Monday, May 7, 2012

Chim Chim Cheroooooo, Part 1, Davis High

Chim Chimeree Chim Chimeree Chim Chim Cherooooooo......


Note: Last Saturday night, after Titanic closed, we told our students that we are not returning to Tuacahn High next year. We have found employment closer to our aging parents. Working at Tuacahn has been like finding my people. However, working at Tuacahn has also been a treacherous journey in losing myself. I don't know who I am anymore. I spent my whole life as a single person, using the theatre as my spouse, my master even. I came here and became a wife at 41, a role I have wanted to play since I was 12. Then I became a mother, for a moment, another role I always dreamed of playing. But motherhood was not meant to last, or meant to be, so I hid my dreams in other people's kids. One by one they graduate and leave you because they are not your real kids. They may send you a wedding announcement in a few years but you are probably not invited to the ceremony. Your influence stops at the diploma.

To my detriment, I'm addicted to growth and creating things. That is what I am truly meant to do on this earth. I've been very successful at going into new or struggling theatre programs and building them into machines that spit out good kids. That is exactly why I was hired at Tuacahn. But when it looks like there is no room for more growth, the winds change. I cannot feed my addiction, so I must move on. I feel terrible that I am now dragging my husband away with me to a new school that can use our building skills, but this move will allow us to get involved in community theatre again. Maybe Andy can actually use his Equity card in Salt Lake. Maybe we can think about adoption. I have a feeling that this move is about personal growth too.

There are so many good memories here...I have felt such pride in my kids here. But when I drive into the canyon, the ghosts are there too. So many ghosts. 

This mini-series is about going where God wants you to go. Doing what God wants you to do even though you may not want to do that thing. This is about being strong enough to look back and see the hand of God in your life and admit that He is never wrong.

Telling our beloved Tuacahn kids that we are leaving them may have been the hardest thing I have ever done but it is the right thing. This mini-series is also about gratitude for all the kids I've ever known and had to leave. I hope this helps them understand why we need to graduate with them this year.


I was raised by a teacher that stayed in one place for 35 years. He taught me that no job is worth doing half way..."half-assed." I got that from both of my parents. My dad was an award-winning teacher. I always knew that I would be a teacher. So after college, I went to work in Japan for a year because I wanted to find out what they had that we didn't. I wanted to plagiarize every good idea from them. I'll start a mini-series on Japan one day. I was offered a second year contract that I politely turned down because I could not see growth or creativity in teaching there. I'm addicted to growth...to the possibilities! So I left that stagnant system. Apologies to my friends there that read my blog, maybe it's better now?

When I got back, it was August and there weren't many teaching jobs still available. I interviewed at several junior highs and Davis High School in Kaysville, Utah. I felt good about taking the Davis job, however, it was 5 periods of debate and 1 period of Drama One. I felt like it might be fun to teach debate. I had been teaching English to Japanese kids and anything would have sounded more fun than that at the time. 

And it would have been . . .

But the insanely great debate teacher that I was replacing, a legend really, was...insanely great. And I was a theatre person with a lot of debate in my background. A lot of colleges had offered me debate scholarships, recruiters with check books sat in my moms living room, and my dad would hang his head when I explained that I was going to major in theatre. I liked debate but  it was a grueling way to spend a weekend and I loved the stage and everything about it.

But August isn't a good time to be looking for teaching jobs. I could not afford to be picky. So after I signed the contract at Davis I also signed myself up for debate camp and got back in the business of Team Policy Debating. When I introduced myself to the other teachers at the camp I said "I will be teaching at Davis High." Silence. Then a quiet...."I'm sorry," from the back of the room and the crowd broke down into chuckling and shaking their heads back and forth. The camp director explained to me that it would be tough following such a great teacher, and to be prepared for that. How do you prepare for that?

Davis High had been state champions. The classroom was full of trophies. Just walking in the room made me feel smarter. They owned their own copy machine. I planned on continuing that tradition. I just needed to be reminded how to do it. I was not scared. I was smug. I had my own trophies...back in the day. W.A.Y B.A.C.K. in the day.  

