January 5, 2017

Teaching On Stage

Teaching is often compared to other service professions -- like nurses and clergy -- and there are certainly similarities there.  Teachers work for the public (i.e. our students and their families). The results of our work are largely intangible, and while it can be very rewarding, it's often thankless work as well.  I've been thinking recently, though, about a different comparison I heard a few years ago. In many ways, the career most similar to teaching is acting.

Fourth grader teaching her Pre-K Book Buddy!
The preparation teachers go through before a lesson is similar to actors learning their lines.  We study and rehearse to ensure that we can deliver a teaching point precisely or present a math skill clearly.  We then perform our lessons for a critical audience and have to be ready to accept their feedback and tweak our performance for future lessons, innovating while teaching the same standard.  Like actors, we are often seen only as our final performance -- and most people never even know about the the hours of research for the role, the rehearsals, the costume adjustments, the staging, or the last minute script changes.

Like an actor in a play, teachers try to build a genuine connection with our audience while portraying a character. Stage actors, like teachers, have families, histories, and issues that they bring into their role. While this background makes us into the performers that we are, sometimes our personal lives don't mesh with our role.  I have days when I'm emotional or exhausted, yet when I step in front of my kiddos, I'm "on stage" -- I need to smile, speak calmly, and focus on the content I'm teaching, regardless of what's been happening behind the scenes.

I'm often reminded of this comparison when I'm overwhelmed by working late, stressful morning meetings, or personal issues.  The reality is that all teachers have good days and bad days, and children they click with and those they don't.  Being a "responsive teacher" means knowing that my students and I will all have days we don't feel like working our hardest or doing our best. It means knowing that my students' families and experiences are as important and inextricable from them, as mine are from me. I hope that, like a stage performer, my vulnerability, honesty, and life experience shine through in my performance and ultimately make me someone who my audience (students and parents) trusts, appreciates, and supports.