Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Final Bow

Last night, after our final performance of our all-school musical production of Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka, I took my final bow.

I've directed at Spring Lake High School for ten years now and it's time for me to be done.

I thought I'd take this time to just remember some of the great moments.  There were hundreds, maybe thousands of great moments over the years, but these stand out.

Here's the breakdown of the emotions:

  • I've laughed like never before.  During Beauty and the Beast (show #3), our Lumiere played marvelously by Brett Newsted, was going through his normal routine.  The hit song, "Be Our Guest" took about a whole week to choreograph, but it was good.  Really good.  At the end of the song, Lumiere does a running slide downstage, arms out, and stops on the final note.  The perfect end to a perfect number. Rehearsal after rehearsal, Brett had been doing the number in his denim jeans. Then, it was our first night in costumes and his pants were not denim. Oh no! His pants were smooth silk. So, we run the show and Brett hits everything perfectly, but those new pants let him keep right on sliding until he was on top of our pit pianist. After the initial dread and once I knew he'd be okay, I laughed like I had never laughed before.
  • I've cried like never before.  When Emily Roberge and Jack Newsted sang "A Little Fall of Rain" on the final performance of Les Miserables, I flooded. That is the song that brings out so much emotion for me. In that song is love, respect, compassion--and those two actors hit it perfectly. Their beautiful voices and performances made me cry like never before.
  • I've been angry like never before.  We perform the third weekend after spring break and that's the same time we'd add running crew, orchestra, lights, sound, and more.  The actors, who up to this point have had five weeks of rehearsal, always needed to have lines memorized that Monday after break.  I was forgiving--for one day.  I won't name names, but there were students still calling for lines on the Thursday after break.  I remember whipping my notebook against the back of the chair--a really good smack--only for one of the young children we used in the production to be sitting close by.  She looked at me startled.  I demanded greatness and got frustrated and angry like never before.
  • I've been afraid like never before.  Annie. Anyone involved in this production knows with just one word why I was so scared here.  It was the night before opening (maybe two nights before) and we were in Warbucks' foyer with all of the staff welcoming the tough red head into the home when a loud pop, then two and three.  Before you know it, the bridge we hung on the bars above to set the scene for the Hoovervilles came crashing down.  The bridge (I don't know how many pounds, but many) came within two feet of a singing Warbucks' servant.  A close call which made me afraid like never before.
  • I've dared like never before.  In my ownership of the department, I decided to push myself in what I thought could be possible. I brought Shakespeare to our high school stage proving that The Bard belongs in the lives of teens. I made it rain, I used a rotating stage, I used projections to set mood, we performed in Theatre in the Round, I brought in a Holocaust Survivor, a judge, and a special education student who told us what it was like to be different.  I used theatre to push myself and the students involved. It allowed me to dare like never before.
Though I use a lot of first person in this blog, it takes a village: great parent volunteers and an amazing team of directors--some of whom came and went (Jenn, Tom, Mary, Jaime, Lydia, Mike, Addison, Nick and more) and others who were with me the whole time (Robin, Shay, Mark, and Aaron)--thank you!

Finally, I leave with this.

If I have enriched the lives of these hundreds of students half as much as they have enriched me, I've done a pretty good job.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Collaboration is Real, Not Just an Idea

Committing to blogging every week has proven a challenge when in the throes of drying out a basement and trying to put up a sweet musical next weekend, but a promise to the self is a promise to the self.

The revelation this week is that collaboration is real and, with the right partner, it is fun and energizing and engaging and challenging and--

Over spring break, just two weeks ago, I made a Twitter connection with a Drama teacher from Illinois, Ms. Sukow (@Steph_SMac). It started like I imagine most Twitter connections do: one of us said something interesting, the other made a reply, and it ended with a statement suggesting we make a classroom connection. Though not through Twitter, this has happened before.  At conferences or at meetings, "let's connect" has been thrown around plenty without any intention of coming to fruition.

But, the two of us didn't stop there.  The connection continued with Twitter Direct Messages, emails, and Skype conversations.  Over the course of our discussions, we learned that we'd be teaching "the monologue" at roughly the same time.  So, we lined them up.

