Today we're tackling my public school years. I went to public school from 7th to 12th grade, and I loved it. Sure, I had my share of DRA-ma...but so did everyone. And, when you're in a class of 200 or 500 instead of a class of 18, having a few people turn on you is so much easier to bear.
And my teachers. Well. I firmly believe our school district had a monopoly on the world's best teachers. Not everyone was stellar, although I think they were all well-intentioned, but a few teachers stand out especially, and I need to shout them out.
- My 8th grade English teacher who was the first person who ever asked me to let my voice out in my writing instead of burying my personality under a weird formal voice that I thought was "correct." (She also turned me on to a ton of great books, like Cynthia Voight's Tillerman Cycle. And she had a poster of Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies on her wall. So: clearly the coolest.)
- My humanities and AP English teacher, who told me it was ok to hate the books we read, and even to tell him I hated the books we read, but also made me push my thinking about them further and deeper than "I liked" or "I hated."
- The history teacher my class had for 10th and 12th grade, who pulverized our inflated sense of how well we could write, and then built up our actual writing skills to fill the void. We thought she hated us--but then we realized it was all love. (Well, I realized that relatively faster than many of my classmates. But then she took us out for hotdogs and ice cream at the end of our senior year and I think everyone else realized it too.)
|That's me in the pink dress as Mrs. MacAfee in Bye Bye Birdie--blonde wig and all!|
And my high school theater teachers? Forget it. I wouldn't have made it to adulthood without them. We had an amazing theater program. We did five shows a year, with elaborate but homegrown sets and costumes painstakingly assembled by our devoted theater and shop teachers and a lot of student elbow grease, and we took our acting training very seriously. (Probably a little too seriously, but come on, we were teenagers.) As the scrappy, overcrowded public school, we prided ourselves on putting on shows that were way better than the affluent suburbs just minutes away. There were rumors one year that the closest and richest of the suburbs did a production of Titanic, the musical, and that their ship actually sank into the stage on hydraulics. We scoffed at their technology: we were actors. We were artists. We were more than a little obnoxious. But it was a defense mechanism, really, because we knew we'd never have that kind of money.
|This is from A.R. Gurney's Sylvia--definitely my favorite high school show. That's me on the couch, looking skeptical.|
All of this is to say that I'm pretty sure my high school theater teachers have actual magic powers. Because in the midst of budget woes and kids getting busted for drug- and gang-related activity and teenagers with babies and everything else people think of when they think of inner-city public schools, they created this safe haven where everyone was focused on the work. They created this culture where suddenly, positive behaviors were valued by teachers and students. We didn't tolerate personal drama coming interfering with rehearsal. Lateness and absence were grounds for shunning. If you took the work seriously and applied yourself, your stock went up. As freshmen, we couldn't understand the few upperclassmen who smoked--never mind lung cancer, think of what that does to your voice. I can't imagine going through high school without the theater program they created.