Thursday, November 20, 2014

Truth & Generosity

The grace of connecting with students can sometimes last over lifetimes.

This week, Victoria Marini, literary agent at Gelfman Schneider in New York City, gave my 8th graders advice about their writing. Using Twitter, my students fired off questions about writing to the literary agent all day long. And, all day long, the literary agent responded. I was so proud of the questions the kids asked her. What they are writing matters to us and having the unique opportunity to engage with Torie was not lost on my students.

At one stage, an 8th grade girl looked up at me from her iPad and asked, "how did you connect with this literary agent?"

I taught Torie.

And the girl's face lit up. She didn't expect that answer. She said something along the lines of how cool that was as she made sure others around her knew what I had said.

Yep, years ago...I taught Torie.

Well, I "directed" her in the middle school play back in the late 90s. I remember casting her as the Dauphin in Henry V because I thought she had the natural instinct and sensitivity for it. More specifically, during auditions, I could already envision her playing the moment when the Dauphin receives the king's message that England would not give up. England would fight. The significance of that moment is that the Dauphin can see that this brash English King will win. That France is up against it even though they outman and out "gun" England. I knew she would play the significance of that moment. I knew she would "get" it.

It is 17 years since we worked on that play together, and I remember those decisions and I remember her sincerity as a person and as a young actor.

Torie came along on a school trip to the University of Wyoming that I organized. I set up a week long visit for fifteen kids interested in pursuing the arts in college. One of the professors, Leigh Selting, was so open to the idea that he let my students sit in on college theater classes and organized special training sessions in voice, fight, dance, set design, acting for the camera, et al. My kids even prepared monologues to deliver in front of their theater faculty. As Torie performed her scene from Paul Zindel's The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, Professor Selting turned to me and whispered, "She's so goooood. She's the real stuff."

I'll never forget that either.

When Torie went to high school she came back and assisted me with the middle school play. This act inspired many others to also help. For many years I often entertained anywhere from 6-10 student directors from the high school. Torie started that. And then she graduated. And, like so many of the kids we teach, she vanished into her life.

We lost touch until recently.

I reached out to Torie just as my current students were starting to write their collaborative MG novel. Fortunately, the timing worked out for us and Torie connected with my students on Twitter just as we started to read and comment on each others work.

As we shared our thoughts and questions about each others' work on post-its, we read them and crafted questions for Torie. Students were milling around the room, reading and writing, talking and felt like a writer's studio. We were experimenting--together. We were talking about writing--together. We were thinking--together. We were creating--together.

And we also had someone help us. Someone who was just like them not too long ago. Someone who sat in these desks yesterday, and took the time today to model giving back and sharing.

When I knew the adolescent Torie on the stage, I made a point of drumming home the two words "Truth & Generosity" to my young actors. I did it so often I put a gold plate on our drama award that read "Truth & Generosity." We talked about it every day. We really did. That is not an exaggeration. We would talk about how we can find ways in our life to practice both of those virtues. For us, then, it was as simple as listening when someone else was talking, listening when someone else needed us.

Initially, I thought this blog post would be about the cool experience my kids had with writing, or Twitter, or a literary agent. Instead, I think what sticks most to me is the importance of how we make kids feel in our classrooms. And this week, a former student helped me make my current students feel like writers...they feel it...they believe they can do this. For some kids, it is the first time that they think of themselves as writers.

Thank you, Torie! Some connections do indeed last over lifetimes.

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