A few days ago, on social media, a friend and former colleague of mine asked: “Teacher friends, after this year, what other careers are you considering?” Answers ranged from real estate to therapist to camper vagabond. This question gets tossed around a lot, but there is a seriousness to it this time that we haven’t felt before.
We are so tired of the phrases “unprecedented times” and “new normal.” Personally, I think that we’ve been in various stages of lockdown and quarantine that the times are actually precedented into normality. The question is, how do we as theatre teachers deal with it?
We became teachers because we wanted to work with kids. We became theatre teachers because we wanted to share this ancient art form with kids. Theatre is not just plays. It is community and collaboration. It is watching kids blossom and become leaders. It is being in the same space, together, playing improvisation games and learning stage combat and figuring out how to properly blend pancake makeup. It is hands-on, energizing, and fun.
Teaching online–especially theatre–is hard because we lose the human touch that is so vital to education. Fortunately, we’re innovative and creative and scrappy enough that we can figure out ways to still connect with our kids (check out our post on teaching middle-school drama remotely). But it’s different. And it’s wearing on us.
It is OK to be stressed out. Or frustrated, or angry. We’re overwhelmed because our kids are overwhelmed–there might be a lot of zeros in the gradebook, and we feel that as a personal and professional failure. These feelings are the new normal, and how in the world do we deal with that? Staying in a negative emotional state is unhealthy and counterproductive. We feel what we feel, and then we have to process through it and get back to the work. But really … how do we deal with these emotional stressors?
Let’s use our theatre training for ourselves. Make time for the relaxation exercises and mindfulness techniques we learned in our college acting classes. Just five minutes of breathing exercises can lower stress levels and help the body repair itself. (Check out this NPR story on the health benefits of deep breathing).
Ultimately, we have to find acceptance with the changes to our profession. Some of us don’t like change and will fight it (teachers can be creatures of habit); some of us will jump headfirst into the quagmire and figure it out. But know that wherever you are in your adaptation, however you are teaching (in-person, hybrid, virtual, asynchronous), you are not alone.
I teach theatre history at a local university. We just covered the Ancient Romans into the Medieval period, and discussed the centuries-long gap of theatre in the Western World. Astutely, one of my students found comfort in knowing that even though theatre disappeared for large swaths of time–whether from royal decree or plague–it always came back. Theatre is embedded in who we are as humans, and whatever little bits of theatre we can share with our students–well, that’s normal enough for me.