The language of policy debate came back pretty fluently. Though not an amazing debater, I had the nuts and bolts of it down and I had a plan (as I always do) to let the older kids, the really awesome debaters, mentor the novices. I would supervise that process and in return, I would stay 30 seconds ahead of the kids. 

My sister Paula and I found a little tiny apartment in North Salt Lake, right next to the oil refinery and on a good day, you could actually see our apartment from I-15. I think it was $210 a month. $210 for all the air pollution you could take in. Paula had just returned from serving her mission in Italy and she had been hired to teach P.E. at an elementary school near the state capitol, so we were living in between the two schools and commuting like grown ups do. 

I decorated my new classroom with the year's debate resolution, posters of lofty goals, rules of course, pencil holders and "IN," "OUT," and "Latework" boxes. I signed up for the teacher's union, got my insurance card, my parking sticker, and some new skirts and dress pants. 

On the first day back to school, the kids met their new teacher....with disgust as predicted. They made it very clear that I was not the teacher they left back in June. Because he had decided to leave during the summer, they did not get a chance to grieve the loss of their mentor. It wouldn't have mattered if I was the President of the United States, just by standing there, I represented the fact that the rumors were true...their beloved teacher had left them. There was hatred in their eyes and I was too young not to take it personally. I, being a novice myself, sat there naively waiting for them to run into my open arms so we could all be buddies! It wasn't going to happen. They didn't know me. I didn't know that kids could love a teacher so much. They were going to put me through a series of tests first. I would have to prove my dedication to them. (I've done this four times since then...the tests are tough, but now I don't take their disdain so personally.) I was fairly warned and so far, everything everyone predicted had come true.

I spent the next several months crying every night and feeling just plain stupid. I would prepare SIX lessons a night. I would make strategies about how to combat the resistance. I wasn't getting any sleep. I was getting migraines and even kidney stones. Eventually I took my team to their first tournament and they brought home the First Place trophy at the Governor's Cup. I cried all the way home, but in the back of my mind I was thinking "...it's because the last teacher was so good...it's because of his lasting influence....it's because the varsity kids, who were taught by him, are mentoring the novices...I'm still not a good debate teacher."

But the mentoring system...which required participation hours, points, and teaching time, was working. And that was my idea. These kids would rather die than get less than an "A" and I was the keeper of the points. I offered them extra credit if their novices won at tournaments. Genius. In turn, by having to teach debate principles to their younger teammates, they were solidifying those ideas themselves. I've always known, that if you want to learn how to do something well, just teach it back to someone.     

My first check was $900 and something after taxes. Less than $1000 for the month. For the M.O.N.T.H. 

I never won those kids over until I started teaching the individual speaking events. My students dominated Oratory and Extemporaneous events because I was good at teaching them the DRAMA of speaking. I have to give props to the debate teachers in the state. It is THE hardest coaching job in a high school. You spend SIX months of Friday nights and all day Saturdays on buses with high school kids and searching for qualified judges who will actually show up for $5 a round. You spend the day waiting around, watching your kids spew out evidence and arguments then you take your plastic trophies home and start it all over again. For the love! Yep....for the love.

And then I was offered an opportunity at the end of my second year at Davis to direct A Midsummer Night's Dream, and my love of theatre came rushing back at me like a warm blanket and I started looking in earnest to return to my true love. On closing night, during intermission, I ran to my classroom and printed a letter of resignation I had written nearly two years earlier. I had accepted a position in the same school district I had grown up in. I would be teaching 3 periods of speech and 3 periods of drama in a junior high school. I had learned what I needed to learn at Davis High...apparently there was something for me to learn from the 13 - 15 year olds.

I have never considered moving to another school without consulting God first. It is my firm belief that you are sent toward the people that need you for a reason. Your talents and their deficiencies are a perfect match...

...or visa versa. 

For me, mostly visa versa.