First, we'd have the students create websites that shared some basic information about themselves and allowed them to get to know each other (the whole time developing very important 21st Century literacy skills, but don't mention that to the students).  Then, we'd draft, share, revise.  After that, memorize and film. Post to YouTube. Link to the websites. Finally, leave comments on the results of the monologues.

(Check out our pages here: Mr. Theune's Drama Class Website)

Since Ms. Sukow and I have been working on this, our classes have Skyped two times and it's been great fun watching the students (at least on my end) light up.  Just minutes before the connection goes through: How are we going to present ourselves?  You talk, Jonah, because you'll represent us well.  Let's make sure we show them we're not creeps.  Be cool everyone, be cool.

And, BAM!  It IS cool!  It's fun.  And I think I speak for my students when I say this (I KNOW I speak for myself), this connection is making me be better.  I'm modeling the monologue for audience and purpose.

So, thank you, Ms. Sukow and class.

Because of you, I'm teaching with more clarity.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Passion In Extracurricular Activities, But Not Our Classroom?

Sunday morning. 9AM. And twelve students show up to film part of a scene for our upcoming production of Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka. Why? The easy answer (and maybe all that has to be said, though I won't stop here) is because they're passionate. These students (and all 95 students involved in the musical) are passionate about creating something for an audience.

They understand the value of working hard, putting in volunteer hours, all for the rush of a performance and to feel the sense of accomplishment and creation.

Theatre students are not the only ones who put in the time, though. Basketball players put in ten hours of practice every week (plus whatever time they give on their own) for the thrill of the competition and the attention of Friday night.  Cross country runners push their physical limits because they're passionate about beating their personal records. And on and on and on, in all of these various extracurricular activities, students volunteer their time to follow their passions.

Now, the million dollar question: why can't we find that in the classroom?

Why do our students NOT give the same passionate efforts?

I know that extracurricular activities are made by choice and I know that does account for some of this reason, but I have to believe that we can make some changes to our classroom that allows for more passion from our students.

If we look at the common threads of extracurricular sports or art, the major similarities are obvious: students are active, they are creating something, and they end up performing for a real audience.

As it turns out, these have been the biggest transformations in my classroom. We are no longer students; we are CREATORS.  And we share to real audiences: parents, the world via web, corporations, politicians, local publications and more.

As educators, we MUST utilize the passion that lies in our students.  It's obviously there. They show it to us in these extracurricular activities. Now, we need to foster that student passion in our classrooms.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Spring Break Learning

So, I learned a few things over spring break:

  • Ken Robinson asked me, in his book, to look at the question differently. NOT "How intelligent are you?" but "How are you intelligent?" Just by switching a few words around, we give every person value.  There is no standardized scale on intelligence. The first question is the wrong one to be asking.
  • I need my friends.  I was able to get away with some good friends and talk through some important things in my life. And they just listened.  We had plenty of fun, too.  Lots of laughs.  Laughter is strong medicine.
  • ...But I need my wife and children more.  Simply put, I'm most myself when I'm with them.  I'm barrier free.  I thank them for that.
  • Twitter is a powerful educational resource. I got in on some great educational chats and connected with some strong folks.  It has changed my classroom and will continue to do so.  I also learned that I MUCH prefer fellow Tweeters who share about their classrooms and experiences than people who simply post links to other articles and blogs and all that. (I know that I post links to this blog--please don't judge too harshly.)
  • My colleagues inspire me. Over the break, I connected with three colleagues (one elementary school teacher, one middle school teacher, one high school teacher) and we decided to set up a district book club.  The book club is up to fifteen already--and that was during spring break. Spring Lake Public Schools is loaded with dedicated staff.  If anyone reads this and wants to jump in, join #SLelement on Twitter.
  • Finally, this...
    • I need to continue to follow my passions. Henry David Thoreau once said, "...that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."
    • I've lived by this in the past. I've road-tripped across the country at age eighteen when others said it was silly, I've quit grad school to follow my passion of teaching when others said it wasn't smart, I've adopted an Ethiopian child when people wondered if it was the right time. Every single one of these decisions has made my life better. It might be time to make another unexpected decision to follow the path of my dreams.
In all, I've learned a lot this spring break and the future is bright--very bright!