In general, I tend not to trust my students. I trust they want to learn. I trust youths in general. However, I recognize that taking the easy way out is a pretty tempting option. During tests, I take a lot of procedures to avoid cheating: testing folders, hand and arm checks, different versions of tests, putting all phones at the front of class, etc. I usually level with them, make it a comical routine we go through, and hope that it avoids some sort of cheating. Even my best students will take the SparkNotes way out, so I tend not to trust them and attempt to anticipate where they will try to cut corners.
However, today I want to talk about a time this year when I trusted students and it paid off immensely.
I taught Speech and Drama for the first time this year. I had an exceptional class of kids who really put themselves out there in class. They impressed me all year, and, so toward the end of the year, I made a ballsy decision: their final would be a one-act production (2 in all) that will be in front of the entire school. The students would direct the production, cast it, memorize the lines, make the scenery…the whole shebang. I gave them complete control of the class for about a month, and observed their progress.
Now, to give background, the Speech and Drama class was historically a blow-off class at my school. They had people out of licensure teach the class, had few expectations for students, and most students didn’t take it seriously. To go from that to what I expected the kids to do was quite a big step. So, I took the leap, and crossed my fingers. Now, the kids did a great job during class, but they were rusty even in the final week before the production. We had no outside rehearsals, no outside prep time other than our in-class work.
I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to pull the plug—to say that we would just do it in front of each other. Even up until the Wednesday before the performances (performed on a Friday), I didn’t know if we would go on. I kept thinking that maybe I expected too much out of them. In the end, against my “better” judgement, I trusted them.
They killed it. Kids who had never set foot on stage brought the house down. Even when we had some extra time at the end, they played rounds of the improv game “Party Quirks” to entertain the crowd. They knew all the lines, acted with confidence, and handled themselves like professionals. I made the stakes high, and they exceeded my expectations.
It’s teaching moments like this that make me so happy to be a teacher. Sure, I didn’t have a huge hand in what they learned throughout this experience, but I afforded them the experience. I trusted them. Sometimes that’s all you need to do. Students are so brave, so powerful, so capable, and sometimes you just have to trust that they will come through, that they will be extraordinary.