There's been a lot of talk lately about extracurricular activities that ask for an all-or-nothing commitment from students. But where does it stop being the fault of the teachers, and start becoming the responsibility of parents and students to choose?
When I was in high school, my gym teacher aggressively tried to recruit me to play lacrosse. I enjoyed it in class, but athletics where I attended tenth grade were daily after school, and I wasn't about to give up drama club from 2:05-4:30 every Tuesday and Thursday to play a sport. I was still able to serve as president of the National Honors Society, edit the student literary magazine, serve as my homeroom rep, and attend Monday meetings of the art club. And I held down twenty hours a week working retail, participated in Venture Scouting, and earned my Girl Scout Gold Award. I just couldn't play lacrosse.
Looking back I sometimes wonder if that was the right choice. I recently found out that The Savannah College of Art and Design (where I earned my BFA in Performing Arts) has a really good lacrosse team and that--had I been good enough-- I might have been able to get a scholarship instead of swimming in student loan debt for ten years after graduating. But playing lacrosse would have meant giving up so much more, and given the path I chose, those hours of rehearsal provided an education more valuable than being debt-free a few years earlier.
I couldn't do it all, though I did a lot. I did too much, actually. I was really stressed out by the end of my senior year. At some point I had to choose. So when parents start complaining that teachers requiring their kids to be at play rehearsal is unfair, I have a hard time hearing it.
I probably need to stop here and outline a few of my policies so that you understand where I'm coming from. Keep in mind that sports practice four to five days a week after school in addition to games (some of which pull kids out of class regularly during the season), travel, and booster events. I am not asking my students to put in twenty hours of rehearsal a week for ten weeks. I am asking them to commit to a few hours though, because how else does a show come together?
So here are my policies. I'm flexible for illness and family emergencies.
My Rehearsal Policies
Many of my students participate in show choir and hold down part-time jobs. I have a group of girls on our school DI team. Our GSA and many of our other clubs meet during our hour-long lunch flex period. Students in band or seasonal sports audition for plays during their off-season (our leads in the musical this year play sports-- he's on varsity football team and she runs cross country.) My kids find a way to do more than one thing. But they can't do it all.
At some point they have to choose. My fall competition play has a smaller cast than the fall production because I just can't have my band kids out of every rehearsal until the week of the show. My students in the musical have to limit their work availability to Wednesdays, weekends, and evenings so they can make it after rehearsal. The kids who choose to do show choir, theater, and a number of other activities generally don't have jobs.
So tell me this: if your child can only come to one rehearsal a week, why does he deserve the same sized role as the girl who comes three times a week? We don't have rehearsal just to sit around and do trust falls (though sometimes those happen at rehearsals). We're working through the show scene-by-scene to plan blocking, choreograph movement, learn music, and fine-tune performances. Those repetitions are crucial for actors to learn their lines, and it's difficult to backtrack and fill in for someone who was absent at the last rehearsal.
Students who cannot dedicate themselves to the rehearsal process are middling at best. You can either be mediocre at a lot of things or exceptional at a few. A theater teacher group I'm in on Facebook has been discussing this a lot this weekend: parents want exceptional arts programs, but they don't want their children to spend the time in rehearsal to become exceptional. A few people said, "They want to have their cake and eat it too," but really it's more like wanting to make a cake without taking the time to properly mix and bake it. If you rush the process and get a lumpy cake that didn't rise properly, you don't get to play Paul Hollywood and complain that it's stodgy.
There is value in teaching our kids to manage their time, and there is value in asking them to really apply themselves to a few specialties rather than letting them simply show up sometimes for everything. The happiest people are the ones who pursue their passions. That pursuit requires dedication.
High school should be a time for exploration, but it's also a time to prepare children for an independent life. This is Adulting 101. These are the choices adults have to make all the time: I want to play roller derby, but I have work, a family, and the practices are too far away too many nights of the week. Adults have to balance their lives. At some point we have to choose. Telling your kids that they can do it all only prepares them to be over-worked and over-stressed adults who believe that they have to.
Amy is a drama teacher with an M.Ed. in Secondary Education, ELA, teaching in the suburbs of Birmingham, AL.