Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Stupid drama

One of the cool things about the school where I work is that, despite being in the foothills of the Himalayas, there's a great Western vibe here. Students are loud and have learned the art of speaking out and even talking back. Despite that, they're plenty respectful, and some even say "thank you" after every lesson.

And when you catch them saying or doing something rude, even if they're right, they truly feel bad about it.

Today, walking up to my classroom after morning tea, I was behind one of my students on the staircase. She's new to the school, just here from Kathmandu; hard-working and sincere, she's one of those kids that stresses out about individual points on quizzes and never fails to remind me when something is fair or unfair. Basically, she's a student that works her ass off to get good grades.

Anyway, I was walking behind her and she didn't know I was there, and I overheard her say something to her friend about a "stupid drama" assignment. As soon as she said it, she glanced back, saw me, and almost literally melted in shame. "Hi there," I said, smiled, and quickly walked past. 

For the rest of the afternoon, every time I saw her, I'd glance over and smile, and she'd bow her head. I went up to her in the cafeteria during lunch. "Just getting ready for ... drama class," I said. As I walked away, I saw her whispering to her friend, who just laughed.

I wasn't really offended that she called some drama assignment stupid. In fact, I couldn't agree more. This is my first time teaching drama, and I've found myself making stuff up, creating lessons that require little work from me but still allow students to get on stage and act as much as possible. I've heard rumblings that the kids really like the class, that, for some, it's the highlight of the day. 

For me, it's the opposite. When I'm unsure of myself in front of a class, I tend to get serious, I tend to have less fun, and I make up assignments that challenge students to do things I myself could never do. But that's the way it goes with teaching. Maybe life. Insecurity breeds cruelty. Backed into a corner, one lashes out.

And during class today, I finally snapped. The students seemed to rebel over some minor detail, and I ended up yelling something at them and storming out of the room. I wasn't sure if I was really angry or if I just wanted to get out of there. But I left, ending up in the staff work room.

Five minutes later, a couple of guys from the class came to find me. "We're so sorry," they said. "Please come back."

"No way," I said. "Not until I think you can be honest."

"Come on, please," one of the guys said. "We can't be honest when critiquing each other. If I told someone how bad she was on stage, she would just tell everyone at school that I'm gay or something. And then I'd have no friends."

I had to laugh. "No, too bad, I'm done with you guys," I said, trying to think of a way I could gracefully return to class. Luckily, they thought of a way.

"What if we dance for you?" the other guy said. "Would you come back?"

"Tell you what. I'll give you five minutes. When I walk into that room, I want to see a Bollywood dance performed by the whole class."

They ran off. Five minutes later, the class danced. And it was really good. And we all laughed and forgot about the stupid drama assignment.

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