We all have our habitual little things we say and “by the way” is at the top of my list. But lately when I’m giving a talk in a workshop, I find myself saying “Are you with me?” It’s a nice way to check in with the audience, get them to feel like they’re vicariously participating in the ideas presented and wake them up a bit.
It’s also one of the worst feelings a teacher can have when a class is not with you. You’re talking about something you think is important and they are looking everywhere but at you, side-talking, tuning out. The psychic scars of not grabbing the attention of your students are real and exhausting and discouraging and dispiriting and even with my enormous bag of tricks and endless years of experience, it still happens to me. Like on Tuesday with both the 8thgrade and the 4thgrade as we worked on respective plays.
I know the routine. I can get angry with the kids and start talking to myself about how terrible kids are these days (not like when I was a kid ha-ha!) or start self-talking about how bad a teacher I am or how it’s time to hang it up, etc., etc. and etc. Or I can shake it off and prepare myself to be more present myself, to infect the kids with my sense of how fun this is going to be, to joke with them while still being clear about what they can be doing better, occasionally to read them a short riot act about consequences with a firm but friendly voice because after all, we know each other well and come on, let’s have a good time together.
So Tuesday, both groups were with me 100% and what a difference that made! We could mess up in 50 different ways—like the hilarious failures of my 8th grade group of six sword dancers trying to weave the magic star and getting it wrong 10—count them!—10! times in a row before we finally figured out who was messing up and how (and to set the record straight, it wasn’t Sam or Oliver) and still have a good time and insist that we master the particular thing we needed to master. The 4thgrade was open to all sorts of direction as to what would make the scene come alive—simple things like “use your arms,” “react,” “ feel the rhythm in your group”— and miraculously, actually remembered these notes the next time, resulting in a much more alive presentation.
Life is so much better when the crowd is with you and for the right reason (Trumpies, take note) — you’re doing something worthwhile that brings happiness to everyone involved.
By the way, I have a question for you, my readers: “Are you with me?”