What Teaching Taught Me

I have a lot of funny anecdotes that I could tell from my last eight weeks as a drama teacher. I also have a lot of stories about children horribly misbehaving. But the overarching theme, as well as the point of telling any of them at all, would be that teaching has taught me a lot, about theatre, but also about myself:

1) I am not ready to teach on my own. My coteacher was sick one day and working on a show for a few others, and while I got through the day without the kids suspecting it, I was totally stressed all day.

2) I really like teaching kids. I always have, but this really showed me that I can do it for longer than a week. Though I did get frustrated when they misbehaved, that was a very select few, and happened rarely. Kids are so smart and creative, and what’s especially apparent in drama classes is that they’re not afflicted with the inhibitions that are ingrained into us as we hit our teens.

3) Kids like me and I am able to communicate with them, probably because I treat them like intelligent people instead of talking to them like dogs (hands on knees, high pitched voice, etc. Kids know what you’re doing and also know how stupid it is.)

4) I can teach new things. For most of my eight weeks, I was very much the assistant teacher: helping with demonstrations, being the example, etc. But the day my co-teacher was sick, it was a day when I had one group, two different times, and I was out of games that they could play. So over my lunch break, I looked up some games. Many of them weren’t appropriate for the age group, but I found one that might work, tweaked it a little and, after recycling a few games with them, introduced this one. They LOVED it and we played it for the rest of class, and it ended up being in the show.

5) I am bad at judging the abilities of an age group. This is a problem I’ve always had, even in high school. I either over or underestimate the abilities of an age group. This is a problem with general age groups and me, so forget when I have a group of kids that are the same age AND have a great difference in abilities. So while I successfully taught a great new game to one group, the group that was older than them ended up doing it for the show because they were better at it.

6) Teaching forces me out of my comfort zone in a good way. I have always been insecure about doing physical/movement stuff, even though it’s been a focus of my training since freshman year of high school. We did a lot of movement these last eight weeks, especially the second session, which was completely movement-based. I was terrified, but I had to teach the kids, so I had to get over it. And suddenly, I saw that not only can I do physical stuff, I’m actually pretty good at it.

This teaching job is the best on I’ve had since I graduated. I almost forgot it was a job most of the time because I enjoyed it so much. It’s great to connect with students; one of our kids said this past Thursday, “You know what I like about you guys? You’re like kids in adult bodies. You like to play.” And it’s true, I do; this job allowed me to do that AND make more money than I’ve made at my other jobs. While I’m not ready to teach solo yet, I certainly won’t balk at the very idea of teaching at all, from now on.

Dual Entry: Therapy and Theatre

The first time I wrote about my mental health, it was November and I was very sad (etc.) and had only just made the decision to start therapy. The last time I wrote about it, it was February and I was doing better. Since then, I have learned my diagnosis: depression with anxious features. I didn’t write about it for a few reasons, most of them having to do with the fact that though this is a blog about my life, it is not a blog about my depression, even with its prevalence in my life, but there’s also the fact that it took me a really long time to accept my diagnosis. I knew that something was wrong, and I was quite sure it was depression, but I didn’t want to admit it. Besides the general stigma about mental health in the United States, to me, depression meant being suicidal, and to be so would be my worst fear. I have since been corrected about the second point (the first one, sadly, is true), but after starting therapy in December, I was sitting in my therapist’s office in April and said something along the lines of, “It’s like depression… if that’s the problem.” She looked at me and said, “Do you think you DON’T have depression?” I gave a twitchy half-shrug, half-“can we please stop talking about this even though you are paid and schooled to say things like that to me and have it be the truth?” “Because you do,” she continued. “It’s diagnosed, DSM-official depressive disorder.”

This hit me like I hadn’t known it all along, as hard as the day I knew I needed to go to therapy. I discovered all over again that I have depression (PLUS! Lucky me, I got the anxiety for the low, low price of panic attacks and social awkwardness.) It took a week or so for me to accept this, a week that led into May which led into fear and panic relating to the anniversary of my friend’s suicide, a reaction- mental and physical- that lasted for days on either side of the actual date.

