A teacher says what? A teacher says lots of things. I should know. I’ve spent lots of years being a teacher.
These days I teach future teachers. College students. I’m a professor of teacher education. But I spent many years teaching high school students. Loud and energetic high school students. Frenetic and anxious high school students. Exhausting and extremely-exhausting high school students.
Why am I thinking about teaching high school students this week? Great question, friend.
Happy Valley Improv has opened up The Blue Brick Theatre in downtown State College. Check out those self-promotional links! Here’s another self-promotional link. Our first offering was a youth improv camp. Middle school students in the morning. High school students in the afternoon.
I spent one more week of my life teaching loud and energetic teenagers. Mostly without masks. Vaccinated and socially anxious teenagers. Eager-to-connect-with-other-people teenagers. Take-my- screen, teenagers. Please.
Let’s keep riffing on tired (and poorly used) setups to joke formulas. I taught an improv class last week, and boy, are my arms tired. My legs too. And everything else.
Keeping up with teenagers is hard work. I don’t know how I did it. I spent nearly fifteen years as a high school teacher. Up at the crack of dawn. Channeling unbridled energy until the bell rang in the afternoon. I’d collapse on my couch at home. Watch TV. Play Final Fantasy. Fall asleep by 9. Wake up the next morning and do it again. What a life.
I guess I do know how I did it. I was 1,000 years younger then. Spry. Agile. Youthful. I’m 1,000 years older now. Gray hair in my sideburns. A bald spot forming. In need of naps. And baths. And more naps. No baths and naps last week, friends. Only improv. With teenagers.
Last week was nostalgic. The Blue Brick Theatre has the same feel as my former classrooms. Makeshift black box theatres. Creative and funky spaces.
I didn’t wear a mask around students for the first time in over a year. I stood in a circle with kids. Taught the same games and exercises I’ve been teaching for a lifetime. Gave the same instructions. Exuded the same affirmational energy. Gave people permission to be creative. To be silly. To be transgressive. Guided us through some disciplined and playful improv theatre. It felt good to make stuff up with others. Stuff and nonsense. Felt like I was returning to a familiar routine. Hitting some sorely missed rhythm. Honestly, it was just nice to be with kids again. Doing things I’ve done any number of times before.
My friend Andrea helped teach the camp. Here’s a promotional link. My friend Jackie too. Link. They’re members of Happy Valley Improv. Fine improvisers. Good teachers, too. It was fun to be with them. It was fun to be with the kids.
Teenagers are exhausting. But I miss them. They are so open. Still figuring out who they are and what they are becoming. Such possibility. Improvisational possibility.
I don’t know that I could return to my life as a high school teacher. I go hard when I’m working with kids. Spend myself with reckless abandon. I don’t know how else to do it. I invest myself and am usually running ragged by the time class is over.
Teaching is such hard work. It’s like improv. Both are activities you can spend lifetimes practicing and never master. You learn more and more only to realize there is more and more to learn. But you keep at it. Practice more and more. Grow and grow. Makes me think of that quote by Kurt Vonnegut that I drop so often. Every time you make something, Kurt once wrote, your soul grows. I think that is true. Teaching and improv, if they are done well, are practices where you create something with others. And in so doing, the collective soul grows. That’s a worthwhile thing to seek out. Collective soul growing.
And no, I’m not writing about the band Collective Soul. Nor should anybody ever. Some things are better forgotten.
I haven’t forgotten what it is like to be a high school teacher. But I’ve moved onto other work. I keep riffing on the same themes, though. Building card houses. Connecting with others through an affirmation of difference. Making things. Expanding my soul. Hopefully inviting others to expand their souls. I’m all about that work. And I keep finding ways to move it forward. These days it is happening in college classrooms. In writing projects. And in The Blue Brick Theatre.
Last week it happened with teenagers. And now I need a nap. Or maybe a bath. Or both. Don’t try to visualize that image too hard. The result is disturbing. Kind of like the band Collective Soul.
Let’s return to the title of this blog. A tired setup to a bad joke. A teacher says what? A teacher says I’m tired. And there’s nothing funny about it.