There’s one foolproof test a teaching artist can do to assess just how engaged his or her students are on any given day, and it’s totally counterintuitive to what you think of when you imagine great teaching. The test is this: Get up, and leave the room.* We put this test into action last week, entirely by accident.
Due to a student behavior issue, three of the four instructors working with small groups in one of our classes were forced to step outside the classroom for about ten minutes. That left one instructor inside the room leading a music rehearsal with 2 students. When we left the room, we also had:
– 1 student working on puppetry design
– 3 students staging a scene, with one of them acting as director
– 4 students staging a different scene, with one of them acting as a director
At the end of the 10 minutes — more than enough time for any classroom to devolve into complete and total chaos — we re-entered the room to find it not only devoid of chaos but full of students who were, if anything, more engaged in what they were doing than when we had left. In fact, they were working together so seamlessly and so enthusiastically that I resisted the urge to fully re-insert myself into the small group I was working with shortly before, and instead took a seat and watched them work.
For the remaining 20 minutes or so of class, I did very little. When one student asked for help working with her actors, my “Listen to your director” reminder was enough to get them going again. Other than that, I sat back and took it all in.
It is a wonderful thing, as a teacher, to make yourself partially obsolete. In class last week, I got to witness such full ownership of the rehearsal process that students were pushing their own boundaries, challenging each other to think deeper, and having a blast while they were at it. Their total dedication to the task at hand turned them into their own leaders and teachers.
If one of our goals at Little Opera is to help create the next generation of creative, collaborative and resourceful do-ers, I think we are headed in the right direction.
* assuming, of course, that you are able to do it in a way that still ensures student safety.