflicting his own personal brand of classroom shaming onto the unsuspecting students.

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Seriously, we do actually get work done in my class. For real.

The Queen is Dead.

Long Live the Queen.

There’s a new sheriff in town.

Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss.

Garbage in/Garbage out.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

And other cliches…

Those old chestnuts rattle around in my head a lot when I think about the state of things at my workplace. We’ve gone through a period of enormous change over the past year or so, a lot of which I’m still getting used to. From what I hear, last year was the year that everyone freaked out about the lack of direction, when the old bosses left and the new ones were yet to be hired. All policies were put under review, so it became a free-for-all. Everyone just did what they wanted. Some stayed “on model” to the old ways, some experimented, some freaked out.

I started the year trying to stick with what I knew, but I told parents that they should expect changes. And it looks like they’re on their way. When I was first hired, it was the expectation that fifth graders should have at least 45 minutes of homework per night. Now the new bosses are talking about an end to homework. I can’t critique that, because I’ve never been a fan of it, really. Grades used to be about doing whatever it took to make sure that child succeeded as best as they could, even if it meant modifying the assessments to best fit their needs. Now, it’s all about giving a truer (and harsher) portrait of how they’re doing.

I’m happy to hear about some of these changes, but of course I’ve got something sticking in my craw about all of it. I come out of most staff meetings just frustrated and angry, and I think it’s usually down to that feeling of utter powerlessness. I think I’m doing something the right way, and that it’s working for my students, and then suddenly I’m made to feel like I’ve been doing it all wrong. We’re told by the powers that be that It Must Be Done This Way. And we do it like that for a few years. And then New Powers That Be come along, and declaim, “No, That Old Way Was Wrong. THIS Is The Way It Now Must Be Done.” And then they talk about data and spreadsheets and assessment goals and everything becomes so cold and clinical and at that point I tune out and have no idea what I’m supposed to do anymore.

And I know that I don’t speak for everyone, and I know that I can be a prickly pear when it comes to all this. I just don’t think I’m designed for the type of teaching that seems to be coming. I’m too loosey-goosey about being “on model” all the time and haven’t warmed to some of the latest strategies and policies like others have. I tell too many stories and let them play chess more than they really should. I take extra recesses on Friday and can’t be bothered to spend more than five minutes looking at “data,” but by golly I’ll spend an hour drawing cartoons on their six-page Science test just to make it a little more fun. I know that change is good and that there are a lot of excellent new teachers out there doing amazing things; I’ve got one right next door to me. But man, I’m quickly becoming that old guy that didn’t keep up with the latest changes, and pretty soon the new teachers will sigh and shake their heads and wonder why I don’t teach Writing like them.

But my year off kind of solidified certain things in me, which is a lot different than atrophy. There is the simple relationship that a good teacher develops with his students, one based on mutual respect and trust and yes, even love. I’m a conductor and they are my orchestra, and if we’re lucky, we can create a gorgeous symphony from time to time. And the data might show me that I have a student who is struggling in Reading, and now needs to get pulled out of class for several hours per week, but ask that same kid to talk about how he spent last Saturday taking apart an engine with his dad. He probably has more practical knowledge and life skills than any of the kids scoring in the 99th percentile in my class. Kid’ll probably invent a space car or something.

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Ben and Sarah and Emily

October 2, 2013 — 3 Comments

This is one of those posts that talks about how awesome life can be.

I wish I wrote more of these. But I’m mostly tired and cranky these days, so occasionally I get sentimental and reflect on some of people I’m lucky to know.

When they write the book on me, I hope they give a good chunk of it to a couple of kids named Mike and Liz. Mike and Liz just had their first baby together.

Mike and Liz were both former fifth grade students of mine, too. That’s the awesome part. I talk about them all the time, and tell their story often, but I felt it important to lay it down properly.

I came home for their wedding last year. A year ago almost to the day, I think. Last minute thing. Didn’t think I’d be able to make it back from Dublin, but things worked out and I got a chance to get this picture taken:

Mike and Liz wedding

Liz I met first. My first job teaching full-time was as a 4th grade teacher at East View. Liz was in that first class. Liked to do theatre. Used to give me pictures of her dressed up in costume from her plays. Here she is helping me pack up the room at the end of the year.

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I moved up to fifth grade next year, and Liz came along for the ride. There was a new student to East View that year named Mike. Here he is with his D-Day project he made. “A BECH ASSAULT.” Mike, we need to talk about your spelling, pal…

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Fun Fact: The blond girl behind Mike? She just got a job teaching first grade in my building. So now we’re co-workers.

That summer I started a theatre company for the park district, and Mike and Liz both joined up. A couple of years later I wrote my first, full-length play, and they starred in it. The Last Dance, about a group of junior high friends. Loosely based on my own youth.

