I have been a classroom teacher for about 26 years, mostly teaching seven to nine-year-old children in public school. This is my third year as a Teaching Artist for Little Opera. Before Little Opera, I worked with my regular classroom students making mini-operas as in partnership with San Francisco Opera’s ARIA program. I have been thinking about the differences between working with children in a small after-school program and during a regular school day, trying to accomplish essentially the same thing. And it is so very different!
At Little Opera, I work with around 12 students after school, with at least one other teacher, so we are able to have a new kind of creative relationship than any I’ve been able to experience in the past. Conversation. It’s the conversations that make such an impact on the process of creating something, especially something so complicated as opera with the many facets and pieces that all need to work together. We are creating and collaborating on many levels across many disciplines simultaneously, which makes it a heady and rich experience. What feeds student and teacher alike are the opportunities to contemplate, puzzle over, question and explore with each other.
We made some awesome mini-operas when I worked with a whole classroom of students during the school day, but looking back I can see that the adults and the children that had the leadership, ready creativity and skills already drove the process, and others came along and learned from it. With our intimate after-school group, everyone is ruminating, exploring, succeeding, failing, reflecting and refining. And we aren’t doing it in a vacuum because we have time for creative conversation — little ones and big ones, personal ones and group ones, musical conversations that we sing and silent conversations that we dance.
I retired from full-time classroom teaching three years ago, but I still teach two days a week at the same school. I started working for Little Opera the following year. I loved my full-time teaching job but felt compelled to truly immerse myself in the creative conversations of children (and other teaching artists), and that is what drove my decision. It’s not like it was impossible to have that experience in a classroom of 22-plus kids, but my, oh my, there are so many more of those rich conversations after school in Little Opera.