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The Teacher's Serenity Prayer


It officially happened. It was yesterday, early afternoon, and I was sitting in the garage of my parents house. Sweat beaded down the back of my neck. I’m pretty sure that was from the late July heat, but one never knows.

All I know is that it happened. I officially got nervous about going back to school.

It kind of hit me all at once. I thought about needing pants and shirts and socks. A new pair of Chucks to light my students path.

Oh yeah, and then the global pandemic. That has added a little fuel to the stress fire.

I don’t think I’m alone in my feelings. That’s why I’ve decided to share them. If you have no idea how you are going to teach human beings during this time of crisis and upheaval, trust me, you are not alone. Teaching is hard enough without a viral pandemic and shifting schedules and seven different start times to figure out. Plus, I teach four different classes at two very different institutions. One a small private college and the other a performing arts high school in a giant school district.

I’ve been waiting to be nervous. I’ve been waiting to bust out last year’s papers because I wanted to figure out what I really needed to know and what I didn’t. I wanted the dust to settle. Then it seemed like dust was settling and still people were confused.

It starting to seem like everyone needed to know everything. And nothing. And all of it at the same time.

I’m expecting there to be a test.

I really hope there isn’t a test.

But putting my head in the sand isn’t going to accomplish anything, and as the garage got hotter yesterday, I started to get out my syllabus and sort through what on earth I’m going to do.

Until I realized I wasn’t even quite sure I knew what date school was starting back so I closed out of my word document and put it all away.

The first thing I need to do is get past my nihilism.

I’m not saying there isn’t any room for nihilism during this time in our world history. And sometimes nihilism leads to the laughter that we need to push past the futility of everything. But it isn’t entirely helpful either.

The second thing I need is to be prepared. That is something I’ve learned about me as a teacher. I need to know what I’m doing. I’m not a good enough liar to look out at my students and bullshit them. Perhaps that comes with more experience?

But the biggest challenge I feel like I’m facing this year is the lack of an answer.

That’s something I always assumed about teaching—is that we have the answer. It’s like a magic trick, in a way. Students come to school, teachers know the answers, and we teach it to them. Abracadabra.

The thing is, going into the school year, I really feel like there aren’t any answers. Only questions.

One of my motives for creating art is to find answers. If not answers, at least reasons. And I can’t lie if I don’t have them. So I have to go into my classroom, full of young, brilliant artists, with my abracadabra sign off. I have to go in admitting that I don’t know. How do we create theatre in a world when people can’t come see it? I have no idea.

Perhaps the exciting thing is that no one does.

Maybe we are all specifically made for the moments we face. Maybe we are meant to teach during this time and maybe our students are meant to learn. I’ve got to think that will make this all easier. Maybe this year I get to learn as much from them as they do from me. Maybe our old answers to the old questions had gotten stale, and this is the very thing we need to snap out of it.

Just give me the strength not to have to know, and the courage to really want to find out.

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