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(There are way too many people that I love dearly in this photo, but this is for Mike and Liz, so I’ll just stay focused on them. But hey, Renee and Freddie!)

Five years later, after many shows and even some ups and downs, we did one final one together. They played Ben and Sarah again, the same characters from The Last Dance. It was about goodbyes, and a journey. Most of my plays are about goodbyes and journeys.

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(From left: Mike Arney as Ben, Liz Husted as Sarah, Freddie Zimmer as Stuart, and Kim Skibinski as Amanda. All former fifth grade students of mine.)

Shortly before Liz had their baby they stopped by my house to drop off some paint supplies I had lent them while we were painting their new house. I was making dinner and invited them to stay. We told stories and quoted The Simpsons, as we’ve done for over ten years. We talked about baby names, and of our fondness for simple, traditional names like Sarah, Elanor*, or Kate.

Last Wednesday Mike and Liz welcomed their first child into the world. And they named her Emily. Perfect.

*I recently decided that had I ever a) bothered to start a family and b) really embraced my nerdy love of The Lord of the Rings, I would have wanted to name my daughter Elanor.

Part Two: Interviewing

I’ve been spending some time recently coaching some younger friends of mine on the interviewing process. I’ve probably interviewed at least fifty candidates for teaching and directing jobs over my 15 or so years in education and youth theatre, and not too long ago I sat down as an interview candidate myself. How you conduct yourself during the interview, and how effectively you answer the questions is obviously the most crucial part of getting a job. You can make that resume look as fancy as you’d like, and that may get you in the door, but its all about what you say in that chair as you’re grilled by administrators and teachers. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:

Don’t Memorize a “Scripted” Answer

In an education-related interview, you know you’re gonna get the following questions, in one form or another: “What is your educational philosophy?” “What is your classroom management plan?” “How would you engage students, connect with parents, etc?” And it can be very easy to rehearse a well-written response to that, making sure you hit all of the current buzzwords and trends that we educators love to fall over.

Please don’t do that.

If you really want to stand out, you’ve got to get across a sense of self. Who are you? What is your teaching style going to look like? What do you believe in? Have that dialogue with yourself and truly ask yourself these questions. This is your one opportunity to differentiate yourself from all the other candidates, so make it count. Spend some time thinking about what you liked/disliked about your own educational experience. What did you do to stand out during student teaching, or in your education classes?

I’m amazed at the fact that after all these years, my basic philosophy of education hasn’t changed from when I took the course in grad school and we discussed people like Dewey, Bloom, and Gardner. A friend of mine recently sent me a link to a school in the U.K. saying, “I think you’d be great here.” And it was A.S. Neill’s Summerhill, the exact person I latched onto the most back in school.* I had never discussed Neill with my friend, but she knew me well enough to know what kind of teacher I was. In other words, my educational philosophy is a part of my overall worldview, and is an essential component of who I am as a person. I know what I believe education should be. Do you?

Start with the General, but end with the Specific

When you get those questions I mentioned earlier, your answer should start with your general worldview/philosophy/beliefs, but then follow it up with something specific. Give examples from your own time in the classroom, limited it may be. And if you can’t give good examples of your educational philosophy from your time in the classroom, then think about when you were a student. A certain teacher that either inspired you or enraged you. What did they do to help in your development as a teacher? This is another opportunity to showcase yourself, and not just an empty statement you memorized with your roommates the night before your interview.

What’s your “Stuff” that you’re going to teach?

I know a lot of young people trying to get jobs teaching secondary English. Part of me wishes I could go back and tell them, “Look, I know you’re really excited about teaching Austen and Hemingway to groups of eager high schoolers, but there’s a line stretching around the back of the school for those jobs. And you’ll be lucky to have maybe one section of kids that really gets into comparing Gothic fiction versus Modernism. What are your thoughts on teaching Science and Math?”

Hey, if I had my choice I’d rather teach history and literature over algebra and chemistry, so I get it. But it’s tough out there for English majors. So think about what can make you stand out above the others. If you’re interviewing in front of an English department, and they ask you about content, what would you teach? Are you going to rattle off the same five books that everyone else mentions? When I spoke to some of the young teachers-to-be and asked them what would be on their curriculum, I was surprised at how traditional their answers were. Not that there’s anything wrong with The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Great Expectations. But if I was sitting in that interview, my ears would prick up a bit if someone mentioned newer works. Here’s a suggestion: go to a Barnes & Noble somewhere near one of the big suburban high schools. Find the table with the high school Summer Reading lists. Look at some of the stuff they’ve got sitting there. It’s a fairly diverse and exciting collection. (Lots of Dave Eggers.) And once again, have that dialogue with yourself about what you like, and what you would like to teach.

Oh, and don’t show up to your interview sunburned and hung over. And yes, I’ve had people roll in like that.

