Friday, September 9, 2016

The Art of Letting Go

Allow me to take you on a little journey today, straight into the environment of a typical early childhood lecture hall. Picture Nike shorts galore, topped with oversized tanks and sweatshirts that make you wonder if the top was stolen from someone three sizes larger or if the wearer herself has on any shorts at all. Sorority girls with their Starbucks coffee who want summers off, like free weekends, and just love kids! Oh yes, that's what my morning looks like.

And in such an environment, we are often presented with questions regarding our future classroom, credentials, and teaching philosophies. A few days ago we were asked What do you consider to be the hardest part about being a teacher? Some said lesson planning. Classroom management. I probably wrote down assessment because I hate tests. We ramble on like we know what we're talking about, but in reality, the answers to these questions don't hit you until you've had some experience actually teaching. And today, as I was standing on a 25-foot tower with a microphone headset instructing a bunch of high school guard girls, I was itching to change my answer to that question.

What do you consider to be the hardest part about being a teacher? 

For those of you who are new around here, I only do about three things with my life: I teach, I write, and I spin guard. And if you don't know what guard is, click the link because that's a topic for a whole other post.

Guard consists of three things, too: contemporary dance, marching technique, and chucking random pieces of equipment into the air for artistic effect. We like to call it "tossing." And if you aren't familiar with the guard world, there are three crucial elements of a toss. The prep, the push, and the release.

The Prep. 
Set up is everything. The toss will not be successful without proper technique. Details must be addressed. Equipment angles. Body placement. The elbow, the forearm, the wrist, the fingers, the core, the feet, the projection, the energy... In this stage, there's no such thing as too much information. This split second contains everything required for the toss to be executed.

The Push. 
What goes up must come down. Everyone knows that. But nothing can go up, no toss can be thrown, and no performer can grow, without a little push. A little extra knowledge. A little extra work. You put the finishing touches on everything so you can finish out strong.

The Release. 
This is it. The finishing touch. The cherry on top. The equipment is in the air. You can watch it. You can track it.

But you cannot control it.

Ironically, the release of a toss is often accompanied by a breath. As if to say, Relax. The more you try to control it, the worse it will be. 

Performers rely on muscle memory in the release stage. They have all the information. They've had their questions answered, and they've given it all the extra push. All that's left is to rely on everything they've learned to actually make it happen.

Teaching is like a toss. The prep is my favorite part. I love instructing. I love learning. I love reading, and singing, and acting stuff out in a room full of kiddos. I love nurturing, laughing, and taking the time to do things right. But this stage is never long enough. It only lasts a second.

The push is pretty great, too. Assessing. Analyzing. Making sure there's nothing else to teach. Nothing else those kiddos need. They're so close to success they can almost taste it. This stage is so exciting to watch.

But the release... Man. That, to me, is the hardest part about teaching.

In the Broadway version of Mary Poppins, there's a verse that wasn't written in either the book or the original movie script.

With every job when it's complete
there is a sense of bittersweet...
That moment when you know the task is done.
Though in your heart you'd like to stay
to help things on their way,
you always know they must do it alone.

There comes a point in every child's life when you have to let them go. Teacher, nanny, parent; whatever. You have to let them go. You have to trust that everything you've taught will be applied. You have to hope that they use what they learned to flourish in new situations. You have to pray that the confidence they gained in themselves will be enough.

The hardest part about being a teacher is that there's only so much you can do. Some kids will be ready to move on quickly, so you can't hold on. Some kids will have terrible home lives, but you can't take them home with you. Some kids could use your help for the rest of forever. But you can't always be there.

For my high school guard girls, it's time for that transition to start taking place. You know, that time when you're ready to give the next level of instruction and you can't wait to get there, but you can't move on quite yet because they haven't quite mastered the previous skill? They're close, but they haven't quite made it to the next step. That's where we are right now. And it's one of the most frustrating times of the year.

Soon, my girls will take the field to perform in competition. They will get one shot. Not two. Not three. Not seventy-five like they do in practice. They will get a single shot to prove themselves. And I will be helpless; standing on the sideline, hands folded in front of me, praying that everything I've said and everything I've done will be enough. You have to trust that, at some point, your little kiddos can make it on their own, and you have to trust yourself enough to know when that time comes. You've spent a lot of time prepping. Now they need a little push. And when it's time to release, draw up your courage, take a breath...

And just let go.

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