Things I Know 70 of 365: It’s okay to go off script

The difference between life and the movies is that a script has to make sense, and life doesn’t.

– Joseph L. Mankiewicz

My friend Rachel acts in a children’s theater company. This afternoon, they performed for an audience of 2-4 year olds and the kids’ parents.

When I caught up with the company afterward, they were discussing the unexpected moments they experienced onstage.

“It was interactive theater,” Rachel said.

As they have been trained by Blue, Dora and the like, the kids were talking to the characters during the scenes. Warning them to look out for the statues moving behind them, calling out the rabbit from a few scenes before who was now a rat, helping the man who could not, for the life of him, count to three – the kids were participating.

I have nothing but the deepest respect for elementary and pre-K teachers. Whatever sentiments were floating in the minds of people who repeatedly replied, “God bless you,” when I told them I taught eighth grade – those are the sentiments I feel toward the teachers of our youngest students.

Though there were characters and props and a stage, Rachel and her fellow cast members were teaching today.

And, they taught well.

“What did you do when they talked to you,” I asked.

“We improvised.”

They responded to the kids, asked them questions and played along.

Each scene ended where it needed to with the kids and parents getting what they needed. The means to those ends were wonderfully skewed from what was planned in rehearsal.

This is the best teaching – knowing what we want our students to learn and drafting a plan for getting them there, but realizing the process must be organic if it is to also be meaningful.

Every question asked or answer proffered by a kid in the audience was paid credence, showing a level of care and validation I hope I can someday replicate even more consistently in my classroom. A key to showing students I care who they are lies in showing I care what they say.

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