Monday, December 20, 2010

Acting and Teaching - Commentary from Loretta Prisco

Below is a comment from Loretta making analogies between teaching and acting and my response.

Loretta and I met around 1971 in a group called Another View in District 14 - as elementary school teachers who became politically active due to our classroom experiences - not because of some ideology of activism. I felt we brought a certain point of view to the movement that was often high school/contract driven. We were educators first and activists second - to us the kids were the thing. I still feel that way and when teachers rail against the kids as the cause of the problems it is a turnoff - and I feel the propaganda machine lined up against us uses that as fuel. As I meet younger activists today, the ones I most connect up with are those who come out of classroom activism vs those who came into teaching with activism in mind. I'll get into it in more detail another time, but one of the reasons Loretta and I and a bunch of others helped form ICE in late 2003 as opposed to jumping onto  Teachers for a Just Contract was that we were not interested in focusing on just a contract but on teaching and learning conditions too - testing was such a basic plank for for the elementary school teachers in ICE. At that time, high school teachers, which was the bulk of the opposition in the UFT, were not affected by testing mania.


I don't know if you meant to make a comparison between acting and teaching but it is there.
(What I Am Learning From Acting 101)

You mentioned the behind the scenes work in acting. Non-teachers do not know of the backstage work in teaching. The researching and planning, the assessing and grading, the contacts with service providers and parents. And yet, this is seen as a 9-3 job.

In acting, the memorizing of lines - teachers spent lots of time committing lessons to memory or they are reading out of a plan book! But with an experienced actor, as with an experienced teacher, it all looks so natural. But the DOE doesn't value experience. They want teachers reading from a script.

You talk about being good one day and not so good the next - or even screwing up. And so it is with teachers. We are on one day, and on the next, a lesson falls entirely flat. But teachers are expected, in this climate, to always be perfect. We are not allowed to makes mistakes - ever. Yet, we all know that we learn from mistakes. Teachers must take risks to improve their practice, or we become static.

But you didn't mention the audience factor and its effect on a performance. I have heard actors say that a vibe comes from the audience that makes their performances better. I don't have to tell you the effect that our audiences have on our teaching. Yet there is no understanding of the issues that our students face and the support and resources that they need.

Loretta Prisco

I certainly agree about audience effect on teaching and was told that the audience could affect performances in acting. Though I didn't find that as much since I was trying so hard to focus on my lines. I did notice what got laughs and didn't get laughs in various performances - was it due to the way we said our lines or was it due to the audience? Vets tell me each audience is different.

When I used to teach computers or other clusters and did the same lesson a bunch of times I found it jelled best by the 3rd time - think of the first 2 as dress rehearsals or previews. I was able to refine things based on how kids reacted. So think of observations - most teachers are doing them for the first time.

When I was with my first class in the spring of 1969 the AP was a tough kind of guy who many teachers were afraid of - and he did not view me favorably and tried to block my getting the class - once he saw I was serious he totally changed his attitude and supported me all the way. I trusted him enough to tell him I was having trouble teaching a concept and he came in to observe - the way it should be done - not to U rate me but to see where I was missing. He then told me he would follow up by teaching the concept so I could see how it could be done. Dr. Norman Jehrenberg was his name. Unfortunately he was passed over for principal in favor of a political appointment and he left after that term and I feel I lost an important mentor. Though Elaine Troll who you very well know, was a full-time teacher trainer and acting AP - and she remained a mentor through the next year.

A third mentor at PS 16 was Joe Purviance, the guidance counsellor who often took the kids' side (Joe was Black - very  unusual in those years - and that gave me insight into looking at a situation from the child's point of view which was always useful in helping me defuse situations. Joe also was marginalized as was Troll when the new admins came in from the district UFT machine a few years later - but I was gone to a new school by the fall of 1970 - and found the atmosphere there not as open.

I feel having those voices in my ear helped make me as a teacher and I think if I had continued to have mentors over the next two decades+ I would have been a better teacher overall - I needed trusted sounding boards and instead was basically on my own the rest of my career - making both good and bad decisions.

Sometimes with all that's going on with the teaching profession today, we should also take a look within.

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