Since my starting therapy, I’ve had a few what might be termed relapses, despite my improvement over the months. I kept having trouble living my life; I’d cry on the way to work every day and all I could think about while I was there was going back to bed, partly because I couldn’t bear to face my life but also because I was so tired all the time. There were a lot of other depression-related symptom that were keeping me from living my life fully, none of which were helped by the outside influences of being fired and the anniversary, to name just two.

There were a lot of would-be wake-up calls going on during those months: the increased severity of the symptoms of course, but also the way my depression was ruining some of the most important relationships that I have. I resisted responding to these, though, because even though I knew from my therapist, my significant other, and every positive treatment-related article/blog/site on the internet that a combination of therapy and medication was the most effective approach, I was scared. I don’t even like taking ibuprofen, so the idea of ingesting something that would change my brain chemistry scared me. To be honest, it still does. A lot.

But then one day, around the anniversary of my friend’s suicide, I was very sick, in every way. Besides the mental anguish I was going through, I was also feeling the grief physically. My whole body ached and I had a headache so blinding that I probably shouldn’t have been driving. But I did drive, to my therapy session, where I said nearly nothing for fear that I’d collapse into tears and ruin the small scrap of composure I had managed to keep hold of. Immediately afterward, I drove to an audition. I could hardly see, my head hurt, and I certainly was in no state to attempt to get a job. The audition itself was fine; for a non-Shakespeare actor, I performed the assigned monologue all right, and the director nodded enthusiastically as I sang a folk song a capella. If I had been watching it from the outside, I would have said the audition was good. But I knew that I wasn’t at my best. I knew that my mental state, my combined grief and depression, had negatively affected my ability to perform in what is a job interview in my profession. I had been fighting against taking medication partly because of my career; I feared it would prohibit my ability to feel the gamut of emotions. But here I was, feeling negative emotions to the point that it kept me from accessing the feelings I needed to to do my job. My argument was moot.

At the moment, I am not on medication. I asked my therapist if I could take the month of June, which I correctly assumed would be more normal in the way of overwhelmingly bad moments. to experience my mental state unmedicated. So that’s what I’ve been doing. And to be honest, it’s been hard to accept that I might still need medication because this month has gone so well. I got cast as the lead in a great show just a week before I started teaching theatre to kids, which at this point can be considered the best job I’ve had since graduating. Rehearsals are hard but rewarding, as is the teaching, and spending longer hours at a job that I enjoy has masked my depressive fatigue as the fatigue resulting from hard work, making me more willing to accept my tiredness at the end of the work day. I’m also just happier in general; ¬†the kids I teach are a joy and it’s so rewarding to hear them proclaim that they wish theatre class could last all day, and then I go and do the work that I love in rehearsal. The other day, while discussing all of this with my therapist, she said, “I’ve never seen you smile like this, ever.” With a statement like that, and with the way I’ve been feeling lately, it’d be easy to keep saying that medication is not for me. I CAN still experience happiness, even experience it more often than sadness. That’s good to know, because it hasn’t happened in months.

But just because it’s happening now doesn’t mean that it will last forever. The show will end in early August, the job just two weeks after, and I will return to the way my life used to be. Maybe I’ll be happier, but maybe I won’t. Because I’m not cured. I still have depression and anxious features. And as afraid as I am of medication, I’m even more fearful of having this for my entire life. So I guess the question is, am I brave enough to help myself? The answer is as yet unclear.

Children’s Theatre

A week or so ago, one of my roommates came home and said, “Hey, Rachel, do you still hate your job?” “You bet I do.” “Want a different one?”

At first, I thought he was going to tell me there was an opening at his sales job, giving product presentations in stores, something I could never do. But then he told me that he was returning to teaching summer theatre lasses and he needed an assistant. Usually, a mutual friend of ours assists him, but she’s in school this summer.

He described the job to me and it sounded great: hours that jived with my rehearsal schedule, fairly good pay, using the theatre education material we’d learned together in 2009, and, best of all, using my degree. I gave him a tentative yes.After checking with my crazy boss, I accepted the teaching job officially. It starts tomorrow and I am SCARED. It’s been about three years since I’ve taught, so I’m sure I’ll be a little (or a lot) rusty. But my roommate will lead for the first couple days and then I’ll pitch in as an equal. ¬†Hopefully the kids will be excited to be there and willing to learn.