Sunday, June 4, 2006

The Rewards of my Profession...

On Thursday last, I got to see a production of La Casa de Bernarda Alba, by Federico García Lorca. The production I saw was in Spanish, but the actors also presented an English version later that evening. The theatre in which they performed was small (less than 80 seats), and the set was cleverly incorporated into the entire space. The costumes were beautifully made to appear authentic to the time and location of the play (rural Spain at the turn of the last century). It was amazing!

You wanna know what was best about it?

I didn’t go out to see this production. I simply walked downstairs from my classroom to the “Shoebox Theater” and watched the end-of-semester project of my school’s Spanish for Native Speakers class.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. This was a class. A semester-long class, to boot. Since February, these students have been studying Lorca’s work (not just this play, but the others in the trilogy), the history, culture and politics of Spain and learning how to interpret and translate poetry and dialog between the two languages. There are only two seniors in this class, and none of the others had any on-stage experience prior to this production.

Did I make it clear that these guys are studying and performing Lorca? In high school? And not just in Spanish, but English as well! Plus, several of the students in this class were double cast (played different parts in each version of the play) for this production. This is big, people.

To give credit where it is very much due, I do not teach this class. That honor goes to Benigno Sanchez-Eppler. I work with many of the members of the cast in other ways (soccer coach, academic advisor), but two of the women (they deserve that title) in the cast were students of mine last year. Both spent time in Central America during the summer and fall (one in Guatemala, one in Mexico), and I was proud to see them move into that class when they returned to school.

It is both a blessing and a liability of teaching both French and Spanish that I do not teach upper levels of either language. I could not hope to do all the things I do and teach four separate classes in a day, and teaching introductory language classes offers me some sanity. This comes with a cost, though. I get most of my students when they are 9th and 10th graders, still in the throws of adolescence and not having a clear sense of who they are or why they’re here. They very often transfer from other schools, where they struggled academically and any real confidence in themselves as individuals. I see them in class every day, all year, when they are still getting used to being in high school. I’m in the trenches with them at the beginning, and I don’t often get to see what happens to them after they move on from my class.

It is always a special treat to see my students at their most amazing in a context that is not my class. I was moved nearly (nearly, mind you) to tears as I watched them afterward talking to the audience and members of the local press about the play, their interpretations of the language and the experience of being on stage for the first time (in their underwear!) There was an energy in that space then that was impossible to describe completely, except to say that it was positively exquisite.

That event brought to light other students I have worked with recently, and the ways they demonstrate their amazingness, and I thought I’d share with you a couple of them .

We have a jazz a cappella group at PVPA that a number of my students work with. 5-Alone makes truly beautiful music (I know this because they practice in the classroom across the hall from me in the afternoons). You can buy their CDs and check out their tour schedule at their website. (Lucia, in the front, still owes me a research paper!)

I don’t get to say that Sonya Kitchell is my student now because she withdrew from PVPA at the end of last year to pursue her career in music, but I am still very proud of her efforts for me. It took a lot of work on her part to go to school and get herself started at the same time, and I’m really excited that it’s starting to pay off. She was just on NPR, so you can hear her there. She also has a website.

Brianne, whom you have read about recently, gets props for putting the costumes together for the Bernarda Alba cast with absolutely no time. You did a great job! Now, finish your work for me and earn credit for French!

There are others. You’ll hear about them in time…

No comments: