The Silent Teacher and the last day before showtime

Today was a first: I taught the entire day, and hardly ever spoke. This came at the end of a week of illness, and I'd been afraid it was coming for a while. I made a tag for myself that said "I've Lost My Voice" and hung it on a lanyard. Then I made a second tag that said "This Is Not A Metaphor" and put it in my pocket. 

It was a beautiful day. I started both classes with fifteen minutes of silent reading (I heard kids walk into the classroom and shout "Yes!" unironically. Giving kids time in class to silently read books of their own choosing is the one gift I would like to bestow on every new teacher. A room full of people engrossed in books feels like a sacred space. It's beautiful. It's also really easy to scan around and note who seems to be picking a new book at random every day, and who is making no progress through their book of choice, and schedule some time to give that kid the support they need. 

My first slide explained that I couldn't talk, and asked the kids for their help, and they were awesome. I got their attention by clapping twice and snapping twice in rhythm, which kids started picking up on and following, then I pointed to kids to read the next slides. I realized how often I add little asides when I'm explaining something and how unnecessary these are. There's nothing like communicating solely through pre-prepared slides and a mini-whiteboard to make you think about your words! Then we watched a spoken word piece about being an introvert (by Kevin Yang - it's very good). Then I had everyone come into the circle. I silently lifted my arms and inhaled, and dropped them slowly while exhaling, for five breaths (I'd done this yesterday, so kids knew what to do). Then rolled out my neck, and then put up a slide that said explained we were playing "Secret Leader". I quickly chose a detective and a leader, and we played. 

At this point, in the first group I put up a slide explaining they should rehearse until we did a run through, and they dispersed immediately (reasonably). 

For the second group, I explained in advance (on my whiteboard) that there were a few slides, and I would signal when we were done. 

Here are some photos (from today and yesterday) of what we've been doing (all taken by a phenomenal student photographer):

These two guys took the poems they wrote about each other based on dialogical interviews in week 1, and combined them into a single spoken-word piece. They've made this their rehearsal spot. 

 This is one of our two web designers. They're in different pods, and I've never seen them speak to each other, but they're collaborating on a site where visitors can see all our poems and self-portraits, searching either by the author of the poem, or the person the poem is about. It's still a work in progress at the time of writing, but you can see it here.

This group has written a piece enumerating the "rules" of being a girl at ages 5, 11, and right now. Lying on the floor is part of the choreography.

This is a rehearsal for a tightly-structured piece about the "tribes" of Mexico and the USA - a theme they chose. I love this photo for two reasons: first of all, they strategically write their script on whiteboards so when they perform, they seem to have them memorized - as if they've had cue cards. This is really smart, but I'm making sure they are memorizing their lines since they won't have whiteboards in the performance space! Also, I love how this picture captures one of the many odd things about high school - where else would part of a theatre company come back to rehearsals after lunch in sports uniforms?

These two are figuring out which photos are missing, as they create a slideshow of self-portraits, with live musical accompaniment. They tested this today. The group is split regarding the music. Yann Tiersen's "Comptine D'un Autre Éte" turned out to make the slideshow look a bit like, in one student's words, "a memorial". The other option we tried was Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'", but the pianist only knows the first four chords, so while he did a lot with those four chords, it did feel a little too repetitive. We'll be leaving that decision until the day of the performance.

Here are students composing a song for the performance - if the song isn't ready, the back-up option (for reasons I don't fully grasp) is Cake's "The Distance". 

Group building a popsicle-stick house the outer layer of which will be popsicle sticks used for the popsicle stick poems we wrote using the prompts "Home looks like/Home smells like/Home sounds like/Home feels like/Home tastes like" (credit to Zoe Randall for realizing the only sensible thing to do was build a house). I'm a little concerned that they built all the walls without using glue (I haven't asked, but I'm confident the reason for that is that "it's cool"), but it's quite a feat of engineering. 

These guys are rehearsing "the unspoken rules of the bathroom". Did you know that if all urinals but one are occupied, it's known as "checkmate"? 

This is notable because it demonstrates an ongoing issue - a strong preference for planning and arguing, rather than getting work on its feet. It's really scary to get up and try something, but if you do it, it normally takes 30 seconds to determine whether it's worth pursuing! Where as you can argue it for HOURS.

Finally, these four photos come from devising our opening. The text comes directly from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian (liberally modified by us - sorry Alexie). I begin by welcoming everyone, and then I say that I’m going to read the portion of the text that inspired the project. I begin “I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian. I belonged to that tribe.” But then, before I can continue, a student stands on her chair to say the next line: “But I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants.” Then, different students stand up on their chairs around the space, saying the next lines in the sequence. I start the final line - “And that’s when I realized…” and the entire team finishes in unison: “that I was going to be OK”. 

If I were doing this again,I wouldn’t have taken volunteers to read on the spot, with 56 kids all in the same (big, noisy) room. And this may have been a big contributing factor in my current voicelessness. But when we did the scene, it was electrifying.

Can you tell I’m excited for the performance on Monday?