"Ms. White, the curriculum you have created for your students is too difficult."
"Oh, no! You're teaching over at the girls unit?! Good luck."
"You have to lower your expectations."
I had heard so many negative things about my students seven weeks ago when I began teaching that I didn't know what to expect when I showed up for the first day of class at the juvenile facility where I teach theater. So, I decided to not expect anything and let the girls show me what they were capable of. My mind was open. My heart was open. And, I was excited to do something I have never done before....I was also a bit nervous.
The past seven weeks have proven all those negative things the adults said to me about my girls wrong.
My class room size has fluctuated between 21 to 24 girls--all of whom are talented, smart and very willing to, at least, try. And, what I have found is that despite what they might have done to get them "locked up", at the end of the day, they are just little girls.
They absolutely love music! They love dancing and they have no problem showing me. They can sing, rap and write. In fact, they will often write songs together that are harmonious and melodic. I was so impressed the first time six or seven of them performed a song for me that they had written that had a chorus, a bridge and it was actually really catchy.
Some of my girls are artists--they paint and draw--and some of them are storytellers. One of my older girls wrote the beginning of a manuscript for me when I gave them journals and asked them to write whatever they were inspired to. And, wow! I could see the movie playing out in my head. It was brilliant!
I have one student who is an amazing actress. Her elocution, comedic timing and the understanding and passion she has for text is crazy good! I wish I had that going on for me at 16!
I feel like a proud mama. And, as I embark on my last day with them before they go on break for the holidays, I am saddened. I know that eight weeks is not enough. I feel like we are just reaching the beginning of something really beautiful. They are opening up. We are becoming comfortable with one another. They are finally starting to trust me, completely.
Please, don't get me wrong. There are moments when they get on my last nerves. They have a bad habit of tearing each other and themselves down. And, they fight and bicker TOO much!
This past Saturday I burst into tears because I feel so passionately about them honing their talents. They are great and I feel like they have no concept of the power within them--probably, because so many people have made them feel powerless. I talked to them about being confident and knowing who they are. When I have them perform monologues, I am constantly telling them to read with the page away from their faces--so we can see them. I tell them to never turn their backs to their audience. And, when they get a bad review, a classmate being rude or laughing during their performance, ignore them. "When you know who you are as an artist or person, no one can tell you otherwise. Present yourselves with confidence on stage and off." I hope my words can break through some of their hard surfaces and reach their hearts. But, again, I don't know if eight weeks is enough.
I hope they have found something in my class about themselves that will create change once they are released. I don't know if they have. I hope, but I don't know. What I do know is that I am changed, forever.
This has been a challenging year for me as far as my personal relationships are concerned. I have seen sides of people I wish I had never seen. I feel myself outgrowing certain things...and people. And, sometimes, I get lonely. It's sad and it had left quite a large hole in my heart.
Hearing some of the stories of what these young girls had been through will make you feel like an asshole for complaining about anything. I applaud them for surviving and hope that they realize how heroic and strong they are for doing so.
Seven weeks ago when I walked into that facility with no expectations, I definitely didn't expect to feel the way that I am feeling now. For the first time in my life, I feel like what I am doing means something. I don't think I have ever felt that way before. Don't get me wrong, I love acting, comedy is great and I still enjoy writing. But, none of it compares to meeting and teaching my girls.
I don't feel so lonely anymore. Twenty-four girls now live in that spot in my heart that used to be so empty.
P.s. Was the curriculum I wrote for my girls too difficult? Let's just say they rocked "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Need I say more? Never underestimate kids!