Forgive me for being a little indulgent but I feel compelled to write an article of gratitude, something to inspire. There are just some days when I am struck by how lucky I am to be doing the work I’m doing. I recently had one of those days and just felt the need to share.
This trimester my elementary art students and I are focusing on musical theater after having completed dance and visual art units during the preceding two trimesters. The first week into our musical theater unit, I was singing “The Eensy Weensy Spider” with my kindergarten students adding sound effects or commentary between the individual lines to customize it for different types of spiders. We used low pitched voices for our “great big” spider and high pitched voices for our “itsy bitsy” spider. We played with dynamics using soft voices for our “very timid” spider and loud voices for our “very angry” spider.
For a little tempo exploration we sang more slowly for our “very whiny” spider who complains every step of the way (“The very whiny spider climbed up the water spout. Do I have to?”) and sang quickly about our “very hyper” spider. After singing those variations the students enthusiastically shouted out new ideas and suggestions for how each idea could be performed. One of my favorites was the “old grandpa” spider. The student who suggested this variation decided we needed to sing and gesture slowly. Someone added that the grandpa should groan as he made his way up the water spout. Another student chimed in that we should sing the verse with our lips covering our teeth which added another wonderful layer to our sound! Performing some of these variations left us in stitches. Genuine laughter – in school!
In one class I looked over at a young man who kept pulling his shirt up over his ears so only his eyes were visible. I directed him to wear the shirt appropriately which he did for that teaching moments but just a few minutes later I saw not only did he have his collar around the middle of his face but so did the young man sitting next to him.
I went over to the student in question and asked why he kept pulling his shirt up and he answered, as though it should be perfectly obvious, “I’m a ninja.” (If you happen to have read my article about the kindergarten student who challenged one of my art assignments stating, “This isn’t art” you might be interested to know that this ninja was that visual artist. Some angel sent this child to me to keep me on my toes!) I was able to point out at that teaching moments to the class that he was using one of his actor’s tools, his imagination, and I watched him beam with pride. He kept his collar down for the remainder of the class but we did manage to work in some ninja moves into one of our activities to make use of the skills in our midst!
Later in the day my fifth graders were working in small groups to demonstrate how the dramatic delivery of the same text can produce vastly different meanings and conjure very different emotions. All the students were using the nursery rhyme, “Humpty Dumpty”. We had drill sergeants barking orders, joke tellers, secret tellers, rappers, opera singers, cheerleaders, and lullaby singers. One group delivered the text as though they were telling a scary ghost story complete with choreographed movement. They managed to take 3 short sentences and turn them into a truly impressive piece of drama in fewer than 5 minutes. I was awed and inspired by some of these clever actors.
After my final group of the day, a particularly rowdy bunch of fifth graders, one of my students remarked on his way out the door, “This must be a pretty stressful job.” I turned to him and said, “It can be. But it can also be really fun!” During those stressful times I’ll try to channel this day and remember to be truly grateful.
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.