I can’t stop thinking about this blog post which I only half read the other day. (Sorry, I couldn’t bear to read it all the way through.) In it, the author railed against actors who moan about having to return to teaching after their acting gigs. She recommended stepping away from the kids and leaving the teaching to those who love it.
I hate this. That’s why I can’t stop thinking about it. (Voice in my head, sounding a lot like an angry Foghorn Leghorn: “Of all the. . .”) But I also don’t necessarily disagree. I mean, listen, if you can be dissuaded from teaching by a blog post, it’s probably not for you. But – I take issue with the idea that you have to LOVE teaching and LOVE kids in order to do it. You don’t. And if you’re a theatre-maker or an artist of any kind – of COURSE you’d rather be making your art and OF COURSE teaching, while better than ditch digging for day job work, is a pale comparison to the thrill of making art.
For most of us who are artists, there is literally nothing else we’d rather do than our art. Even if my day job was to read books on the beach (could this PLEASE be my day job?!) I would want to get back to art making eventually. So I take a little umbrage at the idea that we should leave the teaching only to those who love it like we love our art. Even career classroom teachers don’t tend to feel that way. My sense is that we need each and every one of you – those who love it, those who hate it and those who’d rather be art making or some combination of all of it.
When I first started teaching, I loved it almost as much as making art. I can imagine having written a post, like the one I read, 15 years ago. Teaching was exciting and thrilling and I LOVED the students I worked with. I was a Theatre Love Bomb in the classroom. But I’m a much better teacher now than I was then. I think this is, in part, due to not being concerned with love so much anymore.
There is a sense in some teaching circles that kids can sense how you feel about teaching – so that you must be projecting devotion at all times, or they’ll smell it, the way animals smell fear. This is nonsense. Kids don’t need my love. I give them my respect and my skill and I think it really and truly doesn’t matter to them how I feel about it.
I think there is often some confusion between resenting the work and resenting the people in the work and it is an important distinction. Yes, I would rather make art than teach – but there’s no money in art so I do the next most meaningful thing (for me,) I teach. And yes, sometimes I resent that. But even while I might resent that I have to return from the honeymoon of making a show to my day jobs – I don’t bring that resentment into the classroom. While I am teaching, I am entirely present to teaching. I like my students. I do my absolute best to give them all I can. I don’t blame them or resent them – even when I run into a classroom of total jerks (and I do.) But I’m allowed to wish I were doing a show instead. And classroom teachers are allowed to wish they were on a beach reading books.
Teaching is hard work. It only gets harder when there are also rules about how we’re supposed to feel about it. (see also my previous post on this subject.) And I get it, if you’re doing the thing you love passionately and someone turns up and treats that thing like it’s less than, then, of course that sucks.
But if you love teaching the way I love making art, I envy you. You have a good deal. The thing you love to do the most is the thing you get to do for a living. That is precious and fabulous and not entirely possible for most of us.
Most of the artists I know have a luminous quality – something in them is very alive – however they feel about day jobbing. I think that luminosity is a good thing to bring into a classroom. We need artists’ vibrance and drive. I think discouraging people from doing it just because it isn’t their first choice kind of sucks – but again, if a blog post (including and especially this one) is going to persuade or dissuade you one way or the other. . .ditch digging might, in fact, be a better choice. Now, ditch digging, there’s a job you better love.
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