Each year on the first Tuesday of the New Year I challenge my Pre-K class to come up with a project that they can do for the “whole school.”
My first year as a teacher, the children decided we needed a birthday throne. That particular class was already elbow deep in paper mache paste so we decided to use that medium to create the yellow, sparkly throne we continue to use 8 years later. Each time I get it out, I tell the story of those children, now in 6th grade, who made it for them. We can even recite the names of the children written on the back: “Calvin, Kaye, Noah, Vlasta, Eric, Jace, and Jasmine.”
The following year my Pre-K kids were all about drama, and wanted to perform a play for their classmates. We started from scratch. We wrote the play, made our own costumes, sets and props, and rehearsed for at least two months, editing as we went. At least part of each of our Tuesday afternoons together for the next 5 months was spent on the production. I had foolishly assumed that we were doing all of this as a framework around which to build our Pre-K curriculum for the rest of the school year, and ultimately for the entertainment of our 3-year-old classmates. But when I escorted the cast into the gym for the performance on the last day of school, we were stunned to find an audience that filled the room, each wielding a camera.
To their great credit, the children overcame their awe of the crowd to knock it out of the park, and thus a legend was born.
On the first day of school the next fall, Ana, who had been in the audience for that initial performance, walked through the door and without saying hello, asked, “When do we get to do our play?” And this is how the community’s memory has been passed on to this day.
This year, we brainstormed a list of things we could do together for the “whole school,” but it was clear from the start that we were doing a play. So we spent a 15-minute session getting the opening scenes down on paper. The first draft writing process will probably take a few weeks. After that we will start trying it out on the stage, where the real editing begins. It’s a chaotic, creative process where we figure out that some of our ideas aren’t going to work (like the advent of a character no one wants to play), or that we want to beef up our own character’s role, or that there aren’t enough dance scenes. It’s during this process that we decide what props we’ll need to make and what the sets should look like. All the key decisions will be made on our feet, on the fly, as part of the process.
Rehearsals will be so crazy and distracted, including our dress rehearsal, that the adults (myself included) will be convinced that this is the year that the play will be an utter disaster. But it won’t be. The children will have internalized their play by then. After 5 months it will be a part of their collective being, and like the Pre-K kids before them, they will hit it out of the park.
The children are fired up, to say the least. They left school buzzing. But it was a bittersweet day for me because I’m cursed with the knowledge that this is the beginning of the end of my time with these 11 kids, all but one of whom I’ve been teaching since they were 2-years-old. They’ve spent more than half their lives playing with me at Woodland Park. Just as the play will be a part of them, we are all by now a part of one another.
They’re getting themselves ready to move on from here, most of them could already thrive in a kindergarten class, but they’ll leave a part of themselves behind as well, living forever in me and in our community’s memory. This is the best part of teaching.