*You can read all about Summerhill, and Neill’s philosophy, here, but this quote sums him up nicely: “The function of the child is to live his own life, not the life that his anxious parents think he should live, nor a life according to the purpose of the educator who thinks he knows best. All this interference and guidance on the part of adults only produces a generation of robots.”

A lot of young people I know are heading into teaching. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

 

Part One: Voice and Personality

Go to any teacher’s website, or read a copy of their newsletter. Listen to some of them teach. What do you notice?

We all sound depressingly similar.

We’re all thrilled and excited to be teaching, we all encourage our students to be life-long learners, and we all have fun and exciting things planned in our safe and caring classrooms. And when you step inside that classroom, it can all too often be a chorus of identical phrases and commands learned from teacher manuals and institute day workshops. We “appreciate” the way students follow directions, we “appreciate” a parent’s suggestion or request, we “appreciate” a staff member’s comment in a meeting.

I’m not sure why this is the case. Maybe we’re too addicted to the step-by-step curriculum that’s been forced on us over the years, too used to following specific instructions that encourage the use of common and easily identifiable words and phrases. Maybe we’re afraid to talk like regular folks, with our own personalities and senses of humor, and instead we hide behind safe teacher phrases in order to avoid the shock and potential backlash of daring to talk like a real person. We all hear the horror stories of an irate parent or a student who misinterprets something said in class, and it pushes us towards a bland and toothless way of communicating so as to avoid any controversy.

Most teachers who choose to speak and instruct this way go through their entire career cheerfully following orders, teaching the curriculum exactly as its prescribed, providing their students fun and exciting life-long learning opportunities in a safe and caring learning environment. They are a committee-produced mission statement come to life. Years from now, former students will strain to recall their names, one bland unimaginative teacher melting into the next.

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Playing with your snack break was encouraged in my classroom.

If you hope to develop any sort of positive relationship, or gain any measure of respect from your students, their parents, and your colleagues, one of the most important things you can do is to develop and maintain a clear, individual voice and personality. If you want to be one of those teachers that inspires and encourages kids to do great things, then figure out who you are, and what makes you unique in that classroom and in that school. When you are talking in class, or sending out information to parents, or even updating your classroom website, you need to communicate in your voice, not the standard playbook of a million other teachers.

While this isn’t the only Secret To Being An Amazing Teacher, it’s where you need to start. And don’t be afraid to mess up sometimes; occasionally, you’ll get strange looks from kids or puzzled parents and principals if you stumble while developing that voice. Just defend yourself, explain what you meant, and don’t revert back to that robotic persona so many teachers are forced to adopt out of fear of trying anything different. Be funny, be irreverent, be strange and weird and nerdy and enthusiastic about strange and weird and nerdy things. Share your love of rugby, or the outdoors, or Loudon Wainwright songs about dead skunks in the middle of the road.

Remember: it’s your room, your methods, your students, and your voice.

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Wearing odd hats and having baby chicks as sidekicks was also encouraged. Photo used with permission.

Coming Soon: Part Two, where I reveal that Actually, No, It’s Not About You

Institutionalized

March 19, 2013 — Leave a comment

Okay, enough with the the wanderer-is-lost repetitive business. Let’s look at this thing from another point of view. Because when all you have is time to think, it’s very easy to see things from many different perspectives. Why, sometimes I’ll have six different opinions on something before breakfast. (Apologies to Lewis Carroll for that one.)

Recently, I had to make a decision about what I’m doing next year, and deliver it in writing to my employers by March 1st. To say that I was conflicted about that decision is an understatement. I even had two letters written up, in case I changed my mind at the last minute. Which is typical of me. Sometimes I have a tough time deciding on something.

We’re not going to get into which letter was turned in, and what I’m doing come fall, because that’s a long ways off, and a lot could change between now and then. And while living in this strange ghostly limbo life has its downsides, it’s also kind of awesome. Let’s unpack that a bit, shall we?

1. I have a lot of time to myself.

I like to write, I like to read, I like to create websites. I also like to get lost in my head when I’m going through some big decision-making, and right now my lifestyle has a lot of room for all of that. Subbing in a high school room? While the kids are taking a test or watching Patton, I get to debate with myself different options for my future. Maybe write a bit. And read practically all of the Internet. I haven’t worked for the past two days, so I got to overhaul BrianFauth.com and finally create a theatre portfolio/personal website I’m pretty pleased with. And I got caught up on The Walking Dead.

2. I get to drop everything and go wherever I want.

When my buddy Drew suggested I go to the presidential Inauguration with him, it only took a few minutes before I said, “why not?” Free place to stay in South Carolina? Hey, why not drive down there and hang out in the south for a few weeks. Explore some historical sites and cities and listen to a lot of podcasts while crossing the Appalachian mountains. Not a bad life. Granted, I still have to pay for gas, food, and the occasional hotel room, so I’m a bit broke at the moment. And not getting a call to work for the past two days is putting a bit of a damper on possible future road trips.

