Yesterday, on the picket line, I sat for a few minutes next to a colleague who, after having protested at a Liberal fundraiser, and having been able to confront Education Minister Fassbender directly in conversation, was particularly despondent.
I know her. I have known her a while. I have collaborated with her closely. I have shared ideas, and worked away long hours with her. I am used to her moods. She can best be described as passionate. She takes everything… everything personally, because her work as a drama teacher is so intensely personal.
A drama teacher. Even as I write the words, I think how trite that sounds –“drama teacher”. Because what use is a drama class in the great scheme of things? What job depends on you having had drama experience?
You’d be surprised.
My colleague’s drama classes are filled with young boys and young girls: young boys, who are confused by their rapidly changing adolescent world, by the remarkable changes in bodies and behaviour of the girls their age, and by the power and sexuality awakening in their own bodies; girls, who are confused by their own development – their fierce need for social attachment, their powerful emotions and changes in their bodies and minds. Drama class takes these children, and gives them a voice. It moves them safely through awkwardness into articulateness, from segregation to inclusion, from fear to confidence.
My words can’t do justice to what my colleague does. All of our new grade 8s take drama. She takes children and shows them a world of excitement and potential. She looks out for the stray, and she makes the underdog aspire. She guides them safely on a journey through adolescence into young adulthood.
I say that my colleague takes things personally. This is in no way meant as an insult to her. She is very, emotional.
When she’s on a creative tear, she’s unstoppable. She’s up, she’s cheerful and she’s optimistic, and when she encounters resistance, she becomes passionately angry or passionately sad. Tears are close to the surface always.
And having worked closely with her, I’ve seen her run the gamut of emotions. Hell, you don’t even have to work closely with her to see the gamut of emotions. They’re right there on her sleeve all the time. She can be exasperating! She is going to do this or that, and it’s going to require a buy-in from her colleagues, because her efforts will require that students take their focus away from their other classes, or even that we ourselves may have to help her out a bit. Exasperating. Yes, and probably more so because we know we will cooperate, because we know deep down that she is doing a huge service to the kids. You just can’t stand in her way of doing that. Her intensity won’t allow it.
But I’ve never seen her despondent.
Nobody knows what this woman does, no one other than the kids, and us, her colleagues. Even the kids’ parents (most of them) don’t see it. They scratch their heads at their kids’ new-found passion for the stage. They don’t see the importance of it – the importance of the wonderful experience; the importance of being able to do something with one’s voice and body – just the experience of that – not for acquiring a competency for the workplace (although drama skills absolutely are competencies for any workplace), but for the joy of doing it.
Joy! That elusive emotion, so complex and wondrous, and so real in our increasingly virtual world. Is joy not important in school any more?
“You’ll never guess what happened at school today, Dad!” says a beaming speed-talking adolescent girl.
“Well that’s great,” I answer. “Do you have homework?”
We stand at the picket line with a growing awareness that despite the noble symbolism of our fight; and despite our pluck, no one understands the true importance of what we do, and no one wants to pay for it. Our government will not hear us, and it continues to underfund to the point where our efficacy is trounced.
And we know what government stands for. It is the will of the people (or perhaps more accurately, the lack of will). We stand against a rising tide of apathy about education — a belief that education is something to get rather than to experience, that the most important outcome is a letter grade or a score on a test.
We walk the picket line feeling the growing immensity of our failure. Our failure is the failure of our society. Though we struggle to articulate it, we feel it. And we become despondent.
At the protest, the Education Minister had tried to reassure the passionate teachers there that it’s not personal. That is probably the worst thing he could have said.