On March 10th, I wrote a post highlighting my school’s drama director, Mr. Hochkeppel. His philosophies regarding mutual trust, student voice, and the freedom of choice remain prevalent in everything he is involved with. As we approach our fall mainstage play’s opening night, I took a moment to reflect on how impressively he has managed to incorporate student leadership. Most high schools in our area tend to give students opportunities to run technical aspects of theatre, but Mr. Hochkeppel (who is more commonly known as ‘H’ around the school) decided Stone Bridge could take it a step further. H is not directing our show this year. He stepped aside and gave directorial duties to a student. This monumental opportunity is one where this student, Paisley LoBue, has already learned, and continues to learn, a lot - not only about theatre, but about teaching as a whole.
“I’m redefining the word respect” (LoBue).
Paisley, who had quite a few takeaways from the directing gig thus far, was very adamant in the interview about how important she has found it to clearly respect those learning from her. With new experiences as a director, she began to realize the recipe for respect was harder to adhere to than she realized. Even when critiquing, she strives to make sure to express her thoughts “in a way that doesn’t make [the cast] think I am above them in any way - I’m not, we’re all working together” (LoBue). Although disagreements occur, what good does it do to lose civility? In a school, everyone is working towards the same goal. Students are trying to learn, teachers are trying to help students learn, and administration is trying to help teachers try to help students learn. It is important not to forget that. She went on to note that “some things that seem rudimentary to me, are not to a lot of people” (LoBue) when it comes to acting. What Paisley does so well regarding this topic is having patience. Certain people take longer to internalize information. That’s not a bad quality, it just means they learn in different ways. Rather than being verbally told what needs to happen, maybe a confused actor needs to visualize instead.
Understanding that not everyone will be on the same square from day one is a key factor in making sure students do not get tossed to the wayside. Nobody is always perfect right off the bat. To expect instant perfection from a student (who is supposed to be learning anyway) is unrealistic, unfair, and ultimately a recipe for disaster. Setting that unattainable precedent will turn off students to a class in a heartbeat. Students are far more likely to “respect someone who is working hard” alongside of them “to help get them to their goal” (LoBue). School is not a sweatshop. Teachers do not sit behind a proverbial pane of glass, demanding perfect results without any guidance. Students do not command from behind a pane of glass either. They should not be attempting to manipulate teachers. If mutual respect is built, none of these toxic relationships can come remotely near surfacing. It’s tough, “respect is… fragile… too mean and harsh and… they’ll… cast you out… as someone bad. If you’re too relaxed… they can hardly respect you either” (LoBue). Finding that happy medium is so important to keeping morale high and focus on what it needs to be on.
Though it may be common knowledge, creating a positive aura for your classroom is of the utmost importance. Constant, harsh negativity does not serve any purpose. Paisley brought up how she tries “to avoid… upsetting the cast before” doing any sort of strenuous work because that “negative energy… takes all of the joy out” (LoBue). Notes and, sometimes, warnings need to be handed out, but framing them in an uplifting way is essential. Doling out punishments or going on tirades won’t accomplish anything but deflate an audience. “When you need to get [production] from someone… you have to be nice” (LoBue) or firm for the sake of bettering, not disciplining. Acting requires you to be in your character’s head at all times. It distracts from the real objective when anger or shame muddies up your mindset.
The benefits of remembering that idea are applicable off the stage as well. A discipline structure based off of punishment does not encourage later engagement. Rapport is better built when teachers do not play the role of authoritarian. Energy would be better directed (no pun intended) towards generating excitement to be in the classroom. Nobody wants there to “be a dictator forcing everyone to do a good job, instead [let’s] get everyone excited to do it and let their passion drive them” (LoBue). The battle is half-lost if a classroom full of students is disgruntled and feels subordinated. A more worthwhile approach would be fostering any organic interest kids might have and allowing that to grow however they require. “It’s like having a team of construction workers build a building for you and having to describe what you want built. Sometimes you… [can’t] describe just exactly how to lay the bricks,” (LoBue) sometimes the builders will know what the best fit is for their skill set.
“Communication is a big thing” when it comes to respect as well, “you can’t glaze over anything” (LoBue). Continuity of past communicated details is also uber important. If a director changes stuff last minute, what example does that set? Why would a cast honor their commitments if the same expectations do not seem to apply to the director?
As with every aforementioned theme, this transcends theatre. Constant dialogue needs to be open between teachers and students. What is working? What isn’t? What expectations does each party have for the other? How can each party work together? These questions and more should have answers within reach at all times. Most importantly, when expectations are set, they should remain unchanged without prior warning. Teachers that stick to their word will receive higher amounts of trust than ones that do not.
We’ve all heard the adages - respect is based on treating people how they wish to be treated. No one requests impatience, destructive criticism, or a lack of communication, therefore students should not be subjected to that sort of treatment. Not only is that bad for students, it makes accomplishing end-of-year goals much harder. Students might begin to act out in slight mutiny versus the perceived disrespect they face. That definitely would not encourage teachers, which would set off a vicious cycle of rapidly deteriorating rapport. Disagreements may occur, but everything can stay calm and civil. “The way to do this is by keeping the common goal strong… and use that… as the driving factor,” (LoBue) in conjunction with always present respect and communication. One side cannot force success upon the other, working with one another is the only way to ensure multifaceted success.
Before I finish up, I’d just like to say Paisley has been a wonderful director so far. She practices everything that she preaches and strives to be the most understanding she can be. Over the course of the show’s rehearsals this year I feel like we have become better friends than before and it has been an absolute blast to work with her (and our subsequent cast members) and I am on pins and needles eagerly awaiting opening night.
We, the #BowTieBoys, will be in full strength this weekend at the NCTE conference. Be sure to check us out in any of our sessions if you get the chance!
Thank you so much for reading this edition of my blog! I would love to hear any thoughts (in agreement or opposition), any suggestions you have, or any questions you may have. You can follow me on Twitter @TheSammer88 for live updates from me. The hashtag #BowTieBoys has been compiling my thoughts and my partners’ thoughts, so be sure to check that out if you want to hear more from us.
LoBue, Paisley. “Interview with Paisley.” 14 Nov. 2017.