A young model and actress recently messaged me online. ‘Dan, I shot the first scene on my first feature film today. I was thinking back to when I was twelve, on stage performing in the play you directed. I want to thank you for that wonderful experience and let you know you had a great impact, even thirteen years later.’ This was perhaps the third time I’ve heard from her in those thirteen years
As a teaching artist, due to the brief time I most often have with students, I too rarely know the long term impact I have on them. If I do reminisce with one-time students, however, I hear lovely and affecting anecdotes, pithy memories crystallized over time. A local Hawaii actor, one who is a great risk-taker, reminded me of being inspired when I, apparently, said, ‘It ain’t worth doing if you ain’t going to go all the way.’ A budding film-maker attributes the wild style of his first film to my statement, ‘Be very good. Be very bad. Just don’t be forgettable.’ The truth is I don’t always remember saying or doing what some attribute to me. The words or actions so often arise in the moment as I respond to the needs of the particular group or individual.
Zoom forward to now…
Quiet Isabel, a first grader and English Language Learner, is a bit overwhelmed by school, language, learning and her surroundings. By all accounts, she is reserved and generally withdrawn in class. However, in my recent drama class, she always participated, most often with a giggle on her lips and wide, enthusiastic eyes. Although she struggled with words and speaking, generally only talking aloud when we practiced the poem we were working on, she always proved ready to participate. Enthusiastically.
Her teacher approached me one day and thanked me for helping this little girl become more vocal and participatory in class. From then on, as I watched Isabel progress through class, I thought of my previous students and began to wonder, what is this little girl walking away with? What has captured her attention? What have I done that inspires this young child who has been so reserved in class, but suddenly has discovered a new aspect of herself? Since she could not articulate such thoughts beyond giggling the words, ‘its fun,’ I was left to imagine the reasons.
I cannot predict what they will remember and I don’t for a moment believe that just because I say it, or teach it, that they will remember it. Thinking about Eric Booth’s 80% rule (which he spoke about in this article posted on the Teaching Artist Journal website), I believe more and more that inspiration comes with the atmosphere I create, the invitation I offer to the students to be deeply invested and work with me more as a partner than a student, how I embed my philosophies in the way I teach the class rather than simply talk about them and the way I embody what I espouse.
I become a kind of drama mother or father. The students watch and listen, but more importantly they engage with me, gaining more from the way I interact with them than from what I say. A random, unplanned moment here or there inspires, tickles, humors or impresses them. I will probably never really know when those moments happen, so I challenge myself to own them, to live them, to be them in the hopes that I am what my students might like to be.