Monday, January 8, 2018

Open Dialogue by: Sam Fremin

Looking back, it’s been interesting to see what aspects of my life have changed in the past year. Theatre at my school is a huge part of what I dedicate time to and in that regard, I am in a much different spot than I was a year ago. As is the case whenever time goes on, my interests are not exactly what they were. New people and new influences have become more prominent to me. The #BowTieBoys attended the most successful NCTE conference we’ve had to date. With all of these new experiences, I have gained new opinions and perspectives. Over the course of this next year, I am excited to see what else may change and how that may impact my view on education.

Until this year I never thought I would be onstage. I have spent countless shows working through all sorts of technical crews to the point that I became one of the Student Technical Directors at the conclusion of last school year. Due to graduation, I also succeeded the past Head of Sound (at the time I was the person who ran soundboard during shows). That meant in the upcoming year I would be expected to not only run sound, but oversee every facet of the technical side of our drama department and attend other school events to aid teachers with tech support. To make matters even harder to stomach, the two Student Technical Directors that my partner and I would be replacing left mighty large shoes to fill. Although I was obviously enthusiastic about the coming challenges, part of me couldn’t help but be nervous for the added stress and responsibility that was in my future.

This was roughly the same time period when our school’s Senior One Act Festival was scheduled to go down. A lot of the one act directors were close friends of mine, who I wanted to have an excuse to hang out with, so I allowed myself to get talked into auditioning for their performances. I grew in a number of ways through those one acts (which you can read about in my May blog posts, “Students as Teachers: Restraint Only Hinders Progress” and “Students as Teachers: Knowing Your Audience!”), probably the biggest way being my discovery of a never-before-felt attraction to acting. My whole view towards theatre had changed. Throughout the summer, whenever drama was brought up, I was conflicted. Some days I was one hundred percent loyal to the idea of being our school’s head of tech, whereas others were spent with me plotting in my head how I could potentially thrust acting into the mix.

Even when the school year finally rolled around, I remained unsure about what my theatre future would hold. Auditions for the fall play were not for awhile, so for the time being, I was still able to weigh over the whole situation. After talking about it with a number of people, I came to the conclusion that I should just go for it. I clearly wanted to try my hand at acting, but I didn’t necessarily want to give up tech. I had to find out if juggling both parts of theatre was a possibility, at the very least. My director needed to be consulted.

I approached Mr. Hochkeppel with my thoughts. My concern was that he would ask me to relinquish the positions I had been appointed to or worse, shut the acting idea down entirely. Thankfully, he did not. The conversation we had was a good model for positive dialogue between a teacher and a student. As expected, we both came to the table with questions, concerns, and wants. Through full transparency and a willingness to see each other’s perspective, our discussion went seamlessly.

So long as I found competent replacements for anything I had to leave behind, he was comfortable with me pursuing a new side of our drama department. Mr. Hochkeppel trusted me to be able to determine what my limits were. If I could balance every single thing on my plate, he was more than willing to allow me to do so. This put the ball in my court. Had he gone and told me exactly how to go about handling this situation, a handful of bad outcomes might have come to fruition:
  • The creation of negative rapport between us
  • A sense of disappointment towards theatre
  • The loss of a learning opportunity for me

Being told exactly what to do, without any freedom to potentially grow is not a great way to generate support. Mr. Hochkeppel very well could have given me one acceptable course of action and said it was his way or the highway. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I would have felt powerless if the scenario played out that way. When I feel powerless, I don’t perform well, whether that be in a classroom, in an auditorium, or on a sports field. Put me in a position like that and my trust in the perpetrator plummets. That forum of discussion between myself and the teacher would be irreparably damaged. While I might still feel comfortable expressing my thoughts and feelings on a topic, the relationship would never be the same. My head would always be looking over my shoulder, knowing at any point my trust could be for naught. Conversely, because H did not strip me of my voice, our bond is in a state of strength. I know that I can approach him if I need advice on something or if I have a concern about anything that is going on. Given a choice between those two types of student/teacher relationships, it’s very clear which is more beneficial to both parties.

If I had walked into that meeting and gotten completely rejected, without any chance to display my perspective, not only would I be frustrated, but overall disappointed. I was (albeit retrospectively pointlessly) very tense heading into the discussion. My side of the conversation had taken a lot of thought and was planned out very thoroughly. That preparation did not automatically ensure I would receive a positive outcome though. After all the time I had spent coming to my conclusion, getting denied would have taken a toil. The disappointment facing me would have impacted how excited I was to continue theatre. It would be very hard to press on, knowing there were other opportunities I could have explored. Once again, luckily this was not the case. Instead of me feeling deflated when it came to theatre, Mr. Hochkeppel gave me something new to look forward to. I was engaged in every drama related activity because I had a new purpose. That change required me to open my eyes and point them towards things I did not typically pay full attention to. In the classroom, students often find themselves falling into a pattern at some point in the year, it’s just bound to happen. In a school system seemingly built on accenting similarity, giving students a change of pace can sometimes be all that’s needed to refocus and recapture engagement for the duration of the year.

My big takeaway from this whole debacle was the fact I received a platform on which to learn. The decisions I had to make, based on what to cut out of my schedule and what not to, were mine to make. If what I thought was right ended up being wrong, it would be on me to mitigate whatever happened as a result. This was all a lesson of self evaluation. I had to learn how to accurately determine what I could and could not squeeze in. Obviously, this is a real life skill that everyone has to deal with in their daily lives, whether it be in the workplace or just socially. Chances to teach valuable lessons like these do not come around all the time. This lesson also brought new life lessons further down the road (but that’s a blog post for another time). Rather than closing me off from learning how to balance my schedule and not overwork myself, H decided to give me the freedom to choose. I see the reverse decision in some of my other classes at school, as I’m sure other fellow students do as well. Not only is losing the power to collaboratively discuss with teachers unproductive and disappointing, it kills chances to learn life lessons and negatively impacts future interactions due to loss of rapport and desire to conference. If a classroom is to run efficiently, open dialogue and acting upon that dialogue are absolute musts.

1 comment:

  1. Wow Sam. I felt as if I was standing with you and Mr. Hochkeppl listening in to your conversation. This is so wonderfully descriptive but what I especially love is that you CHOSE to turn this into a powerful experience with a positive outcome. I love that point, "Not only is losing the power to collaboratively discuss with teachers unproductive and disappointing, it kills chances to learn life lessons and negatively impacts future interactions due to loss of rapport and desire to conference." Great post!