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It was recently the mid-year culmination for my class in Washington Heights. They presented their poem with tableaux for another class in the library.
The atmosphere was very supportive as other students and teachers came to watch our students’ work. I was touched by a poster created by one of the other teachers, which two students held up tirelessly for the entire project.
The class was broken into smaller groups and each one created a tableau for a different part of the piece. In between tableaux, the entire class recited the refrain altogether.
As simple as that may sound to a person reading this, it’s a lot more difficult than you might imagine, for both the Teaching Artists (Elizabeth Leonard and Sheldon Best) and students. It was also kind of extraordinary how seriously each student took their small part of their tableau. There was a lot of ownership and seriousness of purpose visible in each student working.
This was even evident with the students whom you may not have expected this of, who, for one reason or another, seem to not enjoy the work or seem overwhelmed by it. But there they were, even the loudest or most disinterested student was really owning and committing to the body shapes they were holding. It was really exciting to see!
It was especially amazing considering their journey from way back in November when, I suspect, this experience would have proven very difficult for many of the students.
There was a sweet teaching moment that took place when one of the boys in the class, who has difficulty communicating and listening, suggested that everyone create one huge tableau of a space dinosaur. This student is rarely able to engage in class with the subject matter, other students, or the Teaching Artists. So, it was a surprise when he very forcefully made this suggestion. Being the wonderfully sensitive teacher that Mr. Sheldon is, he took this suggestion and flexibly changed the direction of the remaining time for the culmination.
With this student somewhat leading the charge, Mr. Sheldon help the children create his vision. It truly is those moments where a teacher offers flexibility that are beautiful to watch because they offer a chance for the teacher to both trust the students and respect their needs and vision. Additionally, it was really beautiful to see the whole class support this student and his vision, which they did without hesitation.
After the space dinosaur was created, the last activity was to create a space soundscape. The audience was included in this activity, lending it even more energy and excitement. I was again so proud of the students as they followed directions during what can be a more sophisticated exercise. Sheldon led the group in creating the soundscape, encouraging all kinds of sounds, all the while giving them volume directions such as “louder and louder and louder yet! And then suddnely soft.” As this exercise can be noisy and crazy, it would be quite easy for the students to fall off it a bit and mess around. However, I was really proud that they stuck with him for the pure reason that they seemed to enjoy doing so.
When contrasted against their earlier classroom work in November or even the week previous, they had come such a long way in terms of their ability to follow directions, their interest, and their confidence.
It is true of actors as well, often in the rehearsal room, performances can feel stale or disheartening or unimportant and it often takes that first moment of stepping in front of a hushed crowd to feel the power in a piece of text or music. No matter how many times I am involved in a rehearsal process, I learn this over again. It is a powerful moment for all performers to experience, it allows them to see themselves reflected in the eyes of their audience, often seeing themselves in a new way. For these young students, I expect their next class will be quite different than past ones, now armed with this new information and experience.
-Eli Pauley, TATIP Trainee, Writer