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The Shenandoah Valley

3. This is all part of a Grand Plan even I can’t really explain. But I’ll try.

Let’s not forget the simple fact that I got to live in Europe for six whole months. My time in Dublin and at UCD was fantastic; we all know that. But it was the living over there that really taught me something; I only get so much from sitting in a classroom. Thomas Jefferson, when he founded the University of Virginia, didn’t want to issue degrees; he wanted it to be a place where you could go until you felt you had learned enough, and then you could move on with your life. Del Close, the famous Second City teacher, once said to Jon Favreau (the director of Iron Man and Elf), “Why would you go to school to learn about theatre?” He thought it more important to learn about philosophy and life and finding The Truth.

(I needed a certain number of classes to get a theatre endorsement, so there was a practical element to taking classes over there, but it was really about living a different life and spending time with some dear friends, while I could. Get a little bit closer to The Truth.)

I want to become a better theatre director, but I also want to become a better teacher as well. For the past few years, I’ve started to get honors and awards, and the phrase The Best Teacher I Ever Had starts getting thrown around a lot. And all of that is great, believe me. But the more you do the same job, in the same room, with the same lessons and jokes and stories, it’s very easy to become an institution. Mr. Fauth and Viking Day and the impressions and the Simpsons jokes.

I’m not really interested in being Institutionalized (in any sense of the word!) I wanted to kind of blow up everything and start over. Give away everything in my classroom, sell half of my possessions, start over somewhere else. Learn how to do it all over again. And subbing? That strips you back to the essentials real quick. No one knows who you are when you walk into that room, and you’ve got 41 minutes, or 48, or maybe a day to win them over. You aren’t The Famous Mr. Fauth. You’re just Some Guy, and if you can get a room full of bored high school kids to listen to you, then you can do just about anything.

So wherever I go and whatever I do come fall, even if it’s right back in the same 5th grade classroom, hopefully I’ve reset myself enough that I can bring something new into the room, and keep myself fresh and energized for the next round of this thing called life.

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To the Elephant! My personal motto for living life.

The Sea-Bell

March 17, 2013 — 5 Comments

Today I drove around for a couple of hours, to nowhere in particular. I do this a lot lately.

Trying to stay in one place for a bit, save some money for the next round of wandering. But I tend to get in my car a lot and just drive, mostly the back country roads, so I can listen to the radio and get lost in my thoughts for a while. I’ve driven these roads countless times over the years, so I’m always searching for a new, unexplored route.

I bounce from classroom to classroom during the week, a different teacher every day. Some days I sit in the corner of a high school class while they watch 40-year old films to learn about World War II. Some days I entertain eight-year olds and they think I am a god.

Often I see former students and former Limelighters, and it is always a happy reunion. Still smiling about the bear hug I got from an eighth grader I had a few years ago; he stopped by my room every passing period of the day, just to keep saying hi.

On one of my drives I swung by my house, where another man now lives, where my neighbors are complaining of branches that are creeping across the divide into their patio. I forgot to bring any branch cutters, and so the small tree continues to grow and trespass onto another property.

Sometimes I stop driving and I walk inside a school and I sit in the back and watch my former company of actors and directors move on without me. During the intervals new ideas flood into my head and I scribble them down in a small black notebook. I have lots of ideas these days.

I continue work on a new play I started last fall, back in the writing course I took at UCD. I dust off an old one and I strip it back to only what’s necessary. I outline, I write dialogue, I collect pictures and think about color palettes and light plots and scene design.

And I think about teaching, the real job, and I wonder what I’m going to do with myself.

The old life is right there, if I want it. I can move back into my old house, my old classroom is waiting for me, and all my old friends are here. Everything could go right back to the way it was.

One of my best friends mentioned something about “getting it out of your system” when I moved to Ireland. My grandmother said the same thing. A lot of people say things like “Well, now you can say you’ve done it, and you’ve got no regrets.” Like it’s a box I wanted to just tick off on the Brian Fauth Bucket List.

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Once upon a time, I could have settled down and loved a woman and raised a family, and maybe that would have been a good life.

Once upon a time, I got on a plane and I flew across the ocean and I saw great cities and I met lovely people and I climbed green hills and I watched a continent pass by my train window.

Once upon a time, I thought I could go back to doing what I did before, and what I did better than anyone else, and I thought that would be enough. But that was a long time ago.

I’m like one of those guys in the old stories, the ones who forget the instructions and accept the gifts of the Fair Folk. There’s always a price to be paid when visiting the Twilight Realm; when you return home, nothing is ever the same again. You drift through life as a shadow, and try as you might, you can never find your way back again.

And so I drive and I drive and I drive, through the end of a bleak and cold winter, and I watch the snow melt along the roadside, and I stare out into the horizon, searching for a new route to take me home.

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