April 7, 2017 by Ray Yanek
In my house, strains of a song rise from the heating vents and echo through the hallway.
I’ve been teaching for a long time now. Around this time of the year when senior research papers are due and cabin fever sets into the halls, I become jaded. I wonder if teaching research papers to a population wherein only 20% of students go on to college is worthwhile. I wonder how much of the content sticks with these kids and how much just dissipates out into the ether, like the forlorn voice of an ancient spirit.
In my house, the songs continue–soft, hushed.
Not long ago, my son played John in his school’s production of Peter Pan. It was a phenomenal experience. The amount of work the directors and parents and students put into the play–incredible. I’m still awestruck they pulled it off.
I helped backstage a little, so I was privy to a lot of neat moments–kids high-fiving each other after a particularly well-executed scene; hugs offered as congratulations, support, and encouragement; kids talking about making minor changes to scenes. At one point, my son came off stage and told me how the first time that he flew on the cables in front of the packed crowd was the most awesome experience he has ever had.
When the song ends, there is a moment of silence. And the voices begin–deep, brooding, sinister.
On the last day of the play, they threw a party for the Peter Pan cast with pizza and ice cream. Each actor received a tiny bottle of pixie dust hung from a small necklace. . From the back, I watched the kids who had, moments ago, been crying that it was all over and who were literally asleep their feet, find a second wind fueled by the final applause, the sugar, and the adrenaline. They danced to music from their phones. Some of the kids put their arms around each other, made a circle, and all sang together.
I wondered if my son would remember that moment– if it was something he would carry around with him like a priceless heirloom long after the dust in the necklace was lost. I knew I would remember. And I admit I felt jealous that I never didn’t have an experience like that in my storehouse of my memories.
Sometimes I wonder if the seniors I teach will remember those sentence structure exercises, if they’ll remember what a passive sentence is. Or if they’ll ever even care. I don’t think I remembered to be honest, not until I came back to teach those things, and found writing as a passion.
Now, from the stairway leading into the basement at my home, the voices transform into ominous, guttural growls.
But my home is not haunted.
The sounds from the basement come from my son who is practicing for this week’s Lion King audition at the local community theater. He wants to be Scar.
You see, after Peter Pan, my son fell in love with acting. He told my wife he now has his life all planned out–he wants to be in as many plays as possible and then when he gets older, he wants to be in a movie.
He told us last night that he can’t stop thinking about being an actor.
And none of this would have happened if his school had not taken a risk and decided to put on that play and to make it a welcoming place for students to come and try it.
Without that opportunity, my son might not have found his new passion.
In my own classroom, college-prep material is spread across my desk. In other rooms, I know desks are stacked with SAT study guides. Soon, we will take another day to give the 2nd installment of the MAP tests. I feel my own cabin fever growing.
Then I think about transforming classrooms, about 21st Century learners.
And then I look to the one section of Creative Writing that I teach and my thoughts go back to my son and to the people at his school who helped him find his passion…